I room and a microphone. And a family I ain’t seen in months/ And I played this record a million times just hoping that you’d play it once/” Phonte Coleman
Phonte was one third of the North Carolina rap group Little Brother. To those that were super hip-hop heads, Little Brother was a fixture in your CD changer or discman. Between 2003-2009, Phonte, Rapper Big Pooh and producer 9th Wonder (for the first two albums) crafted a nearly flawless catalog. Phonte was always the standout emcee. While promoting their major-label debut The Minstrel Show, Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh stopped by Morehouse’s campus and had an autograph signing. They attended North Carolina Central University, and that was Devin and my other roommate Walter’s alma mater for undergrad. We asked him a few months prior had he ever heard of them and he said no. I was taking an African American studies class that was all about the history of hip-hop at the time. Some of my classmates went to the signing and asked Little Brother if they would come by our class and speak for a minute. Devin called me and told me that he ran into Walter on campus and with a signed poster and once again asked if he’d ever seen this trio. He said that he looked at the picture and said “That’s Thomas! My roommate!” He was referring to Rapper Big Pooh. Little Brother had shown up to our class as promised. Walter walked into the room and both Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh stopped mid-sentence. Big Pooh said “That was my roommate my freshman year in college!” They stopped and hugged for a quick moment and went back to speaking about the music business.
At the end of their lecture, one of the students asked if they would do an impromptu freestyle cypher with some of us. They did and two of us jumped at the chance to rap for Phonte and Big Pooh. I was knee deep in my being a rapper phase and spit a verse for them. As they were about to leave, they told me that my verse was dope and that I was nice. If I ever decided to quit rapping, that was my validation someone who was considered a rapper’s rapper told me I was nice.
I saw the clouds today and thought that it was time to say goodbye-Phonte Coleman
Phonte’s solo album Charity Starts At Home was released September 27, 2011. It was a stellar album in which he rapped about every day stuff: taking care of his family, work, trying to stay faithful as well as some excellent rappity rap along the way. I related to this album, because that was my life. The title in itself was everything to me. I was working for a company facilitating and negotiating short sales on homes with distressed mortgages ten hours a day, just to drive home to my fiance who was fighting for her life and taking care of our infant daughter. They were my everything and if I were still rapping for real at the time, my album would have sounded very similar to his in topic.
Just about every day between late September to the end of October when I left Buffalo to live in Virginia I listened to that album on the way home. My favorite song was the last song called “Who Loves You More.” I that chorus spoke to me. “I saw the clouds and thought that it was time to say goodbye.” It always made me think about my girl that I was going home to. Timile was beginning to get sicker and sicker. She was eighty-eight pounds and spent a lot of time in bed at that time. She would doubt that I was still attracted to her since she felt like she was no longer the youthful girl that I spent a good portion of our relationship side-eyeing all of the men who wanted what I had. One grayish day outside as I drove home, I looked up and thought to myself “Maybe it will be time to say goodbye soon.” I hated that I thought that, but I was being realistic with myself. Things weren’t looking great and I believed in miracles, but I had to prepare my mind, heart, spirit, and little girl for the possibility that Timile may not be with us much longer or one day. Even if her cancer did go into remission, she could have shaven many years off of her life just due to the aggressive treatments she underwent at twenty-five.
Praying that the ends justify the means. Cause most of my heroes had fucked up lives/ Coked up kids and three or four wives
Hoes in every city, enough side bitches for three or four tribes/From Marvin to Basquiat, it comes with a cavat. And that’s the gospel like three or four choirs/-Phonte Coleman
That’s incredibly true. Growing up, my hero was my father. He still is. He’s the man to me. My father is a musician by trade. He’s played all over the world and worked with some of everyone over the last thirty years. One of these days, I will delve more into detail about him and our relationship. As a musician on the road, he lived the life that many do. It took a toll on our family dynamic in many ways. My father is hard on me because he saw me going down the road that he did. I think sometimes there’s an inner conflict with him, because he wants me to do what he didn’t in the sense of being a musician as well as to learn from his mistakes. I know he lives with quite a few regrets about how things have panned out in his life and as his son, I am his chance to do the things that he didn’t. I wouldn’t say that his life is fucked up, but he may feel that way himself. I can see it in our late conversations via text message and in his eyes depending on the subject matter.
When I was trying to be in the music business, I let it all go for Timile. I looked at how I was raised as a product of it. While I loved it and wouldn’t change a thing, it wasn’t the life that she wanted. Making a living or having a life, I had to choose. No matter what I wanted, she came first. I didn’t have any regrets on whether or not I could make it or if I was any good. Hell, Phonte and Big Pooh’s compliment told me otherwise. I’m not upset about it to this day. Knowing how things would play out, I made the right decision. With that said, The last two bars of “Who Loves You More” and the album sum everything up:
And always take care of home. Because home is where charity starts-Phonte Coleman