Of all the records released in the past year,
only a few will still have us studying them in say, another five years. Little
Brother’s The Listening deserves to hold one of those honored ranks.
The North Carolina trio has supplied the masses
with a record that pays homage to records with themes, ideas, and distinct styles.
The lyrics tell stories and convey messages and ideas. 9th Wonder’s production
echoes of a Pete Rock or Premier blueprint, but dares to dive into uncharted
waters of sound.
Perhaps the best element concerning Little Brother
is their grace. Just a few months ago, these three friends were merely hobbyists.
Since then, they’ve gained weighty endorsements from Questlove, Pete Rock,
and a host of others.
The trio is most humble, and every word they
speak translates beautifully into an undying love for one thing: hip hop music.
AllHipHop.com: You really stressed the complete
package, the sequence of making a good record. You’ve described how the
acclaimed hip hop records had a constant theme…what would you call the
theme of “The Listening”?
Phonte: If I had to sum The Listening up in one
word, love is the message. Everything from family love – like love for
our children. Love for family, and love for hip-hop in general. This was an
album we made because we just love hip-hop sop much and it plays such a big
part in our lives. It kinda hurts us to see the way that it’s going now.
Summing up The Listening, love. Love for our ancestors, paying homage to the
cats that came before us.
AHH: Until a few months ago, I never heard of
you. I think a lot of people haven’t. One organization which I’ll
leave unnamed reviewed the record, not really in a respectful manner. And fans
went after them hard. What about you can make you guys earn fresh fans that
care about your music so much that it gets political?
Phonte: I guess people just hear the record,
and it just makes a strong emotional connection. A lot of people feel like,
“Damn, this is what I’ve been waiting for.” So when a reviewer
comes out and reviews the record in a negative way and not just a bad review,
‘cuz I don’t sweat bad reviews, to me – any press is press. Pete
Rock called my crib and told me the album was dope. That’s all I need.
For me personally, Rolling Stone can’t give me any number of stars to validate
that. So for me, the review thing is like whatever. For they fans, they listen
to record, they hear the record, and they like the record. So then they see
a critic give it a bad review, they’re like, “Damn, that’s f*cked
up.” Then they go back and look at that reviewer and look at the stuff
that they DO like. And it’s like, “Oh my God, y’all got it confused.”
Y’all are bigging up so and so artists and not giving bigging up them.
So that whole thing with that certain website (laughs), that we won’t [endorse],
I think the big reaction…I had never been on that website up until a couple
months ago. I’m not familiar with it at all, but from I’ve been hearing
and what people been telling me, the majority of that website is run by white
cats. I know just from what I been reading, a lot of [other] people been really
mad like, “How these white people gonna tell us what hip-hop supposed to
sound like, it’s a racist review!” I was like, “God, it ain’t
that deep.” I just really think that was it. If Chuck D or KRS would’ve
came out and been like, “Yo, this Little Brother record is not dope,”
then it’s kinda like we gotta look at it. but I think the credibility of
the source that’s dissing the record, I think that has a lot to do with
it. but that’s just how it goes. Good reviews, bad reviews, whatever. We
know we made a good record, and we touched some of the people we wanted to touch,
so I’m happy.
AHH: Phonte and Pooh, you have an incredible
chemistry. Was this natural, or what steps did you have to take to really play
off so well?
Pooh: From the beginning of Little Brother, it’s
always been there. That’s actually how Little Brother came into play. We
been in the same circles since late ’98, early ’99. So we knew each
other, we did some joints together, whatever. It wasn’t until we did the
song “Speed”, that the chemistry really was [noticeable]. It’s
not something [we tried for], it was there.
AHH: 9th Wonder…you’re the hottest
producer in the underground right now. I liked the interlude on your record
about heads asking for beats. Your sound is so relevant…but so original.
Describe your progression as a producer, and where you plan to go with it?
9th Wonder: When I first started out, I really
didn’t know that much. I had a history with music already. I play like
seven [instruments]. I really didn’t understand beat-making, it’s
different from any type of production in the music realm. It’s a different
type of thing with a different type of ear. So with that, I had to go back.
I knew about hip-hop, and I understood what hip-hop was, but I had to go back
and really study the art form more: making your beats sound fat, instead of
sounding real thin, bass and treble. Phonte was really instrumental in pushing
me as far as producing was concerned. He would tell me little pointers, like
“turn your drums up”, and stuff like that. You’re not gonna make
it if you don’t listen to advice. Pete Rock, Premier, Jay Dee, and The
RZA: those are my four biggest teachers as far as beatmaking is concerned. That’s
where you get 9th Wonder for. Whatever they’re best for, I took a piece
of that and carved my own niche and that’s how you got me.
AHH: There’s hundreds of interpolations
and references to OTHER hip-hop records and classics on “The Listening”.
It’s so apparent that you all love hip-hop. What about the culture really
makes you get up in the morning?
Phonte: Really man, it’s just the love for
the music. The music drives me everyday. It’s a dirty game. There’s
a lot of sh*t we done seen in a short period of time. You look at the great
groups and wonder why they ain’t putting records out no more. You see sh*t
like that and it’ll kind of jade you, and it make you lose your face. Just
to know that there’s cats out there [appreciating us], just to hear somebody
say, “Thank you for the music.” It’s almost tear-jerking man.
That’s what drives me, the fans.
AHH: I love the album cover. The three of yall looking out the window. I mean,
Nas, KRS, Cormega…they all kinda had a similar spin with that. Looking
out the window, does your art imitate the life that’s around you?
9th Wonder: Yeah, our artform, this is our life.
What you hear, in those seven months of recording the record, that’s exactly
what you hear on the record. What was going on at the time, that’s what
you hear on the record. Actually, where we took the picture is…I do a radio
show at Duke University, every Friday. And that’s where we took the picture,
looking out the window. That’s the deal man. Everything you hear on that
record, from sounds to jokes to everything…that’s what was going on
in those seven months. We live what we talk about, for real. I learned that
from DJ Premier, be about it! If you slop hogs, and you talk about it, well…talk
AHH: Looking at the past year…the path from
obscurity to the hottest…what was your biggest break?
Pooh: It probably had to be when we put five
joints up on the Internet. We just put ‘em up there to get some honest,
unbiased feedback. It caught on like wild fire. Everybody responded. Of course
we had some negative responses. Everybody was enjoying it, taking it in. Couple
said they felt like it was a breath of fresh air, it just solidified what we
thought we were doing, making dope music.
AHH: Did the criticism make you change anything?
Pooh: Not at all. I mean, I look at criticism
like this: some of it I let go in one ear and out the other. When my group members
suggest something, I take that into heavy consideration. If an outsider constructively
criticized it, and I deem it unnecessary criticism, then I just let it go.
AHH: A lot of tracks on the record discuss love,
but more importantly how women abuse your love. What’s your take on that…have
the girls been sleeping?
Pooh: The time period when we were making the
album, that sh*t was crazy man. I mean it’s funny, because a lot of times
you hear songs from women on how men love. The sh*t was working the opposite
way this time. It was just something I was going through, so it’s something
I wrote about.
AHH: 9th, you’ve got a real distinctive
sound among these 18 tracks. Do you think that producers hurt themselves these
days when they act too versatile and don’t pioneer a specific style?
9th Wonder: I think so, man. It’s like Phonte
says, “You can only bet on one horse in every race. And one of ‘em
is gonna win, and twelve of ‘em is gonna lose.” Put all your money
on one horse, and then ride it. ride it til’ it wins. If you meet a producer
and he says, ‘”I can do any type of beat. I can do calypso, I can
do… That’s probably a producer you don’t want to f*ck with.”
You always got to have a foundation. I know who I am, I am a hip-hop producer.
I’m real at what I am. I’m a hip-hop producer that samples records
man. That’s an art form. Why do we have to change? That’s what I do,
I sample and I chop up records, and I get a thrill out of [it]. I’m a crate-digger,
I love sounds. That’s what you hear from me. You might hear later on, I
get enough money to buy a Rhodes or something like that, you might hear me play
a Rhodes over a couple of my joints. As long as a records are still in record
stores, I’m gonna sample. Pete, Preem did it, those are my fore-fathers.
Those are like my big brothers in the fraternity of beatmaking. So I gotta carry
AHH: Being a threesome, a trio. I’m sure
you have little disagreements and whatnot. How do you work through that?
9th Wonder: You’re gonna disagree on certain
things. Everybody is not the same. You have to put it in its place. You have
to be a grown man about things, man. You might get a lil’ upset about a
disagreement, and that’s cool. But at the same time, you have to put it
in its place. A lot of times me, Phonte, and Pooh have gotten into things. We’re
men, and sometimes men will argue. But we don’t argue over petty sh*t.
We just say what we have to say, get it off our chest, cuss each other out,
and word ‘em out, peace. It’s like that, man. It reminds me of the
scene in “Lean On Me” where Robert Guillame cusses Morgan Freeman
out like, “I’m the head n*gga in charge” “No, I’m the
head n*gga in charge, come on let’s get something to eat.” You know
what I mean? That’s exactly how it is. Put everything into perspective.
AHH: You’re record has been a huge breath
a fresh air to me. I’m anxious to hear what you intend to add…what’s
the Little Brother mission statement?
Pooh: It’s simple man: Make dope music.
Keep it dope.
AHH: Phonte, on “Nightime Maneuvers”
you mentioned getting rhyme skills from your mom. Elaborate on that if you will.
Phonte: I get a lot of personality from my mom.
She had me when she was real young. We’re only fifteen years apart. Single
mother, grew up in a small town, gossip type sh*t. A lot of people knocked her.
She dealt with a lot. Her attitude was just like, “f*ck y’all!”
She [would defend herself]. From that, my mom always had a real quick sense
of humor, she could just imitate [people], get they voice, they mannerism. She
just used to talk a lot of sh*t (laughing). That’s how, when I say I got
it from my moms, she was just an inspiring force for me to just be myself, don’t
compromise myself, and talk sh*t. Be who you are. My mother was real outspoken
and was a clown.
AHH: “The Listening”….the title
track…that’s one of the most inspiring tracks I’ve heard in a
year. It seemed like in the verses, it was a tribute to somebody….is that
Pooh: Nah, it wasn’t really a tribute. I
know my verse I just wrote on how I felt when I go pick up a CD. I don’t
care who it is, if I looked up to you growing up, or you a contemporary of mine,
if you want me to go out and buy your CD, I just want some quality music. The
same I’m trying to give, I want from you.