Tag Archives: Phonte

undun: A Track-By-Track Review

At this moment, this is my hip-hop/R&B/(maybe every genre, but I can’t fairly say) album of the year. Common could change that next week, but for now, undun is it.

The shit is perfect. The Roots always come with it, but this one hit me hard from the first listen. Combining the best elements of each of their most recent albums — the dark tone of Game Theory and Rising Down, and the drive of How I Got Over — this should go down as one of their masterpieces. Unlike those albums, which I enjoyed no doubt (How I Got Over, especially, is really, really good), I thought undun — not including the four movements at the end — was incredibly consistent, and constantly building, throughout. There was never a dip or break in the action, and the sequencing is impeccable.

Much has been made of the fact that The Roots constructed this album to tell the semi-fictional story of Redford Stephens, a young, Black, urban teenager, and you can hear parts of that story being told on each of the album’s 10 tracks. However, despite the cleverness of the narrative, undun is mostly just about the music for me. Blacks Thought is Black Thought; the choruses on every song are tight and meaningful; and the stripped down, heavy and poignant instrumentation — especially the drums, guitars and piano — provide a perfect canvas.

1. Dun – A quiet intro, this does a fine job setting the stage. No lyrics and nothing too energetic from the instrumentalists or vocalists. This is simply the beginning of a steadily brewing tale.

2. Sleep – Clocking in at just over two minutes, and consisting of just one verse, this song creeps eerily — it almost feels like a clock ticking. Continuing the intro’s mission of laying the foundation for the rest of the album, we’re introduced to the dark world of Stephens via the hook (“I’ve lost a lot of sleep to dreams”), and Black Thought, who raps that “Illegal activity controls my Black symphony.”

3. Make My (Feat. Big K.R.I.T. & Dice Raw) – Featuring one hip-hop’s best lyricists, this rides smooth. KRIT and Black both offer up insightful verses, reflecting on their — or Redford’s — grim reality. Like “Sleep”, the chorus backs this up perfectly: “they told me that the end, won’t justify the means, and they told me that the end, don’t justify the dreams”. It’s the two-minute jam and harmonizing at the end that makes this song for me. I could listen to that segment on repeat for hours. So smooth.

4. One Time (Feat. Phonte & Dice Raw) – Dating back to their last album, How I Got Over, Phonte has become one of The Roots’ most effective collaborators. This record is no different. Here is where the pace of the album really picks up, as the keys and drums drive this one all the way home, along with some energetic rhymes from Phonte, who wastes no time getting things going  — “the spirit in the sky screamed homicide, but it was time to ride on some niggas funny-talking, if too much money talking we make ’em economize, real rap no tale-spinnin!” Black Thought dives in menacing on verse 2, and Dice Raw comes correct, as well. Another great, purposeful chorus, exemplifies just how flawless this album is, as “Make My” flows seamlessly into this, and this flow seamless into…

5. Kool On (Feat. Greg Porn & Truck North) – This shit right here?! On my first run-through the album, this is the first song that snatched my attention and made me hit the repeat button. Incredible chorus, fantastic sample and super-soulful, this grooves 100 percent and the rest is really gravy. Black spittin’ that shit as usual: “I got ’em waiting on the news like I’m Cronkite.” This is the only cut on undun that features a sample — check it out: DJ Rogers, “Where There’s A Will There’s A Way”.

6. The Otherside (Feat. Bilal Oliver & Greg Porn) – ?uestlove’s drums absolutely knock on this, and the keys are haunting. Fellow Soulquarian Bilal — one of the best crooners in the business — fits in perfectly and makes his presence well-felt in the refrain, personifying Redford’s tale.

7. Stomp (Feat. Greg Porn) – The guitar on this joint is phenomenal, almost erotic, reminding very much of the guitar on Kanye’s “Gorgeous“. No chorus, just spirited, passionate, distorted spoken word; something to listen to before a game…. Black’s best verse on the album — he smokes this shit! And it’s produced by Sean C & LV (Diddy’s comrades who did much of Hov’s American Gangster).

8. Lighthouse (Feat. Dice Raw) – Again with the perfect symmetry, Stomp rolls seamlessly into this, and it works out magnificently. Lighthouse may be the best song on this album. At the least, it’s got the best chorus — and maybe the best chorus I’ve heard on any hip-hop record in 2011. Some have compared it to some Stevie Wonder-type ish. The imagery and analogy they use is absolutely perfect. “No one’s in the lighthouse, face-down in the ocean…” The keys, bass and general airiness, makes you really feel like you’re in the ocean, or at least hovering over the Atlantic or the Pacific; it feels blue, but is the album’s clear plateau.

9. I Remember – Signaling the album’s winding down, Black offers up more verses of reflection. Some strings add a nice touch.

10. Tip The Scale (Feat. Dice Raw) – The final “hip-hop” cut is the perfect conclusion to this fictional narrative, as Redford contemplates suicide via Dice Raw’s chorus, and contemplates his life’s worth. “On the side of suicide, heads or tails,” he asks.

11-14. Redford (1st Movement); Possibility (2nd Movement); Will To Power (3rd Movement); Finality (4th Movement) — These are orchestral pieces, called Redford’s Movements, that I’m really in no position to be a fair critic of. I can tell you that they sound beautiful, and provide a great closing to the dark story of Redford Stephens.


“Sex symbol rap you niggas is Pam Grier”

Phonte – Dance In The Reign; Charity Starts At Home

Producer: Swiff D

The Roots Feat. Blu, Phonte and Patty Crash – The Day; How I Got Over

Producer: The Roots & Richard Nichols

“So outlandish…so 1982 bumpin’ ‘Outstanding,’ when she come to Raleigh, she call me Uncle Charlie, take it from the rear I’m her Gap Bandit”

9th Wonder Feat. Terrace Martin & Phonte – One Night; The Wonder Years [Link]

Producer: 9th Wonder

Samples: Marc Sadane – One Way Love Affair [Link]

Salute To 9th Wonder: Reflections On “The Wonder Year” & My Favorite Productions

Got a chance to see a screening of 9th Wonder’s documentary, “The Wonder Year”, yesterday, and must say it was excellent. Director Kenneth Price does a great job of chronicling 9th’s life, from childhood through the present day. Already one of my favorite producers, he escalated even further up the list — nothing like seeing someone craft a beat from scratch, especially when they’re employing incredible soul samples.

He spoke extensively on his new album, years-in-the-making, The Wonder Years, as well. Check this:

“The album is basically explaining the different types of music that I love. From the song ‘One Night,’ with Terrace Martin and Phonte, that sounds like a Gap [Band], Cameo, S.O.S. Band, Loose Ends song all rolled into one. My brother is 48, that’s a tribute to my brother. That’s his music. ‘No Pretending’ with Raekwon is my love for Wu-Tang Clan. The song with Holly Weerd and my artist Tom Hardy is my love for Atlanta — that period when Outkast was between ATLiens and Aquemini, that’s what that song is to me. ’20 Feet Tall’ and the Marsha Ambrosious, ‘Peanut Butter & Jelly’ song, is my love for hip-hop soul, my love for Mary J. Blige-type soul. So that’s the album. It just explains all the types of different genres of Black music that I love. Every track.”

Church. His knowledge of Black and American history, and Black music are also major reasons why I have a respect for 9th that extends far beyond the scope of hip-hop. While we often talk about doing things for the culture, it’s too frequently nothing but mere lip service. That’s certainly not the case here, as 9th has brought hip-hop into the academy, teaching courses at North Carolina Central (Hip-Hop and Context) and Duke (Sampling Soul).

One thing that’s clear about 9th is that he 100 percent about the culture, and an avid fan and connoisseur of music, hip-hop, R&B and soul, especially. Of course, that’s what we’re all about here at Love, Hip-Hop and Soul. As a lover of great music, hearing him DJ for two hours last night was an unbelievable treat.

The man has production credits for everyone from Jay-Z to Destiny’s Child to Murs, a list that literally spans nationwide. And it’s all done on Fruity Loops, a point that was hammered home in the film. Thus, below are my five favorite 9th Wonder-produced tracks (right now). Obviously, there’s hundreds of other I could have chosen, and, honestly, hundreds that I’m still yet to hear…

Erykah Badu – Honey; New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)

Sample: Nancy Wilson – I’m In Love [Link]

David Banner – Slow Down; Death Of A Pop Star

Sample: The Whispers – On Impact [Link]

Ludacris Feat. Common & Spike Lee – Do The Right Thing; Theater Of The Mind

Sample: Arthur Verocai – Na Boca do Sol [Link]

Drake Feat. Phonte & Elzhi – Think Good Thoughts; Comeback Season

Sample: Anita Baker – Sweet Love [Link]

Little Brother – Lovin’ It; The Minstrel Show

Sample: The Stylistics – One Night Affair [Link]

9th Wonder Feat. Phonte & Media – Band Practice, Pt. 2; The Wonder Years [Link]

Producer: 9th Wonder

Sample: Marlena Shaw – You’ve Been Away Too Long [Link]