Phonte and Eric Roberson - Tigallerro (2016)

Phonte and Eric Roberson
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Phonte & Eric Roberson - Tigallerro

They both needed this. Both Eric “Erro” Roberson and Phonte Coleman, the former being the King of Indie Soul and the latter the hip hop half of The Foreign Exchange, have enviable catalogs of nu-soul and electrosoul classics by the handfuls. Both are musical hustlers who are globally recognized despite their independent status and have enough shared musical collaborations between them to comprise a compilation album all their own. However, in recent years, both Erro and Phonte (and by extension The Foreign Exchange collective) have respectively fallen into something of a creative rut, recently crafting songs that have more in common with their now trademark legacy catalogs than music’s future. Well, consider the cobwebs shaken off with 2016’s much-needed hip-hop soul album, Tigallerro. Did I mention they managed to do so without turning to trap music? God bless.

Phonte & Eric Roberson - Tigallerro

They both needed this. Both Eric “Erro” Roberson and Phonte Coleman, the former being the King of Indie Soul and the latter the hip hop half of The Foreign Exchange, have enviable catalogs of nu-soul and electrosoul classics by the handfuls. Both are musical hustlers who are globally recognized despite their independent status and have enough shared musical collaborations between them to comprise a compilation album all their own. However, in recent years, both Erro and Phonte (and by extension The Foreign Exchange collective) have respectively fallen into something of a creative rut, recently crafting songs that have more in common with their now trademark legacy catalogs than music’s future. Well, consider the cobwebs shaken off with 2016’s much-needed hip-hop soul album, Tigallerro. Did I mention they managed to do so without turning to trap music? God bless.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fresh inclusion of producers like S1 (Beyoncé, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar), Daniel Crawford (Amp Fiddler, Cleveland P. Jones), and DJ Harrison (Robert Glasper, Butcher Brown) to go with longtime collaborative producer, Zo! (The Foreign Exchange, PPP, Sy Smith), being in this new mix. Maybe both stars felt they could take more artistic risks since Tigallerro is neither a traditional Eric Roberson nor The Foreign Exchange album around which devotees have built-in expectations. Or, maybe they just got tired of us over at SoulTracks.com saying their music was evolving into good, but familiar comfort food. Whatever the reason, we’re grateful for a surprisingly delectable offering that is unexpected, fun, soulful, and finally delivers what has been, ‘til now, the missing Summer album -- since Beyoncé’s Lemonade dominated the Spring and Anderson.Paak’s Malibu the Winter. Tigallerro is ripe for a long summer drive of adult grooves and head-bobs over plates of dripping BBQ.

Tigallerro’s first three songs remind us that Phonte and Erro came of age in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, when lite radio funk were staples at the roller rink, the family cookout, and boom boxes blaring from hood stoops. The flowing, yet percussive sounds personified by rhythmic music that energizes the air with bumping basslines and cool guy electric guitar without becoming bombastic, overwhelming, or rude in order to make its point. The first half of Tigallerro is devoted to these kinds of melodic toe-tappers against which one can write young, sun-soaked memories, and 20 years later can cause thicker arms and more rickety knees to run to the nearest dance floor in squealing nostalgia. The duo briefly returns to these sounds with more evening chic in mind for the final two tracks, “3:45” and “Something,” both easily some of their more enticing cuts in recent years. Those of us who remember the original shell-top Adidas and distressed stonewash jean as a lived experience will find much to love here. 

The middle of the project does lean more toward the kinds of smooth, mid-tempo signatures for which Erro and Phonte are known. Still, even these have something different about them, a welcome facelift, if you will, on the artists’ more trademark interplay. “Hold Tight” has reverberations of Erro’s unsung “Miles Away” from 2001’s Esoteric, if Phonte’s rap here is more inline with the jingly flow of these times. The liquid guitar sounds of “Grow This Love,” with Eric singing an uncharacteristically playful melodic line (well, uncharacteristic since the days of Left), also has the gift of being both old and new to smiling effect. The sinewy “Never the Same Smile” feels like The Foreign Exchange deconstructed, as the floral cut eschews traditional structure, and strongly benefits from the experimentation. Everyone involved pushed themselves and it shows.

All in all, Erro and Phonte have demonstrated that neither is down for the count. And, despite two decades of great music and enduring several passing musical fads in the industry, neither man is quite ready to be dismissed as a veteran delivering warmed over versions of his greatest hits. Class is now open on maintaining musical relevancy without losing the music, and Professors Erro and Phonte are ready to teach today’s lesson. Everyone turn to track one of TigallerroHighly Recommended. 

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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