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Village Voice: “Little Brother’s Retirement Party”


This week’s Village Voice has a piece I did on Little Brother and their excellent new (and last) album, Leftback. I hope I did the group justice and unfortunately, I totally didn’t get to explain all the mini-reasons why Leftback rules, but well, go listen to it if you haven’t already. There was also a special kind of thrill getting to hear the album early in Phonte’s car and also, sitting down with Phonte and Pooh and just talking about rap. Also, thanks to Eric Tullis for helping me get in touch with Little Brother.

One thing, that’s much too “bloggy” to discuss in an article though, is how I find the music of Little Brother (and also, Slum Village) to be much more edifying than their supposedly better, certainly more influential rap 90’s rap influences. And this isn’t a case of what I heard or was intimate with first–Pete Rock and Tribe, is the earliest rap shit that got me into this rap shit–but there’s just something kinder, wizened, and more free in Little Brother or Slum, you hear age and wear and confusion in their raps and at 25, that grabs me more. Anyways–here’s the article:

It’s near midnight on an early April weekday, and as Little Brother emcee Phonte Coleman navigates North Carolina’s I-540 between Raleigh and Durham, the group’s latest (and unfortunately last) album, Leftback, jumps from the speakers. He nods his head to the syrupy beats, mouths the words to his and partner Big Pooh’s raps, and occasionally swings his fingers across the dashboard, playing along to a particularly immaculate keyboard line. “Originally, it wasn’t supposed to be this kind of an event,” he notes, casually, when it’s over, reflecting on the weirdly formal, strangely mature end to the underground hip-hop institution his group became.

A big, dumb thesis on Little Brother’s break-up marking the end of “conscious rap” could be drummed up pretty easily, but that lofty label never meant much to the group. With 2003’s The Listening, then-trio Phonte, Pooh, and producer 9th Wonder were handed the responsibility of resurrecting rap simply because that satisfied debut housed sensitive, working-class rhymes and vaguely throwback production. Ignored was the fact that they were just as likely to clown “next-level” vegan nonsense-spouters as they were radio-rap knuckleheads.

Written by Brandon

April 28th, 2010 at 4:52 am

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5 Responses to 'Village Voice: “Little Brother’s Retirement Party”'

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  1. album is great. I think tigallo for dolo is a standout track. his whole description of how well, rap is cool but it ain’t a job you can do forever. there’s other shit in life. but there is also tension about loving the shit and being like damnnn i used to be dope. why am i not that hungry anymore. also

    “21 years old i used to slang verses, 10 years later i am not the same person”

    “feeling like a born again version of myself thought i left the shit i used to listen to, ’til one day i was playin my old shit, like ‘who the fuck is this, i kinda miss this dude’”.

    that’s great. and he has some good just battle rap shit talking while also paying homage to the ones comin up. his ability to convey a singular idea throughout an entire song is fucking remarkable.

    also i think Khrysis is TRYING to sound like 9th on this track. i thought for sure this is a 9th wonder track until i read the credits.


    29 Apr 10 at 5:29 pm

  2. That was a good article. I haven’t heard ‘Leftback’ yet but Little Brother has always been a guilty pleasure for me. ‘Guilty’ because of that whole ‘3rd generation Native Tongue wannabe’ thing you mentioned, but always a pleasure anyway.

    I even liked 9th Wonder’s beats on the first two albums (I think me and, like, 4 other people actually purchased a physical copy of ‘The Minstrel Show’; mine was on vinyl because I’m a nerd). I also agree with you about ‘Get Back’ being the strongest album.
    (Phonte’s ‘Gordon Gartrelle’ podcast is also great, btw.)

    I do have to part company with you on that LB/SV are better than Pete Rock and Tribe observation. Pete Rock & CL Smooth only made two albums (and left a pretty flawless legacy imo) but they are kinda encrusted into that early-to-mid-nineties era they came from.

    Tribe’s recorded legacy spans from 1990 to 1998 and displays that route from exuberant post-adolescence to a sort of disillusionment in their late twenties. I mean, with Dilla’s help, the last two Tribe albums almost are Slum Village albums. I’m a pretty big fan of Little Brother and stuff like ‘Fantastic Vol. 2′ but, I mean, ‘Mecca & the Soul Brother’ and ‘The Low End Theory’/'Midnight Marauders’ make for some pretty tough competition.


    29 Apr 10 at 6:03 pm

  3. Akin-
    Glad you’re enjoying the album. That particular beat is surely 9th-esque, but it has real drums which is nice, ha. Also, Khrysis is on some other shit at other points, especially the final track.

    It’s funny about “Tigallo for Dolo” because when I first heard it, not really listening to the lyrics, (and in Phonte’s car) I thought of it as a kind of preview for Phonte’s solo album. Funny thing is, it is that, even as it basically says “there won’t be a solo album.” That’s a very Little Brother-like way to approach shit.

    As long as Foreign Exchange is around though. I won’t complain.

    I mean, I wouldn’t argue it’s platonically, objectively “better” music, but I was more feeling out and seeing if anybody else had the same feelings as me. I mean, Pete & CL have a good five years or so together, Tribe have 8 or so, LB have like 8, so it’s close.

    I find the tension in LB (and SV too), this anxiety of influence shit but also this comfort of not being this or that (so they can rap about more bullshit and just get real) really engaging. It feels more “real” to me. That could change of course.


    29 Apr 10 at 6:10 pm

  4. Great write up as well. When I first started reading ur blog I wasn’t sure if u were an LB fan or not. But i think it was that u weren’t a fan of the “John Kerry hip hop” vibe LB fans tend to carry around. I hang with a lot of those type of cats (and i lean toward that from time to time) and i can see with that point of view comes from.

    Also agree that Getback is their strongest album. Among other things, there was a variety of production on Getback while keeping it consistent. Leftback has less variety and the consistency I think hurts the middle portion of the album. It almost flows a lil to easily from track to track, without much distinction from one to the other (I had the same problem listening to The Listening the first few times.)

    That said, I didn’t think Khrysis had a beat like “24″ in him and the just straight up knocks and is a great change of pace.


    30 Apr 10 at 8:29 pm

  5. That john kerry analogy was needed. i get yelled at wayyy too when the O Let’s Do It remix comes on after some slum village song by my john kerry voting friends.

    And that 24 beat is cool but not my cup o tea I think. Why do you guys like it so much (not being sarcastic)?
    Sounds like he took a bunch of adderall, watched some aarab muzik youtube vids and went nuts on the mpc.


    1 May 10 at 10:28 pm

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