Little Brother: Brother's Gonna Work It Out

posted June 24, 2008 12:00:00 AM CDT | 24 comments

Just as 2003 championed Little Brother as the last true underground Hip Hop act groomed for, and welcomed to the mainstream with the interest to support it, the last five years may have punished Rapper Big Pooh and Phonte. The media got nosy, three bandmates became two, and the group was dropped by a major label and profited upon by an independent.

Things seem better now though. 'Tay and Pooh have time, energy and product to properly launch their fledging Hall of Justus imprint with the re-release of And Justus For All, their 2007 mixtape, less the Mick Boogie tags and with a few replaced tracks. The emcees have at least three solo and outside projects in tow, and appear more confident about their future than ever before.

Like Willie Hutch sang, Brother's gonna work it out. Although the motivation and pleasures have changed, the good music hasn't, and gearing up for another busy summer, Phonte and Pooh break down a few of their favorite things.

HipHopDX: At this point, the mixtape was out quite some time ago. It was a hot mixtape; I still listen to it. But with an album out less than a year, what made you want to revisit And Justus For All?
A lot of people dont like mixtapes. [Chuckles] A lot of people would just rather hear just straight songs. We had an opportunity to put out the joint without any drops on there, or kind of mixtape stuff going on, and people could put it on their iPods or whatever, and make their own mixes with it.

DX: Was it difficult to pick from the existing material for those fans?
Rapper Big Pooh:
Nah, it wasnt hard at all because it was officially a mixtape first. We got away with putting a lot more stuff on there. When you turn it to a retail type of release, then obviously theres some legal matters at hand. Those are the tracks that couldnt get cleared those are the ones that had to come off. That was our process.

DX: The original mixtape, did that accomplish the kind of awareness or exposure you guys were hoping for?
For me, [And Justus For All] wasnt about exposure; it was about getting people ready for Getback [click to read]. Around the time we put it out, that was [when] the news had leaked that us and 9th [Wonder] [click to read] werent working together no more [click to read], and we wasnt with Atlantic or whatever, so a lot of people had counted us out. For me, And Justus For All was just about showing people that we could still do our thing without 9th in the group and that we wasnt gonna stop making music. We had a lot of exposure at that time, but it might not have been the kind of exposure we wanted. [Laughs]

DX: You mean all those conversations about the status of the group?
Yeah. Our name was out there.
Rapper Big Pooh: It wasnt about the kind of music we was putting out at the time though.

DX: There have been some interesting releases on Hall of Justus. As a label, is that [manager] Big Dhos thing, or sort of a collective imprint of you all? And whats your vision for HOJ?
Rapper Big Pooh:
Were going through a little revamp stage right now. The problem with the Hall of Justus as an imprint was that we were never officially [signed]. Its like when Run-DMC was reppin Def Jam, but they was on [Profile Records]. Its like that same thing with us. When Hall of Justus started, we were still ABB/Atlantic. Now, being that were totally free agents, were basically revamping the whole thing. My next solo album [Dirty Pretty Things] will be on Hall of Justus. Thisll be the first time that an actual album from one of us has came out on [there]. Were almost starting that imprint over from the bottom and trying to build it into the label wed hoped it would become.

DX: You mentioned being free agents. Are you guys looking to get picked up again, whether independent or major?
For me personally, I aint lookin to get picked up at all. I seen the label game from the indie-indie to minor-indie to major; we pretty much done did it on every level. Its just like, I can do all that by myself. Id much rather just take it into my hands and live and die by my own work and own failures. Putting myself in the hands of other people just doesnt interest me anymore.
Rapper Big Pooh: We a lil different on that one. As far as Little Brother is concerned, thats a future thought. Were not even focused in on another Little Brother album right now; weve both got solo endeavors that were both grindin on right now. In the future, some time next year, when we sit down and start discussing another Little Brother album, then those talksll come up.
Phonte: Right.
Rapper Big Pooh: As far as me as a solo artist, Im a person who looks for the best situation. I feel like theres always money to be had, and Im gonna get it. Being through all those situations, I understand now what I didnt understand then as far as what I need to succeed now. If I cant get what I need to succeed, then I dont jump into that situation. Back when we was with them other deals, a lil younger, a lil dumber, so they ended up how they ended up. Now, I gotta be on the receiving end of some fabulous shit to sign a deal now.

DX: I dont want to take the magic away. But is the new material on And Justus For All created with this album in mind, or was it sitting in the vaults and archives?
Rapper Big Pooh:
That was material that we had. People dont understand, niggas stay recordin. When it was time to put this version of the tape together, when we had to take songs off, of course we had to add songs on it. What myself and Phonte did was, we just went into the vault and found some joints that we could put up that nobodys heard before. Thats what we did. We both picked out tracks and decided to give them to the world.

DX: The song from
Getback that really struck me was After The Party [click to read]. Was that billed as sequel to Life Of The Party [click to read] ? Is that bitter reality that sets in after?
Yeah, thats exactly what it was. [Laughs] When I came up with the concept for the record, it was basically meant to be the coming down off of a high. If Life Of The Party represents somebody being high off of drugs or whatever, then After The Party represents somebody comin down off that drug. When youre in a club or at a party, everything seems so good and so dope, but once the partys over, youre back dealin with whatever problems you were dealin with before the party. That was the concept of that. I got that from years of going to clubs and going, Damn, I lost $75 at this bitch. [Laughs]

DX: Im not even sure if this is true it happened so fast. But after that album, people were blogging and writing news in all sorts of ways. Was there a point after Getback where you guys were considering hanging it up?
Rapper Big Pooh:
The media had it all wrong, man. Most of that stemmed from an interview I did where people took what I said out of context. People took it as if I said, We dont know if Little Brother gonna continue. What I really was saying, was after we grind out our solo endeavors, then were gonna come together and talk about another Little Brother album. Thats what I was saying. I was trying to explain to people that we was taking time, instead of jumping straight back into another Little Brother album, to do some shit that we wanted to do. We was attached at the hip for four years straight. It was time for a breather. Thats what were takin at this time. Phonte got two projects that hes working on; I got a couple projects that Im workin on. Were still doin shows. Of course you have your frustrations with the game, frustrations with label situations or whatever, but it was never a time where we like, I dont know if this Little Brother shit gonna continue. It wasnt one of them issues.

DX: When I first interviewed you guys in 2003, you were so excited to be here, so exuberant, so in love with Hip Hop. The industry can be tough. Do you guys still get the same excitement five years later, whether performing or recording, or is it something that you really have to work for nowadays?
For me personally, its not really the same. When you first get into it, you come into it with eyes wide open, and everythings so new to you, and you just cant believe that its all happening. After a while, man, just speaking for myself, things just kinda went another way for me. I just find excitement from different [sources] now. The touring and stuff and getting in front of different crowds, thats cool and stuff; I still enjoy performing. For me though, its mostly about being in the studio and comin up with a new song. I find more of my excitement in the studio. Being able to make the money and provide for my family, thats where my excitement comes from. Knowing that, Okay, Im gonna do this, this and this and thats gonna take care of bill, this daycare and this health insurance bill. For me, man, the inspiration is still there, I guess it just comes from different places.
Rapper Big Pooh: My inspiration comes fromI still enjoy recording and creating; I love performing. Now, Im a traveler. I like to go out and meet with other artists and producers and build with them. Thats where I really get into a zone at now. Ive been spending some time out on the west coast and Im about to go spend some time down in Atlanta just starting to build with people outside of the same group, the same clique, and spreading your wings a lil bit. I still love it, but over time, as you grow as a person and as an artist, things start to change. Me, I just started seeing things a lil differently. I just take that and try to work with it.

DX: I can remember being angry with Ja Rule releasing two albums in a year, expecting his fans to spend $32 to support him. Then again, MF DOOM did that and we all seemed to appreciate it. Im so excited for the solo projects you guys have mentioned in passing. But with two each, plus this And Justus For All project, do you ever worry about over-saturation?
I think most people look at over-saturation, and they look at it from the standpoint of people on the outside, the standpoint of the casualness of it. When I think of releasing records, Im only really thinking about my core fan-base. For every mothafucka talkin shit about Ja Rule [click to read] releasing two albums in the span of 10 months or whatever, over a million people were buyin both of them shits. So I think, for me, I focus on our devoted fans. As long as we keep it quality, our devoted fans will take some new shit from us every week if we want to put it out. If the music is dope, and it can stand on its own legs, it can grow its own legs and do what its supposed to do.
Rapper Big Pooh: Nowadays, if you aint puttin at least two albums a year out, people tend to forget about you. Theres so much music, the market is saturated, period. It aint saturated with multiple albums, its saturated with niggas tryin to rap now.

DX: Bun B is killing it on the charts right now, and UGKs last album opened at #1. I respect Bun for his knowledge of music and his outspokenness in interviews. He is an underground king. You guys can say the same on all three counts. It took UGK 15 years to get what they always deserved. Can you guys wait another 10 to get what you deserve?
The main thing that people dont realize is in the age of the technology, MySpace, YouTube, I just think somewhere along the line, people forgot that the music industry is hard. [Laughs] Motherfuckas just dont realize how hard this shit is, man. One of the things that Id just like to express to people who always say, Man, I just want to get to where you and Pooh are at. Dude, thats cool, but even to get to our level, to where we are right now, that shit has been a process 10 years in the making. Me and Pooh met each other in 98. From then to us sitting on the phone right now has led to us being where we are. You cant count one thing out. The harder thing for people to understand is, people may think its easy to make music, but it is extremely hard to become a successful, working musician. Im personally good with it. If my career never progressed this point, as long as Im able to take care of my family, then Im good. I really dont need nothin else. Even that has taken a long fuckin time to get to.

With the case of UGK and Bun [click to read] in particular, hes just a dude that would not stop. I asked Bun the same question myself, What keeps you goin? He was just like, Really, its the fans. Its people reaching out to me and letting me know they appreciate what I do. Straight up. For me, what keeps the fans, but even more than that, its the feeling that I have something to say. If I ever get to the point where I feel like Ive said all I have to say as an artist, then I just wont make no records. Id be wastin peoples time.
Rapper Big Pooh: If I can take anything from the UGK situation and comparing it to ours, its just that good grind and good music dont go unappreciated.

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