As a part of one of Hip-Hop's most influential groups, Little Brother; Phonte has always stood out. Ask around with anyone in the know, and he is pound for pound, one of music's most talented artists. He raps as good as any rapper in the game and sings just as good as any singer in R&B. Now, the freakishly talented artist out of North Carolina is ready to break out with his first solo project, Charity Starts At Home, and has linked back up with Little Brother member 9th Wonder after a long hiatus. In this interview, Tigallo speaks on his inspiration for the solo album, his relationship with Drake, 9th Wonder, the future of The Foreign Exchange and Little Brother, and more.
Me and 9th have a mutual friend in Fatin "10" Horton. Fatin is a producer in 9th's Soul Council production team and he's been a friend of mine since we were both teenagers growing up in Greensboro, NC. Through the years, he's always been a neutral party and always told us, "Look, whatever y'all gotta work out, that's on y'all; both of y'all are still my peoples." Fatin called me on New Year's Eve and said that 9th wanted to talk, and I told him to give 9th my number and we can hash it all out. He came to my crib on New Year's Day 2011 and we been rockin ever since.
The Foreign Exchange really allowed you to spread your wings as a complete artist, what does the future hold for that?
The Foreign Exchange has changed my life in so many ways. I tell everybody that +FE is me and Nic's 401K package. I love the craft of emceeing, but you can't rap forever. Being the person I am, I just love doing music. I don't want a vanity label, I don't want a bullshit clothing line, I want to make music until I die. +FE gives me the space to do that. I can sing til' I'm 70 if I want to. Me and Nic can be like Frankie Beverly and Maze and tour forever. You see Frankie step onstage with his white hat and them white linen pants, you know what time it is...lol.
You've always said Drake was your homie, and he stated in the past that he wanted you on his next album. Is that still happening?
To my knowledge, it's not happening. We've made contact with each other but all of my attempts to make something real happen have led to a dead end. I saw that he dedicated his BMI award to me and while that was a very noble and thoughtful gesture, I'd much rather he had dedicated himself to finishing a verse for one of me and 9th's songs. That, to me, seems like a more tangible way of showing gratitude. But with that said, I'm still a fan and I think he's an incredibly talented artist. When 'Take Care' drops, he's got my money.
What was the inspiration behind making Charity Starts At Home?
A solo album has always been something I thought of doing one day, if for no other reason than to cross it off my bucket list. Up until this point, I never really had a need to do one nor did I have the desire to, quite honestly. Between LB, +FE, and all my features, I pretty much get to say what I wanna say and get out all my creative energy. But now that LB is no more and +FE has pretty much left hip-hop behind altogether, there's a space for me to exist as a solo artist. And now that it's done, a big part of me feels like, "Welp....okay...that was cool....let's move on to the next thing." I don't like staying in one place creatively for very long.
It almost seemed that at one point you were ready to give up on rapping and stick with singing. It's not like you ever really left, but what made you want to "come back," for lack of a better term?
I felt that a solo album was something I had to do in order to give people an understanding of who I am as an artist. Everything I've done in my career has always been in service of another brand; I've never done something solely for myself. That's the significance of the title "Charity Starts At Home." I have to start doing more for myself and taking care of me.
You and Elzhi have always had a dope chemistry together, and you've showed that off on "Not Here Anymore." What's it like when you guys are in the studio together?
The only time me and El have been in the studio together was when we did "Hiding Place" back in '04. All our other collabs have been through email, but the spirit of competition and camaraderie is still there between us. El is one of the best MC's on the planet and working with him always pushes me to be the very best. When we get together it's like iron sharpening iron, he really keeps me on my toes and I hope that my words do the same for him.
When people think of Little Brother and especially Phonte, most people always say you are slept on. Does that stigma ever get annoying?
Nah, not at all. I think people refer to me as 'slept on' only because they feel like I should be bigger and they want more for me than I want for myself. I'm good in the space that I occupy. I'm able to make the music I want to make, put it out on my own terms, and live a relatively normal life. That makes me happy. I've never wanted to be famous. All that attention would make me absolutely miserable.
At the end of the day, what do you want people to remember about Phonte the artist?
I rapped real good, sang real good, and hopefully touched somebody's life in the process. Haha!