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Phonte Coleman figures out how to be on his own (via News & Observer)

by +FE on June 8, 2012 at 10:36 AM · Comments
It's been quite a year for Phonte Coleman.

Raleigh's resident MC/soul singer extraordinaire (who usually just goes by his first name) - the same man who has been front-and-center for such outfits as the now-defunct hip-hop trio Little Brother and the Grammy-nominated, indie-R&B collaboration known as the Foreign Exchange - has spent most of these past months onstage, mainly by his lonesome.

"Everything I've done up to this point was from Little Brother or Foreign Exchange or whatever," says Coleman, 33, getting comfortable in his Raleigh home after just getting off a plane.

"But now, it's the first time I've really been able to step out - for me."

This one-man show he's been doing comes after the release of his long-awaited solo effort, "Charity Starts at Home," which came out last September.

Since then, he's been touring on his own, getting awestruck when he plays spots like New York City's B.B. King Blues Club & Grill and sees his name on the marquee.

"Like, that was the first time I'd ever seen my personal name in lights ... That was kind of wild," he says.

Technically, he's been touring the country with another performer, producer/DJ 9th Wonder, also known as his former, estranged partner in Little Brother.

For a while, the two weren't on speaking terms after Wonder left the group in 2007. (Coleman and fellow MC Rapper Big Pooh kept the boat afloat before calling it quits in 2010.)

However, early last year, the pair patched things up, even working on each other's solo albums. (9th's latest, "The Wonder Years," was released on the same day "Charity" came out.)

Coleman says he and the Wonder man are now at a point in their relationship where they should've been 10 years ago.

"But," he explains, "as things go, you have to grow up. So we needed to go through what we needed to go through. So, we can have the relationship that we have today. So, it's all good."

Coleman says what keeps their friendship secure now is that they respect each other's space.

"I mean, 9th, you know, he does his thing. I do my thing, and we accept each other in that circle. I mean, in the past, we always kind of made a thing of trying to change each other ... Now, we're just at a point where it's just like we accept each other on our own terms and as our own men."

While he and 9th's relationship has gotten smoother, Coleman's personal life has been the opposite. Recently divorced, Coleman's marital woes were a contributing factor to the subject matter of "Charity."

"Looking back on it, I definitely think it was a record that" - he chuckles as he finds the right words - "it definitely describes where I'm at right now, or where I was at that time, I guess. It was kind of like the perfect snapshot of my life at that time, you know." While Coleman insists it wasn't his intention to get really real on "Charity," it certainly helped him work things out in his personal life.

"I think if you listen to it, you can hear a person that is definitely conflicted with a lot of things, and I'm just trying to figure it out just like anybody else. So maybe the next album won't be as distraught as 'Charity,' now that I kind of got that out."

As always, Coleman is concentrating on other things. Sadly, one of those things isn't his hilarious "Gordon Gartrell Radio" podcast. Since early last year, the show has been on an indefinite hiatus since DJ Brainchild, who provides the show's music, has taken time off from spinning records.

He and his Foreign Exchange co-conspirator Nicolay Rook are currently mapping out the next album.

"We really just want to take our time with the next go-round," he says.

"You know, just kind of put out something on our time, and not on a label distributor's time or whatever."

Nevertheless, Coleman will always be around if artists want to work with him. The kind of performer who can spit a verse or two on tunes from progressive soulsters Eric Roberson and Anthony David, then go back and forth with hip-hop oddity Lil B "The Based God" on a rap track, Coleman is always ready to perform, whether he's alone or with friends.

"I feel it's a blessing to be able to have persevered as long as I have, you know, and still be here and still be prosperous - still be happy, younowhamsayin."
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