Little Brother frontman Phonte Coleman isn't just smart or insightful, he's sometimes downright wise. Coleman has a genius for delivering the kind of indelible, casually philosophical lyrics that take up permanent residence in listeners' minds: He doesn't just drop lyrics, he drops words of wisdom, ones to grow on. Imagine Kanye West with less ego and a smoother, more accomplished flow. Coleman is one of rap's deepest, most consistent lyricists, so it's more than a little disheartening that Leave It All Behind, his second album with Netherlands producer Nicolay as international super-duo The Foreign Exchange, favors melody and mood over lyrics.
What Phonte has left behind here, alas, is rapping. Where Foreign Exchange's transcendent debut featured a bravely pretty hip-hop/soul mix, Leave It All Behind is a blissed-out soul album with occasional hip-hop and electronic flourishes. Why do our greatest rappers always seem so bored with rap? Maxwell has a lovely singing voice, but too many of the songs here blur into one big comforting bath of soothing synthesizers and sleepy tempos. Nicolay has never been afraid to go soft and smooth, but his production on Leave It sometimes borders on easy listening. In these troubled times, hip-hop desperately needs Coleman's wit, insight, and perspective. But the world can probably go without one more silky, romantic crooner making proficient but anonymous baby-making music.