Official mixtapes are pretty difficult sales. I try to avoid comps, live albums, best-of albums — generally anything that isn’t an official album. Sure, I miss out on some good stuff, but the confusion that comes out of owning three copies of the same song, not to mention the money wasted on useless mix records, is enough to make me pass. Most mixtapes these days are further disappointing because someone’s yelling over all the tracks like a promobot. But there is none of that on The Chitlin Circuit 1.5, and there is minimal mixing. This is mostly a compilation of b-sides, remixes and unreleased tracks to whet our appetite for the main event, Little Brother’s major-label debut, The Minstrel Show, the follow-up to 2003’s The Listening, released by ABB.
But if The Chitlin Circuit is an appetizer, it’s those really good Buffalo wings where you eat, like, all of them, and then it doesn’t even matter if you get the main course because you are already full and damn those were good. In other words, The Chitlin Circuit is hardly the throwaway release it would imply. This is a solid record from beginning to end, eighteen songs deep and not one weak track.
Little Brother is, admittedly, a weak sell. When compared to other top underground emcees, Phonte and Big Pooh don’t quite make the cut, and 9th Wonder doesn’t seem to want to do much more with his production than rip off Premier (really well). There are plenty of more important acts in hip-hop today, and if this is the future of the underground, we’re in some serious trouble. But take away the pressure of anticipation, stop trying to fit Little Brother’s honest and playful music into the “conscious hip-hop” typecasting, and the music stands on its own surprisingly well.
Hip-hop for hip-hop’s sake can only go so far, but while people are overly praising Common’s back-to-basics LP and the crunk O.D. has even MTV on sonic overload, this is the kind of music people need: soulful, jazzy hip-hop about nothing in particular. I think we all hope The Minstrel Show brings something closer to a true statement, but The Chitlin Circuit 1.5 is a great addition to any underground collection.