The year is 2010, the place is the stage door outside a venue in Texas. The next Chris Martin waits patiently outside with a CD, Sharpie and record in hand. The door opens and a 12-plus posse walks out. With no hesitation, little 13-year-old Chris rushes a much taller Pat. Out of breath, Martin mumbles quickly--"9th, please, will you sign my record? It's an original 'Whatever You Say' single from '02. I won it on eBay. You're so dope. I am a producer like you. I have a beat CD if you wanna listen to it." 9th Wonder says "Thanks" with a smile, signs the record takes the CD and hops on a tour bus.
The year is 2002, the place--the green room at The Knitting Factory in NYC. Little Brother has just performed and Guru is telling their emcees that they are leaders and that Little Brother reminds the baldhead of Gangstarr 15 years ago. Guru asks, "Who does yawls beats?" (Answer: 9th Wonder.) "Man, those are some dope beats. Yawl are very dope. I really enjoy yawls sound. I really enjoyed yawls show," says Gangstarr's emcee.
Now one of these events hasn't happened, but there is no doubt that it will happen--"just listen to the funky sound." Hi, everybody, meet Little Brother--Phonte, Pooh and 9th Wonder. Little Brother, meet the world that you're gonna reach and "lead." This is a very exciting time right now for hip hop in North Carolina. These three guys who met at NCCU are on heads' tongues around the country and possibly throughout world--more so than in LB's hometown. After coming together as solo artists last year, LB got the call and sent a demo and got signed by an independent label. And not just any indie label, but the well-known and respected ABB Records (www.abbrecords.com.) The Bay area wax peddlers have been slinging hits for a minute, which is perfect for us because it's been a long time since North Carolina has "slapped suckas silly" with soul. It's gonna be hard to ignore the similarities between Yaggfu Front and LB. Yaggfu was the talented N.C. group that emerged in '92 to catch much attention in the hip-hop world. Like Yaggfu, LB is gaining a larger national fan base outside of North Carolina.
"It's funny, people round here--we let 'em listen to the music, they really started to take off when we played on the Internet (www.okayplayer.com). It's funny--I know 9th used to say it all the time, 'You don't know how many people know about us.' To me it's still somewhat of a shock, like when I go other places and they have heard of us," says Pooh. But their home base is picking up. Like the recent critics' poll in The News & Observer that named LB one of the "Top 10 Artists to Watch." And of course the constant performances with LB's collective, or crew, The Justice League. The JL is a 12-plus group of artists who perform together, appear on one another's songs and share some of the same producers, much like Native Tongues.
"The League plays a big part of it, and more part of it than anything, due to the hustle of Chris Camanche (one of the rappers in JL and the brainchild of JL)," Phonte says
But the major similarity with Yaggfu Front and LB is the unchanged product that both Yaggfu and LB have to offer. In other words, they don't change their shit to fit some mold or record label--they are who they are. "We took the approach of letting the music speak for itself," says rapper Phonte.
If you happened to be on The Roots' Web site this summer you might have noticed that Roots drummer ?uestlove posted this about LB: "I'm so friggin' jealous of Little Brother. Hip-Hop the way I love it--tight beats, on point lyrics? What!!! I made 4,887,234 people listen to 'Whatever You Say' at gunpoint and I don't even own a gun."
That's just how big LB is getting and how gassed folks are getting. LB is hitting hip hop with a fresh yet retro sound like a '92 Camaro with suspension and engine adjustments or, for those import heads, a '93 RX-7 with a turbo charger.
"I take pride in being called a retro group because, I mean, a lot of the stuff that comes out today I don't really listen to. There's the occasional exceptions, but I like the old stuff: Main Ingredient, Pete Rock, C.L., Gangstarr, Mass Appeal," says Pooh.
And mass appeal is what they are getting, direct from their big brothers. Just as The Vines are to Nirvana, LB is to A Tribe Called Quest.
"I get a lot of comparisons to Primo (aka Chris Martin or DJ Premier) and Pete Rock, just from what I do with sounds and the things you hear in my beats. But that's who I learned from!" says 9th Wonder--who really is a wonder when it comes to his formula with beat making. LB has always had the hami-downs but they are fitting nicely now. Meaning LB is influenced from the boom bap era and just all good hip hop in general, so LB is keeping it in the family and keeping it real wearing the threads that holds up LB's existence. That's what Little Brother means; they are, in essence, the little brother of their predecessors.
The Listening, their first album, was finished before they were even signed and only made in about the one year-plus that they have been together. (That's right: LB est. August 2001.)
This is a great album--one of the best in '02. It's the "Future of Hip Hop" to many. These 18 tracks include rather reminiscent samples chopped like Wonder Bread--precise and tight, solid lyrics that make sense and tell stories with teeked hooks from classic bangers. Oh and there are fucking sick harmonies--like WJLR (Justice League Radio) interludes with entertaining appearances by Percy Miracles and Roy Lee. I know you're wondering, "Who are these cats?" Well how about '70s soul singer (watch out for Percy's solo) along with his once road manager who currently owns a record store in Ahoskie, N.C. That'll work.
With so many remakes of '80s rap lately, it would make sense to move along to the '90s. There are so many subtle moments throughout the album that make you giggle out loud and say "Duh" like a New York Times crossword puzzle on Sunday. Pooh and Phonte are clever in how they balance each other--Pooh's tough-love, more street-worthy bars and Phonte's laxed love that show the more chill side of LB's lyrics. But together these guys are cunning, and they'll certainly keep you humming. They are also incredibly consistent, making their second album (which is almost finished) quite promising.
But for now we still are on album number one: The Listening. For the first time in a while, we can be the first to put others on to something that's the next big thing.