Big Pooh is the least-established third of Little Brother, the North Carolina-based supergroup in the making. His emcee partner Phonte made an underground splash last year with Foreign Exchange, the Atlantic Ocean-hopping collaboration with European producer Nicolay. The group’s producer, 9th Wonder, has been all over the mainstream, most notably with Jay Z singing his praises and handing him “Threat” on The Black Album. In other words, Pooh has a little catching up to do.
The great thing about Sleepers, though, is that he does it. Over fourteen tracks, Pooh holds his own against some really excellent production from 9th Wonder and Krysis, another producer in the Justus League (Outkast : Dungeon Family :: Little Brother : Justus League). He’s not the best rapper — his voice and delivery would be tough to spot in a crowd — and his song topics can be cliché (“Just Friends” is a perfect example). But he brings enough charisma and he rides the beat just enough to forgive the weaknesses. Besides, the strengths are great: the producers bring some sunny soul-inflected beats (“Heart of the City”) and some underground bangers (“I Don’t Care”), and Pooh nails both styles, invoking former (and hopefully future) Common glory.
The end of the album falls off a bit in quality, a slip that puts the record a few notches below the completely solid Foreign Exchange record. But Pooh has proven that he isn’t “the weak link,” which he says people have claimed, and that’s good enough for me. If The Minstrel Show, Little Brother’s sophomore record due later this year, can use the strengths of all three of these supremely talented musicians, I expect nothing less than a classic. But for now, Pooh has given us a great summer-day record to lead into a Foreign Exchange evening.