Dope beats, dope rhymes/ What more do yall want?
–Phonte, on Little Brothers Not Enough
This straightforward question seems rather telltale for Little Brothers current mood. In some ways, the North Carolina-based trio [MCs Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh, and producer 9th Wonder] have reluctantly been cast as Hip-Hops saviors. Amidst an industry abundant in cash-out pressures, the underground darlings have made the transition to mainstream machine Atlantic Records without musical compromise. Their critically acclaimed, yet controversy-attracting, concept album The Minstrel Show, combines the everyman prose of Big Pooh and Phonte, sample-heavy 9th Wonder creations, and sharp humor to lambaste Hip-Hops present state-of-affairs.
However, making such a bold statement has been anything but drama-free. From inspiring staff alterations at The Source magazine to receiving airplay denial from BET, these rap lovers from N.C. have endured quite a rollercoaster ride of a record release. Te, Pooh, and 9th arent phased, though. Firm believers in putting the music above all else priority-wise, the members of Little Brother are sticking to their genuine script. As AllHipHop.com toted the album with an ultra-rare five star review, we deemed it fit to show off our two-part feature with the other LB Fam
AllHipHop.com: The past month or so leading up to The Minstrel Shows release date has been a rollercoaster for the group, between The Source fiasco and the BET video situation. Were you prepared for any of this?
Phonte: I made it up in my mind, as soon as we finished recording the album and decided to name it The Minstrel Show that wed have to be willing to accept what comes with those decisions. You cant expect to come out at a time when Hip-Hop is in the state its in, name your album The Minstrel Show, and not feel any repercussions. I was ready for whatever. Whether it led to us getting blackballed, or stations not playing us, or n***as beefing, or whatever the f**k it could lead to. This is the stance were taking. I know its not a popular stance, so Im willing to live and die by the things that I say. As far as everything that has happened, Im not surprised by anything. Our situation is somewhat of an anomaly to a lot of people. To just be some unknown n***as who came out of nowhere, under nobodys wing, and we come out talking about whats wrong with this industry, its like, What? Who the hell is Little Brother? F**k them!
Big Pooh: I dont know whats in store for us after all this controversy, but hopefully it can result in a lot of people following us. It can hopefully bring some change and balance back to the music.
9th Wonder: My thing about this album is that I really want to let people know that we can say what we want and do what we want on record, as long as the music is hot. Dont be scared to tell the truth and be yourself. Hip-Hop artists need to be leaders, not followers.
AllHipHop.com: Songs like the fatherhood reflection, All For You find you guys really opening up. Why do you think its so rare to hear songs like that on a wider scale, rather than just as album cuts?
Big Pooh: Songs like that are easy for people to relate to. A lot of people grew up without their daddies, so I dont know why it isnt addressed openly that much.
Phonte: A lot of times, these artists that are out now just arent that talented. Thats not to say that Pooh and I are super lyricists, but I think it has to do with A: A lot of these n***as just arent that talented, and B: Their scopes are so limited. They just want to rap about A and B. Sometimes, Ill rap about B, and then A. I might even get crazy and go B, A, B. C? Whoa, thats too much! Lets stick to A and B.
Big Pooh: Also, you have to be willing to reveal that part of yourself. A lot of people only want you to know whats popping for them. I got money! I got cars! Im good. Nah motherf**ker, your life really aint that good! You got problems just like the next man does, and a lot of people arent willing to reveal that side, but Phonte and I are. You can see our good and our bad.
9th Wonder: Hip-Hop used to be an art form to speak for the people who couldnt normally speak for themselves, from the hood or whatever. It told the troubles of the hood. Just cause you may have made it and now have all this wealth, that doesnt mean that people in your hood have made it, or will ever make it. A lot of people in your hood are having hard times with life and struggling. They want their story told to. Whats wrong with that?
AllHipHop.com: What makes the album so effective at speaking for the everyday Hip-Hop fan is its humor. One great example of that is the faux R&B song, Cheatin. What was the thought process while making that track?
9th Wonder: Its crazy, actually, because people think Cheatin is a real serious song. [laughs]
Phonte: [laughs] Pretty much, when I did that song, I was thinking about all of the minstrelsy that appears in R&B, too. Doing that record, I was thinking, What is the worst R&B song I can write? It kind of put me in the mind frame of the Masta Ace Slaughtahouse approach, with that, Murder, murder! Kill, kill! I remember in interviews, Ace was saying that when he did that record, he played it in Germany and n***as thought that was a real song. It was so far gone that the joke went over peoples heads. They didnt even realize that it was a joke, because thats how bad the music was at the time. Cheatin is along those same lines. I wanted to write the worst f**king song, but one that, if I didnt tell people it was a joke, could be a hit. You would be surprised, though. Im in record companies trying to tell these people, Your audience isnt as dumb as yall think they are. But, then people take Cheatin serious, and Im thinking, Hmmm, maybe people are stupid. [laughs]
AllHipHop.com: Something that seems really stupid is this whole BET situation with your video. Can you explain what exactly happened?
9th Wonder: BET is doing a great job!
Phonte: [laughs] Pretty much, the whole thing about BET saying the video is too intelligent got started on the Internet. To this day, we truly dont know where that came from. We cant say that BET did say that. Truthfully, we really dont know. The fact of the matter is, up until this point, the video hasnt been played on that station, but we got Atlantic working on that now. Hopefully, BET will come around and start playing the video. If they dont, we still have the support of FUSE TV, big support from MTV and VH1. Were just going to keep doing our thing regardless. Whatever happens with BET is whatever.
AllHipHop.com: The video for Lovin It is basic, just showing what a real club atmosphere looks like, not the typical extravagance that most videos include but Hip-Hop listeners rarely experience. Why do you think such a simple video isnt getting airplay?
Phonte: Funny thing is, our original idea for that video would have made more sense, as far as not being played for controversial reasons. The original concept was crazy, but budgets were not allowing it. We were going to be playing off The Minstrel Show theme, and it was us on a sitcom. Like a fake Cosby Show set, and we were going to take all the old fonts from that show. We were going to play up the Minstrel Show characters. 9th was going to be a backpack dude named John Jansport.
Big Pooh: I was going to be the iced-out rapper, named Ice Stout. [laughs]
9th Wonder: I was John Jansport, the backpack dude. [laughs] And Joe Scudda was Murder Rob Stab, the gangsta who just kills people before he even raps.
Phonte: I was Brother Earth Seed, the conscious brother. That was our original plan, but once we found out what our budget was, it was like, Damn. Okay, so the club scene, huh.
AllHipHop.com: A song like Slow It Down definitely has hit-single potential, but with no video exposure, that most likely could never happen. Do you agree?
Phonte: Definitely, youre right. Its sad, but thats the world we live in. Bottom line, its all about numbers and delivering labels a demographic.
AllHipHop.com: Right, but why do think thats the case? Why is it so difficult for good hip-hop to be seen and heard?
Big Pooh: Thats because the kids run this business. They may not be in the offices making moves, but they run things.
9th Wonder: The industry isnt giving kids what they think they need to hear. They letting kids dictate what the industry plays, and thats messed up. Thats really backwards.
Phonte: An example of whats going on is when dinnertime comes at the crib. Your momma brings you out a plate of vegetables, and is like, Its time to eat dinner. Nah, I dont want that broccoli. I want a Kit Kat! F**k you, n***a! Eat these Goddamn vegetables! You arent getting no Kit Kat. So, you either have one or two choices. Like, I know this is the only meal that I can have. Aint no meals coming from nowhere else. Either, I got to eat this healthy food or starve. More than likely, youll eat the healthy food, and youll learn to love it, but still have a Kit Kat here and there. You need that balance. With a lot of these labels and radio stations, they let kids dictate this market. Its on some tail wagging the dog stuff. Were grown-ups. Were supposed to set the trends. I know teenagers are the biggest market, but Im sure part of the reason for that is that adults who spend money dont feel like there is anything out there worth spending money on. If you got 35 year-olds singing to 12 year-olds, then what gives? The average 30 year-old fan of Hip-Hop is like, I still like Hip-Hop, but give me something that I can at least relate to! Its really our societys fixation on the youth.