Little Brother: Curtain Call
Little Brother explains their final months as a legendary '00s Rap group, their legacy, and why Rap is "No country for old men."
The curtains seem to be coming down but the fans haven’t left. Like with any great show, they’re waiting for an encore, something more, something to signify the show isn’t over. Word to Inspectah Deck, “die-hard fans demand more.” Who could blame them? After a slew of critically acclaimed material, Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh have decided to hang it up as a group to focus on their other artistic endeavors. But, it’s deeper than that.
After a recent conversation with the duo, it is clear that they remain great friends. In fact, they explained, part of the reason for this farewell is so that their friendship can remain unscathed, unforced. They reminisced on sharing cans of Starkist as they came up and judging by the way they spoke, it’s clear that the memories of life as Little Brother are held in high regard.
For fans, part of this experience with Little Brother has been filled with love for the boom and the bap. When they came to the game, they entered as the younger siblings of groups like De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest and more likeminded artistic collectives that brought so much influential music to the 1990s. It’s well known that their name came from this “younger sibling” mentality but what’s given them so much respect over the years has been their ability to create their own lane, to influence others and to leave a stamp on the Hip Hop map of their own.
Still, it’s hard to dismiss that part of this experience has also come with some dramatic elements. After gaining notoriety as a trio, it became a duo with the departure of 9th Wonder, who provided the soundscape that they came up with. As it would be, that departure was about more than music and fans were left wondering why the split took place. All of this, of course, came to light more than ever during this year’s Twitter dispute between 9th and Phonte. After a few words were typed, ‘Te recorded and released a video log of the situation, pointing out his take on all things related to the split. In the midst of all of this, they prepped the release of their final album, Leftback, which was recently released.
Through all of the turmoil, however, Phonte and Big Pooh have kept their heads held high. They came to leave a mark and they did. Few can dispute that Little Brother has become an integral part of the Rap world but it now is a group that may never release another album together. Of course, this is Hip Hop. While we can’t speculate on the future, they wouldn’t be the first to come back from “retirement” and they definitely wouldn’t be the first to reunite. The curtains may have fallen with Leftback, but some fans are still in their seats.
In the middle of everything, the duo took some time to speak to HipHopDX about why “Rap is no country for old men,” why some things should and shouldn’t be kept private and why hard times lead to ingenuity. Pooh and ‘Te were in usual form, unafraid to speak their minds and honest with theirs. To get some insight on why the group split, why the duo is choosing to close this chapter and more, read on.
HipHopDX: Pooh, you once said, “I had to sit and assess / Why all my favorite groups is a mess / Then I'm like they probably split for the best / They had to make room for the rest.” What does that line mean to you today, with everything that has gone on with Little Brother?
Rapper Big Pooh: I’d seen how our situation had played out with Atlantic Records and the 9th [Wonder] departure. I was just sitting there, like, when you listen to your favorite groups and when EPMD, [A] Tribe [Called Quest] or other groups break up, as a fan and as an outsider, you’re just like, "Aw man, why they do that? They was makin’ great music!" But, you don’t know the ins and outs and the inner-workings of what was going on. I was just thinking about our own situation and then I realized, when groups leave, it’s just like when a person dies. Every person dies and a baby is born. So, as Little Brother calls it quits, there are other groups to not necessarily take our place but to keep the tradition going.
Phonte: Yeah, keep the tradition going.
Rapper Big Pooh: That’s what it’s all about. Another reason I wrote that is because you don’t want your favorite group to force a relationship. Like, you don’t want Tribe Called Quest…If they don’t really want to be together, you want them to make another album. If they make an album just because you asked for it, it’s not going to be the same Tribe Called Quest you fell in love with. It’s going to be something forced.
DX: You’ve said it in the past. I can respect that you’d like to keep some things under wraps but how much of a right do the fans have to know what goes on behind the scenes? Do they have any right to know anything at all?
Phonte: Um, some would argue they have no rights. Generally, I’m a person that believes people don’t have a right to know and keeping it all about the music. It’s just like in a marriage. If you and your wife have a divorce, that pretty much should be kept between y’all. As long as everything’s kept in private, then it’s cool. I think that is the proper way to handle things. However, when things become public, then that’s a totally different situation. Particularly, with the case of 9th, I made the video that I’m sure you may have seen by now. That was spawned out of a situation where, I’m not just going to allow him, or anybody, to keep making statements about me, directly or indirectly, in public and just painting me and Pooh as these bitter, angry guys that’s just jealous of him. "I was done wrong," and all of this…Nah, dude, that’s bullshit! In that case, then I do feel the fans have a right to know because that wasn’t about music. That was about manhood. I have no problem with people looking at me like, "'Te, you an asshole." That’s cool. I can live with that. I have no problem with being held up in that light. But, whatever opinion you have about me, make sure you have all the facts. Inform your opinion off of all the facts. With me doing that video, it was just a thing like, "Look, your boy’s going to keep putting his sideways darts out there. Okay, well, let me just put this out there just to give a little context to the situation." Once I did that, that shut all that shit up. I agree that it should be held in private and that’s the way me and Pooh have always tried to operate. But, it comes to a certain point where just as a man, enough’s enough.
Rapper Big Pooh: To add onto that, the funny thing is, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine yesterday and we talked briefly about the situation. What I was telling him was, the funny thing is when a situation goes down with your favorite group, like with Little Brother, people look at 9th one way and they look at ‘Te one way and they look at me one way. First it’s like, "I want to know what happened. What went wrong?" But, then when you start to actually reveal facts, their perception about you starts to change. They may not want it to change. They may want to look at ‘Te as an asshole or the bad guy or me as the bad guy. When the perception starts to change, it fucks up their whole mind. It’s like when Laurence Fishburne told Keanu Reeves [in The Matrix], "Which pill you want? You want the truth pill or you want to go back to your fairy tale life?" When he took the truth pill, it fucked his mind up. It’s almost the same thing. "We want to know! We want to know!" Then, soon as you start to find out, "Aw, naw! Y’all need to keep that shit private! We don’t want to know that!" So, it’s crazy. That whole thing is… it’s definitely a result of this time we livin’ in where most of a person’s information is accessible. This is the tabloid generation, where if you’re any sort of celebrity, your information is out for the public to see. There’s definitely some of that.
DX: Right, Phonte made a good point about having all the facts but if I can be the outsider or the devil’s advocate, if fans don’t have the facts and they just have these vague references like, one side says, "You guys don’t know the whole story," and the other side says, "You all don’t have the whole story," then if the public doesn’t have the facts, how can they fully take in what’s going on?
Phonte: If the public don’t know nothin’?
DX: No, they know that there was a departure and that it was due to some differences but they don’t have all the facts behind it. You were saying to make sure you have the facts before making a judgment on the situation, but still, I don’t think fans have all the facts. How can they make that judgment? Or, is it better to just leave it at that, as Pooh said?
Phonte: Maybe it is and maybe a “bigger man” would just leave it at that. But, when I’m seeing my character attacked and I’m being accused of things that absolutely did not happen, then I take the offensive. That’s just me. That ain’t got nothin’… Just to reiterate, this whole Little Brother/9th thing, it ain’t got shit to do with Hip Hop. That ain’t got shit to do with Hip Hop or a Hip Hop song, none of that shit. This is about manhood, loyalty and respect. These are things that are bigger than Hip Hop. This is something that’s totally separate from that…
Rapper Big Pooh: My bad, sorry to interrupt you, ‘Te. But, that’s something people don’t realize. This ain’t got nothing to do with Hip Hop.
Phonte: Again, had the situation not really been made public to begin with, me and Pooh would have kept quiet about it. But, once things are being made public and you’re seeing shots taken at you, it’s like, "Yo, come on bro!" But, as far as the fans, them not really wanting to know or whatever, they can take it however they want. I really don’t know how they’re going to take it. That shit really ain’t on me. I don’t really know how. All I can say is that me and Pooh have always just tried to make the best records we can make and have always tried to have integrity amongst ourselves and our fan base and have always tried to do the right thing in regards to all aspects of our careers. That’s really all I can say. Anything that happened outside of that or to any fans that we disappointed, I apologize but those same disappointments that we may have as men, those are the same things that made us great artists. You can’t listen to Gucci Mane music and then get mad ‘cause the nigga get locked up! Like, "Do the shit he talk about in his music, like, did you not think this nigga was gonna get locked up?" [Laughs] You can’t speerate the art from the artist, to a certain degree. At some point, there has to be some accountability on the listener’s part. Listening to me and Pooh’s lyrics and what we stand for, always talking about standing up for yourself, you know, "Don’t let a nigga try to tell you who you are." You think the same niggas that wrote those lyrics would just let a motherfucker that they came up with just talk shit about them and then not say nothin’? Come on, B! Nah, nah! That’s my take on it.
DX: I was just listening to Leftback and heard an interesting line. I heard “Rap is no country for old men.” Now, Phonte, when we spoke last, you were talking about rappers catering to the youth. If emcees retire, if they don’t keep going, what happens to those that are 40 and grew up with Hip Hop but have no one their age to speak to them?
Phonte: They’ll still listen to the same shit they grew up listening to. They’ll listen to stuff they’ve been listening to. Music is based on memory. (Inaudible) So, say the dude that was 15 when [Jay-Z's] Reasonable Doubt came out, they can listen to it and be like, "Yo, I remember when this came out and I was in school and me and my boys used to ride to this." It takes them back to that place. Fast forward 14 years later and Blueprint 3 comes out, they’ll be like, "Okay, I’m older now. I’ve got kids. I’ve got a job. I don’t have time to smoke and ride to this music anymore. So, being that I’m in a new point in my life, do I buy Blueprint 3 to relive my youth or am I just going to play Reasonable Doubt again?" That’s ultimately, what I think is going to happen. It’s just like our parents do. They got they oldies, they got they stuff that they like to listen to. When Doug E. Fresh go on tour, he’s not doing new records! [Laughs] Well, they may do them, I don’t know. That’s no dis to Doug E. or none of the brothers.
Rapper Big Pooh: Niggas ain’t there to see new Doug E. [music]. They there to see “The Show!” [Laughs]
Phonte: Yeah, Hip Hop is going to be that way. As cats retire, they just gon’ play they old shit.
DX: They’re going to hit us with that “Best of” Well, Phonte, a lot of folks are saying your verse on “Best of Times” with Strong Arm Steady is a contender for verse of the year. Care to break down that verse for a second? “Everybody’s got the blues and it’s evident / Got workers losing their jobs and their residence.” What were you thinking when you wrote that? How does that verse speak to what’s going on today?
Phonte: For me, it was a verse I wrote about in terms of the recession and what’s going on financially. It’s a hard time for everybody but ultimately, we will survive. Just like, the main line is “I’m black, I was born in a financial crisis.” This whole financial crisis, that shit ain’t new to me. I done been broke before. “No eulogy, no two to threes,” meaning I’m not going to kill myself and I’m not going to do nothing stupid to get me locked up because I done been in a drought before and I know how to hustle, legally. So, that pretty much is what it was about, not looking at these times as a time of adversity, but looking at it as a time to create new opportunities for yourself because whenever the economy is bad or times are tight, it’s always the people with the best ideas and ingenuity that come out on top. It’s a survival song.