Little Brother


Get Back
ABB Records

2003's The Listening introduced the trio Little Brother, a moniker derived from the inspiration given by an earlier generation of creative, honest artists (especially Native Tongues). Signing to a major for 2005's industry-bashing The Minstrel Show had predictable results (they got shorted on promotion and were promptly dropped). Losing producer extraordinaire 9th Wonder and going indie once again, Little Brother version 2.0 now hits us up for a third time with Get Back, an LP that perfectly reflects the group—focused yet complex—and continues to take inspiration from De La and Tribe. By taking aesthetic cues from EPMD, arguably the greatest duo ever, rappers Phonte and Big Pooh have aged well, keeping it strictly business; fortunately, their "business" centers not on dollars, but on heartfelt expression.

Eleven songs of economy showcase how chemistry and sincerity trump delusions of grandeur every time. Just like Erick and Parrish, the two aren't particularly spectacular lyricists, but they manage to make stone-cold classics by sticking to their strengths: sober earnestness and self-deprecating wit delivered with well-crafted flows over soulful, mid-tempo beats. That doesn't mean they don't take risks (or that those leaps don't occasionally fail), but the whole product remains satisfying for its reminder that hip hop can make us both reflect and shake our asses off. (The loss of 9th Wonder's soul-heavy board work is both good and bad; the sound is either less cohesive than earlier efforts, or it's freshly varied—take your pick.)

In the end, who else shouts out the supper club, the VFW, and the Elk Lodge while still being so darn fresh? Their recriminations to the current cultural maelstrom are thoughtful rather than preachy ("Do you really wanna win/Or just look good losing"), and their positivity is utilitarian rather than corny ("Not to waste all our days/So let's greet today with a smile"). LB are far from reactionary; the way they go back to the fundamentals of good hip hop in an age of hype is tantamount to dropping 30 a night by mastering the pick-and-roll while rocking John Stockton shorts. So whether they're talking about the past or asking lazy cats to step aside, you'd be wise to heed their warning and Get Back.