What happened to Little Brother is still a mystery. The group started with humble beginnings in Durham, North Carolina as Rapper Big Pooh, Phonte, and 9th Wonder formed the group in 1998 while attending North Carolina Central University. Throughout their time, theyÔÇÖd release two classics in The Listening and The Minstrel Show, dropped great projects with Mick Boogie (ÔÇªAnd Justus for Fall) and DJ Drama (Separate but Equal), and even laid the foundation for some of their later solo successes. But all of that came to a halt with a very public dispute and group breakup.
Truthfully, fans will never know the cause of the split. The groupÔÇÖs legacy ended on a fizzle with The Leftback, which ended up being a couple new songs and a bunch of stuff that shouldÔÇÖve never left the cutting room floor. It was a soft whimper in sharp contrast to the lionÔÇÖs roar with which they introduced themselves to the masses. With that said, Little Brother created enough great music to last a lifetime and weÔÇÖre going to pay homage to that legacy.
Here are ten songs from Little Brother that everyone should know.
Phonte is well known for his R&B stylings for his work as the lead singer for the Grammy nominated group Foreign Exchange. Before those lofty days however, he got his rocks off doing spoofs like the classic ÔÇ£CheatinÔÇÖÔÇØ courtesy of his alter ego Percy Miracles. ÔÇ£CheatinÔÇÖÔÇØ is a frighteningly spot-on impression of Ronald Isley and made in the same vain as his super popular collaborations with R. Kelly. The fact that itÔÇÖs a spoof doesnÔÇÖt detract from the quality of the song which, despite its joking intentions, is a damned good R&B track.
2. “Boondocks Saints”
One of the overarching themes of Little BrotherÔÇÖs career is their constant fight for mainstream relevance and respect. Whether it was due to label woes, album sales, or just a group that wasnÔÇÖt interested in making wack shit for the sake of recognition, LB was always climbing an uphill battle. Things mustÔÇÖve gotten fever pitched though, as Phonte put BET and Atlantic within his sights and broke his foot off in their asses behind an instantly classic verse. If the pen is mightier than the sword then Phonte caught more bodies than a samurai swordsman.
3. “Still Lives Through”
A personal favorite, Phonte and Big Pooh channeled A Tribe Called QuestÔÇÖs ÔÇ£God Lives ThroughÔÇØ for ÔÇ£Still Lives Through.ÔÇØ Hearing Busta Rhymes yelling ÔÇ£Oh my godÔÇØ repeatedly on the hook gives that track that ÔÇÿ90s feel, even though the sample was twelve years older than the song. Phonte shines brightly once again, poking at listeners that ÔÇ£todayÔÇÖs fans are tomorrowÔÇÖs rap critics.ÔÇØ He openly wonders why people ÔÇ£wonÔÇÖt let the music just be what it is.ÔÇØ Given the current culture of rap journalism, Phonte might have very well been a prophet.
One of the best things about LB was their ability to be inspired by everyday problems and make great music about it. ÔÇ£DreamsÔÇØ is a heartfelt ode to all those who thought that they could do everything they ever dreamed ofÔÇªbefore hitting them with the harsh reality that ÔÇ£dreams donÔÇÖt keep the lights on.ÔÇØ ItÔÇÖs a sobering ÔÇ£popped bubbleÔÇØ that flies in the convention of AmericaÔÇÖs indoctrinated idea that ÔÇ£If you dream big and work hard, it will happen for you.ÔÇØ LB was happy to show you that life doesnÔÇÖt always quite work like that.
5. “Let It Go”
A super soul-stirring sample with a fire verse from the artist formerly known as Mos Def makes ÔÇ£Let it GoÔÇØ not only one of the best songs from the Separate but Equal mixtape, but one of the best songs in LBÔÇÖs entire catalog. Perhaps noticing what a great fit this was, Little Brother brought the song back a few years later on the Mick Boogie-produced ÔÇªAnd Justice for All with the other half of the Blackstar duo, Talib Kweli. The song is a flat out banger and may or may not have sent a certain writer screaming for joy in his apartment.
6. “The Yo-Yo (Remix)”
Phonte threatened to ÔÇ£kick some Trick Daddy next poetry nightÔÇØ because of self-righteous black Negroes ÔÇ£dating white girls named Caitlyn.ÔÇØ What he didnÔÇÖt understand about those type of dudes was that ÔÇ£even though, you niggas might not cuss like me, end of the night, you just tryna fuck like me, so whatÔÇÖs the reason for the hating?ÔÇØ PhonteÔÇÖs entire verse is a masterclass in how to be funny as hell without being corny in your raps.
7. “Hiding Place”
Little Brother and Elzhi got together to give us another classic ÔÇ£undergroundÔÇØ collaboration. Listening to Phonte and a younger Elzhi go bar-for-bar is an audible orgasm for all those who love to hear rappers rap. Everything one knows and loves about the Detroit MC is on display here, as thereÔÇÖs so much lyrical wizardry Elzhi shouldÔÇÖve been teaching a class at Hogwarts. Phonte matches ElzhiÔÇÖs efforts with his own gifted flow and trademark humor while Pooh comes through with a strong verse to make sure he doesnÔÇÖt get lost in the sauce.
8. “After the Party”
ÔÇ£After the PartyÔÇØ is a sequel to ÔÇ£Life of the Party (Remix),ÔÇØ which is an excellent song in its own right. ÔÇ£After the PartyÔÇØ is legendary for two reasons. One, it liberally borrows from Jamie FoxxÔÇÖs sonning of Doug Williams and two, it perfectly captures what those last minute hail mary attempts to get some ÔÇ£alone timeÔÇØ with a woman after the club feels like. Rappers have always fashioned themselves as superheroes with more women than they know what to do with.
ÔÇ£After the PartyÔÇØ manages to poke fun at the LBÔÇÖs mainstream obscurity while also discussing the very real tragedy of Waffle House followed by ÔÇ£15 mins of passion on my mamaÔÇÖs living room floor.ÔÇØ
ÔÇ£Life be lifinÔÇÖÔÇØ is one of my favorite phrases to utter when I feel like IÔÇÖm doing everything I can to put myself on the right track and things just wonÔÇÖt happen the way I need them to. ÔÇ£SpeedÔÇØ is an entire song about all the little microaggressions of life how it would make someone give it all up. The sheer honesty and vulnerability shown makes it an ageless song that applies whether youÔÇÖre a college graduate or a 30-year-old with a career.
10. “LovinÔÇÖ It”
In a lot of ways ÔÇ£LovinÔÇÖ ItÔÇØ could be seen as a precipice to the groupÔÇÖs downfall. BET wouldnÔÇÖt play the song because it was allegedly ÔÇ£too intelligentÔÇØ for its fans, which eventually led to low record sales of The Minstrel Show. With that said, for all the times where Phonte was clearly the better half of the duo, Pooh did more than hold his own on the single. Also, Joe Scudda came through with a show stealing verse to anchor the song. Everything on the song works in unison to create one of the best songs on an album that would go down as hip-hop classic.
Check out previous entries in The Primer series where highlight essential songs from artists from rap’s past and present.
The Primer: 10 Little Brother Songs Everyone Should Know : UPROXX