No News Is Good News

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Once Charity Starts at Home was finished in 2011, Phonte carried on with the fourth and fifth Foreign Exchange LPs, tours, and a slew of featured appearances. In early 2016, shortly after VH1 aired The Breaks, a movie for which Phonte wrote rhymes and portrayed vainglorious king in a cipher Imam Ali, +FE Music announced the imminence of three Phonte-related albums: SkyBreak, Tigallerro, and second solo album No News Is Good News. The first two arrived as scheduled. Awaited project three materialized in March 2018, after Phonte had contributed to the series version of The Breaks, started co-piloting the Questlove Supreme podcast, and added to his discography of commissioned studio work. Foremost, he was dealing with life and death. In one week alone, his father and grandfather died. "It was a heavy year," he understates on No News Is Good News, a full-length with a duration short enough to provoke objections from listeners who anticipated a rappin' Phon-Tay album for half a decade. While this set transpires in just over 30 minutes, it is remarkably lean and unsparingly mean. Not even Phonte's parents are granted reprieves: "My momma walkin' slower these days, she got a stent/Still on them Newports, where's your fuckin' common sense?" Earlier in that lurching track, Phonte flashes back to his father's death, outlining a lethal cycle with "Hit the repast and ate the same shit that killed him." Diet, prescription and recreational drugs, overwork, and other health issues -- as they affect black men in particular -- weigh heavily on his mind in the heart of the album. Earlier on, Phonte's strictly stiff-arming, deflecting all obstacles over churning funk in "To the Rescue," then taking out young impostors on the knocking "So Help Me God." Beginning with track seven, where Phonte temporarily switches to yearning singer mode and leaves room for a typically commanding Freddie Gibbs verse, the productions and lyrical content reflect the brighter aspects of Phonte's life as a newlywed and the realization that "I can finally be myself." (Nothing here could be parenthetically titled "Ball and Chain, Pt. 2.") For all the highs and lows related throughout, cooked up with a production crew that includes Zo!, Nottz, Tall Black Guy, and DJ Harrison, the levels of cohesion and concision are uncommonly elevated. Not one note or syllable is wasted.

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