North Carolina’s unlikely heir to the Native Tongue throne, Little Brother became indie rap darlings with their soulful flavored debut, The Listening. They yearn for hip-hop’s golden era, without hating, just by accurately criticizing the current state of popular rap music as a modern Minstrel Show. On this major label debut, the trio attempt to step up their game. The flows are more confident as Phonte, Big Pooh & 9th Wonder get even more braggadocios, even though the subject matter rarely goes beyond battling fake emcees, BET and MTV’s stereotypical portrayals of blacks, and girls who didn’t respect them in the past. After being praised by Mr. Okayplayer himself, Roots drummer ?uestlove, the group were lifted from the obscurity and 9th Wonder found himself working with Jay-Z on The Black Album, bringing many comparisons to DJ Premier. Production-wise, he has more in common with Kanye, with a flurry of soulful samples, chopped drums, loops, and enough kick to blow a hole in your ears. A steady, hard knocking affair, the album occasionally relies too much on the soul samples and R&B vocal harmonies that the group makes fun of. But when they get it right, on tracks like “The Becoming,” “Hidin’ Place” and “We Got Now,” they offer a refreshing look back at the way things used to be. The hilarious take on the R. Kelly parody “Cheatin’ and the hit “Lovin It” make up for their faults. Trying to reclaim underground hip-hop for the streets, Little Brother isn’t quite gangster, but still a lot harder that your average emo/nerd rap emcee.
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