LittleBrother.jpgLittle Brother ain’t gangsta, and the only grills you’re likely to see them around are used for barbecuing. They’re way more b-boy than d-boy. And in a time when trappin’ and snappin’ rule the South, LB has gotten pushed even more underground. In an attempt to dig themselves out of the dirt, the North Carolina crew looks to former backpacker DJ Drama for the Gangsta Grillz cosign on Separate but Equal.

LB’s multitalented lead MC Phonte sets the tone on the title track, saying, “The South is some of the most intelligent, well-spoken and thoughtful niggas in hip-hop.” He proceeds to prove his point on “Let It Go” by outthinking Mos Def with lines like, “I speak to you/And this year I’ma Schiavo my rivals/ Nigga, pull out the feeding tube.” Meanwhile, ’Te’s partner Big Pooh makes up for his lack of lyrical complexity with attitude and humor. On “Macaroni” the husky rapper admits to rarely getting booty as a teen: “A couple jump-offs kept a nigga from the hand action/But that was guaranteed satisfaction/An easy nut, no sassin’.”

Despite their obvious way with words, no amount of gunshot sound effects and shout-outs from Drama can free Little Brother from their Jansport straps. Take “Can’t Let Her,” where they revisit the overused metaphor of hip-hop as a woman by doing exactly what purists are expected to do—complain. And instead of freestyles over Mannie Fresh or Three 6 instrumentals, Phonte and Pooh stay rhyming over their standard soulful fare.
This mix was supposed to bridge the gap between the brainy set and the streets. So where are the guest shots from Southern stars like T.I., Trick Daddy and Lil Wayne? Sure Bun B shows up on “Candy,” but he drops a disposable “I’m a baller” verse. Overall, Separate but Equal says a lot. But if they can’t break their old habits, LB will forever be segregated.—TIMMHOTEP AKU