HHS: What does the name Little Brother represent?
Phonte: The name Little Brother represents the homage that we pay to the artists who came before us; the Jungle Bros, Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr, the Roots, etc… They were like our big brothers coming up in the game. Now, that we’ve decided to make music, they have a little brother following in their footsteps and carrying on the tradition of good hip-hop.
HHS: How did a once unsigned crew from North Carolina suddenly become the rage of hip-hop
Phonte: It’s really breathtaking, man. I guess cats are really looking for some real music, man. Music made by people they can relate to, y’know? I guess that’s our “appeal,” just being ourselves, just everyday cats who make music and party. It’s damn sure not because we’re sex symbols (laughter).
9th Wonder: There is something missing in music man. We wanted to take it back to where everything was rap, you know? Where cats can listen to us, 50, and Luda, and call it ALL hip-hop. Hip-hop is too sectioned off now. We are trying to erase this so-called “regionalism” or sectionalism”, ya dig? Maybe that’s what helped us, ’cause people miss that time period.
HHS: How big of a part did the Internet play into helping you gain exposure? And do you have any advice for artists who are in the same place you were six months ago?
Phonte: The internet played a BIG part in it, man. It helped us to get exposure and non-biased opinions from all over the world. That shit is priceless, man. I mean, its one thing if my peoples are telling me my shit is hot, but once you start getting emails from Poland and shit…..that’s a WHOLE ‘nother story (laughter)!!!! As far as advice for cats goes, I would just say to be dope, for starters. Can’t nobody front on you if you’re genuinely talented. Second, once you know that you are genuinely dope, stick to your guns and don’t compromise your shit for nobody. Money comes and goes, but you’re gonna ALWAYS have to look yourself in the mirror each morning, y’know?
9th Wonder: My advice is…..learn from the greats man. Hip-hop ain’t got no books, courses, all that fly shit that other music genres have. So, you gotta study the art. Its like, how do you become a great NBA point guard, not watchin Allen Iverson, although he’s spectacular. You gotta learn the fundamentals of the game by watching Walt Frazier, John Stockton, Magic….you know, all of the greats. Then turn it into something new.
HHS: The Internet has obviously been a key marketing and exposure tool for Little Brother, can you break down how old some of the material on The Listening is and what material is new?
Phonte: Well, the first song we recorded was “Speed” and that was done in August of 2001. The last joint we did was “Nighttime Maneuvers,” around Feb. of 2002. Originally, that beat for “Nighttime” was done around early 2000 though. We re-freaked it for the album. Basically, man, everything on that album was over a year old once it hit the shelves. We’re ready to jump on album #2, man.
9th Wonder: Some of the beats on the Listening is almost two years old man. So my beat style is growing. I listen to the joints on there and sometimes I say, “damn, that joint still bangs” and sometimes its “ugh, I shoulda changed that kick”……but it made for a dope album. The oldest beat is “Nighttime Manuevers” and the most recent joint is “Nobody But You”.
HHS: I think allot of people just assume after absorbing the debut that you bump nothing but traditional old-school hip-hop, what were your favorite LP’s from 2002?
Phonte: For 2002, my favorite hip-hop LP’s were the Big Tymers’ “Hood Rich” and Jazzy Jeff’s “Magnificent” joint on BBE. That Big Tymers shit was just so much fun to listen to, man. Me and Pooh RAN that motherfucker!!! Outside of hip-hop, I was bumpin’ Tweet’s “Southern Hummingbird” and Donnie’s “The Colored Section.” I think its natural for people to make those assumptions after hearing the album, though. Cats assume that the ONLY music you listen to are your influences. Then when they find out you listen to Big Tymers or 50 Cent they’re like, “WHOA!!”
9th Wonder: (Laughing), That Hood Rich is going to kill’em. I love that record! That’s what I mean by killing that sectioning off shit. People’s jaws drop when they find out we listen to the Big Tymers. That joint teaches you to have fun with your music…hell listen to “Make Me Hot P”!
HHS: The goal of any artist is too reach as many people as possible, are you at all worried about being pigeonholed into a specific genre because of all the “old-school” references and tags the media is bestowing upon you?
Phonte: Nah, I’m not really worried about it, man. By the time our 2nd album rolls around, I think people will be calling us “Little Brother” instead of “that hot new group from North Carolina that sounds like Tribe and Slum.” I’m not worried at all, man. Our music is gonna speak for itself. The Native Tongue/early 90′s throwback sound was the vibe we were feeling, so that’s what we rolled with for our first album. But this is just our 1st album. Don’t expect our 2nd record to be 15 different variations of “Whatever You Say.”
9th Wonder: Nope….compare me all day…..cause the Golden Age was a time when dope shit dropped every week. I mean, if anyone was privileged to witness that era and how beautiful it was, I don’t think they would mind if they were compared to that era either.
HHS: You guys came up respecting people like Pete Rock and ?uestlove, how surreal is it for you to have these guys going out of their way to co-sign The Listening?
Phonte: It’s incredible, man. I expected the fans to take to our music because they wanted something fun and refreshing. I NEVER expected to get the co-sign from the cats who influenced us, man. That took me by surprise. But its a good thing, man. It’s like the ultimate seal of approval. How can you give a fuck about what Rolling Stone writes about your album (note: 2 stars?), when Pete Rock leaves a message on your voicemail telling you your shit is classic? You can’t top that, man!!!
9th Wonder: Surreal is an understatement. Pete called me on Thanksgiving and told me that the Listening was classic and that I was a dope producer. Can you imagine??? Its like Mean Joe Greene calling Warren Sapp while he was in college and saying, “yo…I’ve been watching you all season, and I think you are one helluva Defensive lineman! You are a great asset to your team!”
Can you dig it?
HHS: We heard rumors that you recently connected with Pete Rock, what was that experience like and how did the material you recorded with Pete for Soul Survivor 2 turn out?
Phonte: So far, we’ve only recorded one joint and it came out REALLY dope. I talked to Pete a few days ago and he said he was gonna do some new things to the beat, so we still haven’t heard the finished version yet. There’s probably about 2 or 3 more studio tracks that we’re gonna do, plus we recorded a few freestyles and jam sessions with Pete on the drums and me on the keys and shit, just messing around. We’ll probably bootleg it on E-Bay in a few years (laughing)!!!
9th Wonder: It was truly a blessing man. The man has records bruh! I mean, if there is ANY DOUBT that Pete has fell off, or ain’t got it anymore, the hip-hop world is sadly mistaken. This guy played beats from ’97 for two hours that smashes my entire catalog, for real. It was an experience like none other.
HHS: I can’t stop bumping “The Listening” as its the closet thing I have heard to a Pete Rock tribute, its almost as if you channeled his spirit there, has he heard it and was he flattered?
Phonte: Yeah, Pete’s heard the joint and he loves it. He was cool about the “T.R.O.Y” sample and everything, man. He doesn’t mind cats sampling his shit, as long as they keep it funky.
HHS: I think you guys nailed it on the head with “The Listening” in regard to how much hip-hop and its fans have changed (“I took your LP to D.C., where some youngin’s gave me the LD on how it should be/make sure the beat knock till the trunk pop/and everybody pause when you cruise down the block/roll down your window and they ask what you playing/but don’t nobody care what you saying/that’s what they told me ya’ll”) can you break it down for those who may not be Listening?
Phonte: Well, that was Big Pooh’s lyric right there, but I’ll try to break it down the best way I can. Basically, people really don’t pay attention to whats being said in music anymore. You could do a song called “Kill All Niggers and Jews” and that shit would get heavy rotation as long as it was produced by The Neptunes (laughing). Now mind you, I’m not a “lyrics before beats” person, because there are tons of rappers out there who I think are dope, but I simply can’t listen to because their beats are wack. An MC is only as dope as his beats, man, so I understand how people can get caught up in a song because the music is hot. But at the same time man, we have to take note of what we feed our minds because that is what creates our thought process. And thoughts create action. So when you see that 6 year-old singing “My Neck, My Back” you have to ask yourself, “Where will she be in 10 years? And how much did the music she listened to determine that?” It’s really a scary thing, man. I love to party as much as the next man, but the shit we say affects lives, y’know? So with our album, we wanted to send a message out to people to say, “Yo, pay attention to what you listen to because it ultimately affects who you are.” But lemme get off my soapbox and go play Nelly or something (laughter).
9th Wonder: Listen to the album’s lyrics. Alot of cats say….”sounds like Mos or Common”. If its not bang your head club music, then its neo-soul, or you trying to save the whales (laughing). LISTEN! There is a stark difference between us, Slum, Blackstar, Common, the Roots….but you’ve gotta listen.
HHS: I think allot of older heads understand, but don’t necessarily like the direction hip-hop is going right now. I think one of the reasons Little Brother really appeals to fans is because you not only bring the glory age sound of hip-hop back to the forefront, but also have very relatable subject matter (“Speed” & “Whatever You Say” etc). Would you agree?
Phonte: I would agree with that, man. I think it more so has to do with our appeal as people. When me and Pooh sit down to write rhymes, its not like, “Yo, son, I gotta KILL niggas with this hot 16, yo!!!! I gotta get my Hip Hop Site Quotable!” (laughing) It’s more of a thing where we sit back and ask ourselves, “What do I wanna say?” I think its important for emcees to get across who they are as people and THEN channel that into their rhymes, versus just beating listeners across the head with a bunch of similes and battle rhymes that sound like they could have been written by anybody. When people hear me, I want them to be like, “Yo, that SOUNDS like something Tay would say…”
9th Wonder: Yeah, I most definitely agree. I found that alot of older headz love the album. The album is really for grown folks man, ’cause it has a grown folk groove to it. Long gone are the days of “grown folk music”, you know? Cats like Melba Moore, Staci Lattisaw, Shirley Murdock, S.0.S. Band, Atlantic Star, shit the older cats bumped when you were a kid, but you didn’t quite understand them. When you hear them today, they contain alot of nostalgia. I guess that’s why we appeal to a older crowd.
HHS: I recently was hipped to a Justus League double LP and was taken aback by how talented the whole crew is. Can you explain how you guys connected, how long you have been working together and shed some light on the other members of the crew?
9th Wonder: The J-League is a networking system. Cesar Comanche and I formed the League in May 1999, just to join cats together that had the same ideas in music, and life in general. The Justus League consists of 8 emcees, 4 producers, and an “imformant” if you will. The emcees are Phonte, Big Pooh, L.E.G.A.C.Y., Chaundon, Median, Edgar Allan Floe, Cesar Comanche, and Sean Boog. The producers are myself, Big Dho, Eccentric, and the Son of Yorel.
HHS: 9th, how would you describe your sound?
9th Wonder: If you take Premier’s chops, Pete’ soul and basslines, Jaydee’s filter effects, and the RZA voice sample usage, add a little dash of sugar and spice and all that sweet shit, you get me(lol)! Seriously, those four cats are on the Mount Olympus of beats for real. Think of your top 500 hip-hop singles, almost 3/4 of the list come from these cats. They taught me everything I know, without even knowing they taught me.
HHS: 9th, you have a slew of remix LP’s floating around, how did the Nas remix joint (God’s Step Son) come about? Do you have any other remix projects in the works?
9th Wonder :Man, my man DJ Bumrush brought me the acapellas on a Saturday evening. I was finished two days later. That’s the way I practice man, remixes. You can never get a full gauge of how dope a beat is until words is over it. Nas is a brilliant lyricist, so I guess I kinda dreamed up my on God’s Son. As far as for other joints, I remix them as they come along, its nothing I really set out to do, just some spur of the moment type shit.
HHS: In the manner 50 Cent opened up a whole new market with his mixtapes, you know you could so the same thing with these remix endeavors?
9th Wonder: Hopefully, ’cause it gives hip-hoppers something to dig for. Hip-hop ain’t shit unless you can dig. It keeps the traditional runnin’. I wanna start a new trend, but still stay in guidelines of the game.
HHS: What does the future hold for Little Brother, any guest appearances, or collaborations we should be on the lookout for?
Phonte: Right now I’m working on a project with my man Nicolay called “The Foreign Exchange.” Its gonna be on some U.N.K.L.E. meets Esthero type-shit, with me and some other cats guest starring. I can’t say names just yet, but so far what we have is absolutely gorgeous. Fans of “Nic’s Groove” are gonna love this record. And Pooh is working on a few mixtapes, to showcase his grittier and harder stuff. We’re staying busy, man. Just trying to make some good music.
9th Wonder: More dope records! From a beat standpoint, I really wanna work with A Tribe Called Quest(hint hint), Jay-Dee(cause that cat can rhyme his ass off), Jay-Z, Nas, Guru, Mos, 50, Luda, Buckshot, Kool G Rap, Redman…..you know, dope cats like that, before its all said and done.
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