Artist: Rapper Big PoohTitle: SleepersRating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Matt Barone

“Ever since The Listening, Pooh’s gotten a lot meaner,” Rapper Big Pooh reveals on “Now” off his debut Sleepers (6 Hole). Referring to Little Brother’s 2003 formal introduction, Pooh, one-third of that underground Cinderella story, has seemingly felt like that neglected sibling in a family of individual successes since said album’s release. 9th Wonder’s sample-heavy beats have benefited artists ranging from Destiny’s Child to Jay-Z, while Pooh’s rhyming partner Phonte has reached MTV exposure with his and Netherlands-based beat-maker Nicolay’s Foreign Exchange project. A true man on a mission, Big Pooh issues a deafening wake-up call with his solo debut, Sleepers, face slapping all those who have dozed on him to this point.

The latest brick in North Carolina-based Justus League’s foundation of quality, Sleepers is as much a testament to the production prowess of in-house League button-pushers 9th Wonder and Khrysis as it is to Pooh’s abilities. Going track for track with one head-nod inducing instrumental after another, Pooh’s backing duo provides him with a diverse yet consistently fluid soundtrack. “Strongest Man” finds Pooh’s confidence ripping through 9th Wonder’s DJ Premier-esque string and percussion assault, providing a crisp contrast to 9th’s somber acoustic guitar plucks for Pooh’s street-corner commentary on “Heart of the City.” Not one to be outdone, Khrysis ups the musical ante on the aforementioned, Murs-assisted “Now,” splicing vocal wails into a hypnotically ambient concoction. On “I Don’t Care,” Khrysis’ old-school boom-bap inspires Pooh’s self-assured mission statement of, “Got my label in a state of duress, cuz I know something they don’t/ That this nigga right here is their key to success.”

Flawless backdrops aside, though, Sleepers is mainly triumphant due to Pooh’s defiant showing and proving. What makes his words so engaging is his “every man” appeal, attacking relatable topics that never sound foreign to listeners. Have a shorty you can’t seem to get the attention of? So does Pooh, as heard on the effervescent bounce of “Between The Lines,” where he propositions a disinterested lady to his charms. Ever get the girl, and then have second thoughts? He knows the feeling, and addresses it on the estrogen expectation deflating “Just Friends,” where our host bursts a female’s bubble with, “Bitch please, Snoop said it best, ‘I don’t love these hoes,’ and I suggest/ That you find another sucker nigga for that game plan.”

Even when adopting a more serious disposition, Pooh displays equal finesse. He turns negatives into positives along with O-Dash and Spectac on the uplifting “Live Life,” while on the emotional “Scars (Cut Me Deep),” Median and Joe Scudda offer tight contributions but are eclipsed by the Rapper over 9th Wonder’s melancholy vocal loop. Here, Pooh warns, “Some niggas get trife when you playing with their life/ And they go for their knife, or they bust off at you twice/ Or they take it to your crib and put a couple in your wife.”

If not for the fact that he rarely switches up his conversational flow, leading to brief moments of monotony, Rapper Big Pooh’s album would be damn near perfect. Easily approachable for all audiences, he’s crafted a song collection devoid of excess flash, stripped down to the bone with honesty and genuine songwriting. As previously hinted at, this virgin-tight disc owes heavily to his post-Listening irate side. Unlike Bruce Banner, Hip-hop audiences will definitely like Big Pooh when he’s angry.