One of our favorite rappers is back with his sophomore solo offering, “No News Is Good News”.

Respected as a third of the now-defunct Little Brother and known more recently for being the singing frontman of The Foreign Exchange, Phonte’s 10 track album is a rhymefest with maturity and candour that makes the listener smile, in his usual style of rhyming about everyday middle-class life. And he’s a pretty good singer too, showcasing his versatility that is not limited to his rap skills.

The album opens with “To The Rescue”, with vintage offbeat drums that matches his rap bars before getting on a jazz-improv stance as Phonte displays his effortless singing ability.

“Expensive Genes” is a beautiful, bite-sized reflection about being 40 – the cynicism, the mindset and the health issues. This is the only song in the entire album crafted by a known producer, Nottz.

No big-name producers and no numerous guest emcees here; Freddy Gibbs comes on in “Change of Mind” and frequent collaborator Eric Roberson croons on “Find That Love Again”, a song that comes off like a stepper’s classic. Phonte has one purpose – to present quality music while indirectly showing his rap prowess without baring his fangs. The production is non-conformist and totally focused on musicmanship, unlike the sample-based production we are used to hearing him spew on when he was with Little Brother, thanks to marvelous producer 9th Wonder.

The album is a fresh breath in rapscape, where monotony and naivety is the rule of the day. There are no club-bangers here, just a carefully curated set for the discerning ear and cruise music for a late-nite drive. His art of storytelling is gold and bold, with well-placed confidence and complexity as he showcases on “Pastor Tigallo”

There are personal experiences he laces out in a thought-provocative fashion in “No More Tears” and “Such Is Life” while exposing his perceptions as a committed partner in his marriage. With unmatched style he weaves wit into his rhymes, his flow is artsy and he displays nonchalance and mastery.

The album closes with “Euphorium (Back To The Light), a double-time tempo with a future soul feel as he drops science with some light-heartedness

“Locked in a cage with your generational rage/ Hate generates renegades/
Showing their ass to the crowd ’cause they can’t take it to the stage/
Been feeling real good man, when I see myself/
First time in my life feeling like I can finally be myself/
Cashews on special, shit I might treat myself/
I drop science not history bitch, I don’t repeat myself”

Phonte is not looking to ‘fit in’ with his contemporaries or make music in parallel to today’s trend; “No News Is Good News” is hip hop for grown ups, a collection of solid head-nodding smooth music with deep rhymes. Definitely a notable effort for 2018 from the North Carolina native.