Phonte of Little Brother came into hip-hop as an idealist fighting for the music’s soul. After Little Brother flopped commercially with its major-label debut, The Minstrel Show, he became a pragmatic realist. In a characteristically subversive move, Phonte undercuts the posturing of hip-hop on “Dance In The Reign” from the new Charity Begins At Home by loudly proclaiming he’s doing it all for the music, before conceding that he’s really doing it just to pay the mortgage and the bills. The rest of Charity Begins At Home is just as refreshingly mature; it’s an introspective album about the complexities, hardships, and joys of romantic relationships that go far beyond one-night stands and casual hookups. “Ball & Chain” explores the way the safety and security of monogamy can become smothering and claustrophobic under the wrong circumstances, while “Sendin’ My Love” finds Phonte facing down and ultimately overcoming sexual temptation.
Charity Begins At Home proceeds at a casual, unhurried pace, with Phonte easily sliding between rapping, singing, and shit-talking in a manner that splits the difference between Little Brother’s old-school grooves and the quiet storm of his R&B work with Foreign Exchange. With his gloriously grown-up solo debut, one of the smartest, most incisive lyricists alive proves it’s possible to grow older in hip-hop while retaining your dignity. As Phonte raps on “Everything Is Falling Down,” “I don’t need a new style / being dope is always in fashion.”