Life comes at you fast.
One day you’re hitting the town with your squad on a Saturday night and shutting the club down at 3 AM. The next thing you know, you’re having family time your kids and spouse on a Saturday afternoon and shutting the zoo down at 5 PM. I went from enthusiastically hopping out of bed in the mornings to gently rolling off the mattress while every joint in my body sounds like popcorn in what seems like the blink of an eye. It happens. We all get older, and as that happens we see the course of our lives change in ways we couldn’t have previously imagined. Marriage and divorce. Births and deaths. Weight gain and weight loss. And in most cases, weight gain again. With Hip-Hop being a relatively young genre dominated primarily by young artists, the complexities of aging and the changes that come with it are rarely subjects of the music. It’s in this void that Phonte injects his sophomore solo album “No News Is Good News.”
Leading off the album with the funky, rapid-paced “To the Rescue,” Tigallo quickly reminds everyone that he’ll rap rings around anyone in the rap game. With a low-fi vocal delivery reminiscent of an Eric B & Rakim album, we get the effortless “I’m-nicer-than-you” bars we’re used to getting from a rap wordsmith. “So Help Me God,” the subsequent track, follows directly in its footsteps with bars of braggadocio and a reminder that Phonte has been “gracin' hard beats ever since y’all car seats was still rear facin’.”
The rest of the album takes a sharp departure from the traditional rap album content as if Te only wanted to take a brief moment to remind us that he'd still wash any MC out there before he got into more serious matters. If you accept the party that DJ Kool Herc threw on August 11, 1973, as the birth of Hip-Hop, that makes it 45 years old this year. At 39 years old himself, Phonte spends the better part of 7 tracks of a 10 track album speaking directly to the things that affect the lives of middle-aged people. From illness and death of parents and family members to our own health and mortality, “Cry No More” highlights just how literally people of this age range are in the middle generation. Being stuck between raising the next generation and seeing your elders deteriorate not only provides a unique perspective on life, but a new perspective that’s rarely expressed on an album.
This crossroads of life is perfectly illustrated in “Expensive Genes” which is the pinnacle of “No News Is Good News”. For listeners who have grown up parallel to Hip-Hop’s development, we’ve now arrived at the point where “Our biggest fears were shots or armed robbery/Now the biggest fears are clots and oncology”. Instead of a song about young soldiers dying in the street, we’re given a song that reflects the need for us to remember not to “dig a grave with your teeth”.
Despite the continued dominance of youth in Hip-Hop today, we're seeing an emergence of seasoned artists who are breaking ground in uncharted territory to show us what it looks and sounds like as both the rapper and their music mature. While Jay-Z showed unprecedented vulnerability on “4:44", Phonte does his own version with “No News Is Good News” specifically for those of us making less than 100K a year. This album should serve as a window into the future for the next generation of Hip-Hop artists. When the luster of youth fades and we're face to face with the harsh realities of life hopefully this album will serve as a blueprint of how to age gracefully in Hip-Hop.