While platinum certifications have eluded Phonte Coleman, he has built one of the richest and most consistent discographies in post-millennial hip-hop and R&B. The Greensboro, North Carolina native established himself in Little Brother, a Native Tongues-inspired trio that developed into the leading alternative rap act of the 2000s. Coleman became known for casually clever wordplay that projected vivid realism with rare depth and sharp humor. While the group was still thriving, he and Dutch multi-instrumentalist/producer Nicolay established the Foreign Exchange, who debuted with the accomplished multi-genre synthesis Connected (2004) and made a convincing shift into moody, left-of-center R&B with Leave It All Behind (2008). Among the latter album's highlights was "Daykeeper," a spine-chilling ballad on which Coleman shared lead vocals with Muhsinah. The song was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Urban/Alternative Performance, a validation of Coleman's artistic diversification.
After the disbandment of Little Brother and the release of the Foreign Exchange's third album, Coleman issued his first solo album, Charity Starts at Home (2011). Featuring a handful of cuts produced by fellow LB alum 9th Wonder, it debuted at number seven on the Billboard rap chart. One factor in its high placement was possibly Drake, who had recently dedicated his BMI Songwriter of the Year Award to his inspirations: larger-than-life superstars Kanye West and André 3000, and the comparatively under-the-radar Coleman. Through the mid-2010s, Coleman's abundant and evolving output with Nicolay remained his primary outlet as he continued to work beside fellow Foreign Exchange family members, including YahZarah and Zo!, as a songwriter, producer, and guest vocalist. Meanwhile, he also continued to stack appearances on tracks by other artists, including the Roots, Robert Glasper, and Kaytranada. He was especially productive across 2015 and 2016, a period that entailed a fifth Foreign Exchange studio release, contributions to solo albums by Nicolay and Zo!, and the creation of Tigallerro, a full-length collaboration with longtime associate Eric Roberson. Behind the scenes, Coleman wrote verses for multiple characters (including one he portrayed) in The Breaks, a VH1 TV movie that developed into a series.
Coleman was comparatively quiet during 2017, though he continued co-hosting Questlove's Questlove Supreme podcast and received a writing credit on the Roots and Bilal's "It Ain't Fair," recorded for the Detroit soundtrack. The second proper solo Phonte album, the succinct but emotionally wide-ranging No News Is Good News, was released the following March with production from the likes of Zo!, Tall Black Guy, and DJ Harrison. ~ Andy Kellman
- Greensboro, NC
- 29 December 1978