North Carolina native Phonte Coleman (pictured) could easily pull in three lines of revenue based off his natural talent alone. The gifted singer-songwriter and capable rapper is also quite the funnyman, a fact evidenced by his rants on Twitter and the humor he injects often in his songs and live sets. Finding fame as part of the Little Brother trio featuring producer 9Th Wonder and Rapper Big Pooh, the group has since disbanded, leading way to Phonte’s current group, “The Foreign Exchange,” with Dutch producer Nicolay.
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Phonte has also stepped out on his own with 2011’s “Charity Starts At Home,” a critically acclaimed rap release that touched on issues befitting of a man who has literally grown up with Hip-Hop as his backdrop. NewsOne had a chance to chat with Phonte between a break in his heavy tour schedule as he shared how a bassist and vocalist from the Washington, D.C. area has inspired him.
Listen To Phonte Coleman Below “Charity Starts At Home”
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NewsOne: As a professional musician, can you speak on how music has changed your life and helped you grow as a person?
Phonte: Music was my connection to the rest of the world. I was always kind of an introverted kid, so music was always the way I could communicate with people. If I didn’t feel like talking, I would just play a song. No matter what emotion I was trying to get across, I had a song for it.
NewsOne: For someone so musically inclined, what was the main attraction and who did you check out as a young man?
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Phonte: It was my mother. Music actually brought us closer together. She would put on records when we had to clean the house, we would be singing around the house. My grandmother was big into the church, and I had to go with her. So I joined the choir and that’s what got me through it, the music. Music seriously got my family together. My mom and I may not have had the best relationship, but music was the bond we shared. If a Luther Vandross record came on, everything was cool (laughs).
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NewsOne: With June being Black Music Month and all the musical festivals happening nationwide, do you have any fond memories of attending a big summer concert?
Phonte: My fondest memory is my uncle taking me to the Fresh Fest in ’85; I couldn’t have been no more than six years old. It was Run-D.M.C., Fat Boys, Whodini…my uncle took his lady and her kids and me. I was just losing my mind. But afterwards, he got me a Fat Boys shirt and he was like, ‘I got you this but I had to hide it because I ain’t got the money to be buying shirts for all her bad ass kids’ and I learned several things that night. I learned how to rock a show and how to effectively date a woman with some bad ass kids (laughs).
NewsOne: What was the turning point for you in your life when you knew you wanted to do music for a living?
Phonte: Although the Fresh Fest was like a mind-blower and I was still trying to figure out how in the hell these brothers got all them damn people in the coliseum, I wasn’t thinking of myself rapping. It wasn’t until Big Daddy Kane’s “Long Live The Kane” album came out. My mom bought it for me as a Christmas present from K-Mart. If there ever was a moment I knew I wanted to do this for a living, it was then.
NewsOne: Which musical artist inspires you the most overall?
Phonte: As strange as it may sound, Meshell Ndegeocello is my biggest inspiration and influence. She’s one of the few artists able to keep me engaged from album to album. Every album is different but the common thread is always her. So no matter if she’s doing something stripped down and acoustic like the “Bitter” record or something with a harder edge like “The World Has Made Me The Man Of My Dreams,” she remains true to herself. The hardest thing as an artist is to find your own voice and she represents herself as an artist that has found her voice.
No matter what genre she sings, she’s selling Meshell. She’s not selling anything else. I’m trying to do the same thing in my music. I’m not selling anything but my own experience and hope people can get into it. I’m not selling just R&B or rap. Trust and believe, if I decide to do a ukulele album, it’s gonna be the funkiest damn ukulele album you done ever heard (laughs). That ukulele album gonna be banging! But seriously, Meshell’s artistic freedom is amazing. She keeps me engaged.
To get familiar with Phonte’s music, visit the Foreign Exchange website.