When I started this series about Phonte, I knew it’d come to this. I figured Phonte would read these at some point. And I knew I’d have to write part four. Maybe that’s why it’s taken me so long to write this installment. Because for all Phonte’s music and creativity has done for me, this is about the time Tigallo let me down.
The worst year of my life started when I graduated college in 2008 and ended in the summer of 2009 when I was knee-deep in my terrible time at Northwestern’s grad school. I could write 5,000 words on how scary a time it was to graduate right in the middle of the worst economic debacle of our lifetimes (hopefully). Everything was in shambles. I had a job offer in New York that ended up getting yanked due to hiring freezes and I ended up on my mom’s couch for a while.
Eventually, I found myself in Boston for a few months and reconnected with a relationship that was a dead end in college and stayed pretty much the same in Bean Town. By then, I knew I’d end up at Northwestern at the beginning of 2009, but that didn’t stop me from trying to make crappy relationship work while I was in New England. Naturally, it fell apart and trust was the main reason. As is my M.O., though, I wanted to work at it longer than I should have but it was the Foreign Exchange track “Valediction” that helped me realize what I knew all along:
“So we must say our goodbyes
To all of the pain and the lies
Nothing’s been more true
Than these words to you”
I know it sounds silly and emo, but I really drew courage from the speaker’s ability to leave his woman’s “things right by the door” and move on. I actually remember exactly where I was in Boston when I heard the song and realized it’d be best to head back to my mom’s couch until it was time to start grad school.
As great as Phonte has been as a rapper and one-half of Little Brother, his music with Foreign Exchange always hit emotional chords with me and by the time they’d dropped Leave It All Behind, the group had really hit its stride. Of course, I wasn’t the only person who noticed this.
Soon, Phonte was being recognized by mainstream America as the singer from Foreign Exchange, even landing a Grammy nomination. It wasn’t long before it became clear that Little Brother was heading to its twilight. Now, I don’t know nor have I asked Phonte why Little Brother broke up (not that they’d particularly tell me), but I wasn’t surprised that they announced their last album, Leftback in April of 2010. I was, though, surprised by what sort of album Little Brother gave us for their farewell.
It’s not that Leftback was a bad album as much as it just felt like a hastily put together album. With instrumental remixes to songs we heard before in the body of the album, it really felt like Week 17 and LB had rested its starters. Beyond that was Phonte’s “Tigallo For Dolo” that felt like an insult to one of his biggest fans:
I’m just trying to make my art and do what’s smart
Rapping Tay, four-and-half-mic honoree
Or singing Tay, first-time Grammy nominee
Nigga, you do the math
Nigga, you add it up
That’s on my mind when I press record
A lot of niggas probably mad at me
But I would rather be a lonely wolf than a sheep that’s bored
So fuck it
Allow me to channel 2010 David D. here:
Really, Tay? That’s how you feel? Will those Grammy nominations stand in line for hours to catch you at the House Of Blues? Will those Grammy board members recite your lyrics word for word and make you a movement? Those Grammy nominations and pictures with Quincy Jones were nice, but we — your diehard fans from the beginning — were the foundation. The 2013, older David D. doesn’t feel as strongly against what Phonte was trying to say in his verse. But I really felt like he’d found some mainstream love and didn’t feel like he needed us anymore.
Yup, Phontigallo didn’t want us anymore. He moved to the big house and bounced.
And that’s the mentality I held on to for about a year…until he dropped the perfect album at the perfect time in my life.
…To be continued.