Underground Essentials | Little Brother
“You know, I’m saying the Tribe, De La, P.E., you know what I’m saying… They were like our big brothers in the game so now we are the little brothers of that movement. They were like our big brothers in the game, now they got a little brother following in their footsteps and carrying on the tradition of good music.” – Phonte (MVRemix, 2003)
Little Brother is a rap group as iconic as they are essential. Picking up the torch from their predecessors, partners Phonte and Big Pooh have championed a soulful, classic sound that will suck in any deserving hip-hop head. The story of the group is full of twists and turns that only served to cement their legacy.
Laying the groundwork for the big name of Little Brother was the group that birthed them, Justus League. This North Carolina rap collective was founded by Big Dho, Cesar Comanche, and none other than 9th Wonder in 1996. This massive group of artists was the catalyst that brought together the connections that would last for years to come. NC Central University was the setting for 9th Wonder’s link-up with Phonte and Big Pooh, who together as a trio would go on to drop classic album after classic album. Little Brother’s first record was a debut single by the name of Speed, created and released in 2001. This would set the stage for their imminent success!
Are You Listening?
The Listening is an album revered by hip hip historians as a necessary listen. The group would begin 2002 with this debut, a definitive turning point in their history. Soulful instrumentation and signature 9th Wonder drums infuse the project’s runtime as the rapping duo laid down the hardest laid back bars you’ve ever heard. This is head-bobbing music at its finest. The trio would see great commercial success as a result of the album, as well as a spot opening up for Hieroglyphics on their Full Circle Tour.
2005’s The Minstrel Show is the epitome of Little Brother’s spirit. A fully fleshed-out shot at the music industry, the group compares the business nowadays to 1800’s minstrel shows. These shows were terrible theatre and circus-like events based on caricatures and stereotypes of Africans and their descendants. Using well-oiled skits to set the tone, the group approaches social commentary and conscious lyrics with typical swagger and technical skill.
As 2007 was in full swing, the group went through the first of a few rough patches. Disagreements with the treatment from Atlantic Records resulted in them abandoning the label. Likewise, the trio itself was having difficulties seeing eye to eye. 9th Wonder would go on to leave the group under the guise of differences in creative visions and business decisions. All three members insist that the split was on good terms, maintaining that there was no beef whatsoever.
After all these situational changes, the now-duo dropped their album Getback on ABB Records, an independent label. Featuring new production from others than 9th Wonder on all but one song, the album received little buzz but is highly regarded by fans of Little Brother. After follow-up projects including mixtapes and album, both members were seeing success in solo work as well as their collaborative efforts. They began to focus on releasing music under complete ownership, a departure from previous work with labels.
The Beginning of The End
As many prominent groups tend to experience, there came a time when controversy and personal relationships began to sour what they had. 2010 was an infamous year for the group, with both an album release and the announcement of a hiatus within quick succession. Even 9th Wonder appeared back in the picture, exchanging passively aggressive messages on Twitter with Phonte. The duo unanimously would speak on the hiatus, saying that it was necessary to preserve the goodness that they accomplished together. Neither wanted to force more work only to see it implode under the circumstances. Phonte and Big Pooh would split ways and allegedly not speak for years, a disappointing end to such a beloved group.
The Beginning After The End
Luckily for us, a freak opportunity for all Phonte, 9th Wonder, and Big Pooh to perform together at the 2018 Art of Cool festival reignited the passion of the group. Although 9th Wonder didn’t take, the other two joined forces again to rekindle not only their personal relationships but their musical partnership. The following year brought the newest Little Brother installment May The Lord Watch, with standout tracks such as “The Feel,” and “Black Magic (Make It Better).” Critics loved it, the fans were here for it, what a return for such a group! While there is definitely more content in the pipeline, it’s reassuring to know the two have made up and combined their powers once again.
Little Brother, much like their “big brothers,” carved out their own path through hip hop. Genuine personality bleeds through every bar, and commitment to true rap culture and conscious lyrics still ring true to this day. If you were ever looking for an essential group, this is what you’ve been searching for.