Artist: Little BrotherTitle: The ListeningRating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Brolin Winning
After generating a huge buzz, and being signed to Beni B’s Oakland-based ABB label, North Carolina’s Little Brother live up to all the hype, releasing a stellar debut album, The Listening that oozes classic hip-hop. Often compared to A Tribe Called Quest, the crew of Phonte, Big Pooh, and 9th Wonder have concocted a record tailor-made for heads who long for that vintage early-nineties vibe. Clearly influenced by the Native Tongues, Pete Rock, Gang Starr, and other pioneers, Little Brother pays homage without blatantly jacking, taking cues from the forefathers while maintaining their own identity.
At the heart of their sound is 9th Wonder’s exceptional production. Heavy on chopped samples, dusty drums, and full-bodied bass, his tracks serve as the ideal foundation for the down-to-earth, layman rhymes delivered by Phonte and Pooh. “Speed” laments the “treadmill lifestyle” of trying to balance working a job with creating music in the lab, while “The Yo-Yo” discusses girls who ignore you until they find out you rap, and exposes the hypocritical mentalities of certain coffee-shop poets.
Several tunes address the ladies, including their breakout single “Whatever You Say”, which brims with punchy drums, soft strings, and breezy horn action. “Nobody But You”, featuring Keisha Shontelle, is as good a romance rap as you’ll ever hear, with filtered keys and blissful saxophones setting the mood for lyrical lovin. Other standouts include the organ-fueled “For You”, and the horn-infused and clap-laden gem “So Fabulous”, a history lesson on wax, with references to PE, Rakim, Audio Two, and Slick Rick, as well as some brief beatboxing and a few “rrrrrrrrock!”s thrown in for good measure.
Whether you’re an older fan who longs for the simpler days of hip-hop past, or a younger cat who simply appreciates high-quality music, Phonte, Big Pooh, and 9th Wonder have got you covered. Taking it back to the essence, they (along with their Justus League crew) are a welcome addition to a rap scene over-saturated with cheesy gimmicks and suspect “artists”. Little Brother are the truth. Listen up.