Little Brother will never be the same again. While recording their upcoming third album, The Getback, producer 9th Wonder and MCs Big Pooh and Phonte decided to part ways due to creative differences. It was a breakup no one saw coming. Then, that same week, Pooh and Phonte revealed they were leaving Atlantic Records. It was a tumultuous turn of events that left the future of the group in question. But ‘Te and Pooh weren’t about to give up. They’ve came too far to quit.
Little Brother got their start in 2003 with their debut LP, The Listening, on ABB Records. The album was a breath of fresh air in hip-hop. Soulful boom bap beats by 9th Wonder combined with Pooh and ‘Te’s humble tales of everyday life. Atlantic Records took notice and signed the group the following year. The Durham, NC trio then released their sophomore LP, The Minstrel Show, in 2005. The album was critically acclaimed and regarded as one of the year’s best. That didn’t translate, however, into album sales. Their relationship with Atlantic Records then soured, prompting LB to leave the label.
Now, without 9th Wonder and Atlantic Records, Phonte and Pooh trudge on. The future of Little Brother rests in their hands. Eager to prove they can succeed on their own, the duo released a mixtape, And Justus For All, two months ago. It was a glimpse at the new Little Brother before their third album, The Getback. Phonte and Big Pooh talk to XXLMag.com about the group’s new direction, breakup with 9th Wonder and departure from Atlantic Records.
How will The Getback differ from your last album, The Minstrel Show?
Pooh: Well, it’s gonna differ sonically, first and foremost, because we decided to have numerous producers on it. It’s gonna be a new Little Brother direction and a new sound. And, of course, me and ‘Te coming into our own lyrically as MC’s. I like to call it the evolution of Little Brother.
What went wrong with the situation at Atlantic Records?
Phonte: It was just a thing where a rap group is harder to market. I don’t think they knew what they were getting into with us. I think they just saw an opportunity to sign these three happy backpack niggas, who were just gonna be happy to get a deal. But once we got in the building, they saw these are three real niggerish dudes. [Laughs] I mean, niggas ain’t thugs and we ain’t about a whole bunch of ignorance, but we’re just more in the middle than what they realized. So, I guess once they realized that we weren’t going neatly fit into any box that just made it a harder sell for them. There’s a million other reasons I could give, but ultimately I don’t think they believed in us that much.
Would you ever sign a deal with another major?
Phonte: Hell no! Never again. I mean, there’s stuff that we have going on in the works, so this album could end up on another major. But really, a major label situation is not for me—all the red tape and bullshit that comes with it.
Pooh: Personally, I would. At the point where the music industry is now, it’s like a crumbling empire. But there’s still a lot of things that I feel are necessary that they [the record labels] do. The whole distribution and getting your shit out aspect of it. Because unless you have the capital to do it yourself, then you’re pretty much pumping it out of your trunk. So I wouldn’t have a problem with it, I just have to make sure I can put my records out how I want to put them out and when it’s time for them to come out, they’ll be on the shelves on Tuesday. That’s all I’m concerned about. All that other shit is extra.
You guys parted ways with longtime producer and group member, 9th Wonder. What led to the split?
Phonte: It was more creative [differences], but I’ll say that a lot of it had to do with personal stuff. I think it was a thing where, and I even told 9th in our last conversation, he wanted a group to use as a platform for his beats, but I don’t think he necessarily wanted to be a member of a group. As far as all the responsibilities that come with being in a group, like touring, doing interviews, and all the little bullshit that comes with it. I don’t think he wanted that. And it got to a point where, for whatever reason, he didn’t have the guts to tell me and Pooh.
Pooh: At the end of the day, it’s like a marriage. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. What people don’t realize is it wasn’t based on any music decision. It was a decision that had to be made amongst us for us to move on and move to the direction that we wanted to go in. Ultimately, me and ‘Te were moving in one direction musically and professionally, and 9th was moving in another direction musically and professionally. Sometimes shit just happens. I never understood when EPMD, Pete Rock and CL Smoth, and A Tribe Called Quest broke up. [When] you’re on the outside looking in, it’s like, ‘Yo, what the fuck! They make great music, man. What are they doing?’ But now I understand it. You got three grown ass men and all three of us are at different places in our lives and want different things. It just comes to a point where, in order for you to keep going, you have to separate.
Phonte, what was 9th’s response when you tried to talk to him about the situation?
Phonte: Well, 9th is my dude and I love him to death, but it’s like niggas don’t want to admit shit a lot of the time. He was real dismissive, like, “Nah, that ain’t it, dog.” I understand that people grow and change and nobody is going to be the same person they were five years ago, or hell, even two years ago. So my disappointment wasn’t in the fact that it went down, it was the way it went down. The last conversation we had, dude didn’t even want to sit down and talk to us. We didn’t even talk in person, we talked on the phone. Shit like that, is just like, ‘Nah my nigga, I can’t ride with that.’ I would think that as a friend and as a brother, he would’ve had more respect for what we’ve done together and handle it in a better way.
You guys have stated your vision for The Getback differed from 9th’s. Do you feel he wasn’t being flexible enough?
Pooh: It was a thing where me and ‘Te had a vision and a sound direction we wanted to go in. And it’s easy for me and ‘Te to be on the same wavelength because we’re around each other all the time. We tour, we record together and whatever. But then trying to relay that to somebody who’s not really around you and isn’t really in your ebb and flow is kind of hard. And it was a situation where we were like, “We [are] looking for this,” and he was like, “Nah, we’re looking for this.” It was weird trying to explain to a person who’s supposed to be in your group, what you’re looking for. It was just a weird feeling and shit. And I think that’s when we all really knew that it was [coming to] an end. When you’re in a group, there’s certain things that are supposed to click. When we did The Listening and The Minstrel Show there were things that clicked, and it wasn’t clicking like that no more.
Phonte: I think he got comfortable. 9th is a good producer and at times, [he] can even be a great producer. But just from the person that I know and with all the musical knowledge that he has, if he would open himself up more and let go of his doubts, there’s no question in my mind that he could be a phenomenal producer. We love this music and we love what we’re doing, but if you’re capable of doing more then why not do it? If you know you can play all these instruments in the band and you can pick up stuff on piano by ear, then why not incorporate that into your music? I love sampling and chopping like the next man, but if you’re capable of doing so much more, why stay in that box?