Little Brother

Little Brother

Little Brother started when rappers Phonte and Big Pooh and producer 9th Wonder met at North Carolina Central University in Durham. The trio shared a love of classic, left-field hip-hop acts like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. They released "Speed," their debut single, in 2001. The group toured locally until they caught the attention of dedicated indie, ABB Records. ABB released Little Brother's 2003 debut, The Listening, which critics revered for its top-notch lyricism and quality beats. Jay-Z in particular took notice, drafting 9th Wonder to produce a track off his 2003 Black Album. The increased notoriety got the group a deal with Atlantic Records, who released their next album.

In 2005, Little Brother released the ambitious, angry The Minstrel Show. The Minstrel Show took aim at some of the more outrageous aspects of black culture. The album was conceived as a mock broadcast for the fictional UBN network, itself a play on the black-sitcom-dominated UPN network. Phonte made his singing debut on The Minstrel Show as the R. Kelly-spoofing Percy Miracles in a hilarious skit that presaged Kelly's outrageous Trapped in the Closet project. The Minstrel Show scored a minor hit in "Lovin' It," but the group ran into opposition when BET, then the go-to network for exposing hip-hop videos to a wider audience, refused to enter the stereotype-riddled video for the song into its rotation. According to the group, Atlantic Records refused to foot the bill for another single and video. The group parted ways with both Atlantic Records and 9th Wonder in the months leading up to the release of their next album.

2007's Getback is considered by fans to be the group's best, most personal release. Critics lauded the group for its talented lyricism, and producers like Illmind, Khrysis and Nottz more than filled the void left by 9th Wonder's departure. But Getback simply did not take off financially. The duo reconvened Little Brother one last time for 2010's swan song, Leftback. Phonte and Big Pooh have spent their time off from the group following pursuing various solo ventures. Phonte continued working with Dutch producer Nicolay on a project called the Foreign Exchange. The duo's second album, 2009's Leave It All Behind, which featured Phonte singing instead of rapping, garnered them a Grammy nomination. Big Pooh released two mixtapes and an album, Delightful Bars. Both rappers remain active in North Carolina's Justus League collective, which also counts the Away Team, Darien Brockington, Buckshot, Sean Price, Joe Scudda, Skyzoo, and 9th Wonder among its membership. ~Craig Jenkins

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