Big Pooh is probably best known for his work as one third of the North Carolina trio Little Brother, alongside 9th Wonder and Phonte, whose outstanding underground collective was responsible for four albums throughout the 2000s. But the MC has been going it alone since 2010's Leftback, the emphatically final LP from LB that came out on Justus Records that April, and his relatively new deal with Mello Music Group sees his return with a brand new EP, Words Paint Pictures, due out Mar. 24.

The new project is entirely produced by Apollo Brown and is set to feature the likes of Ras Kass, Blakk Soul, Marv Won and more. In anticipation for the EP, Pooh drops his first single, "Stop," today exclusively with XXL, which speaks poignantly on the topics of police profiling and the hardships of growing up black in America. We caught up with the rapper this week to talk about working with Apollo Brown, his new project and why a song that addresses the hardships and every day issues facing African American youth in this country resonates so deeply right now. Check out our conversation, as well as the tracklist to Words Paint Pictures, below. —Dan Rys 

Words Paint Pictures Tracklist
1. "Augmentation"
2. "Stop" featuring Steve Roxx
3. "Eyes Wide Open" featuring Ras Kass
4. "Promise Land"
5. "How I Move" featuring Blakk Soul
6. "Candlelight" featuring Marv Won
7. "Kings" featuring Jalen Santoy, Novej and Lute
8. "Augmentation" (L'Orange Remix)
9. "Promise Land" (Apollo Brown Remix)

XXL: How long have you been working on Words Paint Pictures?
Rapper Big Pooh: I'm trying to think... I think six, seven months.

How did you link up with Apollo Brown?
I linked up with Apollo about a year or so ago. I originally was supposed to do with Mello [Music Group] and we were gonna use a lot of their in-house producers, like Oddissee, L'Orange, Apollo. I did two records to Apollo beats and we were performing in New York and I let him hear them, and we just sat and looked at each other. He was like, "Yo, we gotta knock this EP out." So it changed to a "Produced entirely by Apollo Brown" EP.

Do you think you guys just bring something out in each other?
I do, man; I mean, the crazy thing is, they had contacted me a few years ago after I dropped the Purple Tape, the mixtape [from 2010], and he wanted to do it back then but we just couldn't get it together. But I think it's the combination of Apollo's style—it's very reminiscent of the boom bap that I used to do—and there's just something about when we get together. Like you said, we complement each other very well, we both make timeless music and when we make music together it's on another level.

Tell me in particular about this single "Stop."
The crazy thing is, of course, a lot of the stuff that's going on—Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown—all this stuff has been going on. But I was sitting in the crib—it's one of the last records I did for the EP—and I was watching the news, and there was a story from down in Columbia, South Carolina, which is like an hour and a half away from me. And this kid had just gotten off work and he got pulled over at a gas station. And when he got pulled over at the gas station he got out of the car and the cop said, "I want to see your license." It was in the car, so [the kid] went to reach for it in the car and the cop fired off one. He didn't kill him but he injured him, he shot him in the leg. And right after that I went out, I went driving around and I got pulled over that night. And that was going through my mind the other time: All these black youth getting killed by police officers, and I get pulled over the night after I watched a man get shot at the gas station. So that was like the longest, quickest police stop I've ever had in my life.

Two days later when I got home I was like, "I gotta write about this." You know, as a black man, it used to be the joke that you always tense up when a cop get behind you while you're driving, but now it's real, you know what I'm sayin'? That's real now. So I definitely wanted to document it in some shape or form.

Why is it important for a song like that to come out right now?
Because people don't need to forget about these things. It's a continuous situation, it's not like one incident or two incidents; it's still currently young black men being killed by police officers. It's still occurring. There are a couple artists that are standing up and talking about it; I'm not one to really stand on no soapboxes, go on social networks and go crazy. I'm not that guy. But I still wanted to say something. And I felt like the best way for me to say something was through my art because more people will pay attention when I put out a piece of art as opposed to what I'm saying on the social networks. So I just thought it was my duty to put out not only this type of song but this type of EP. The EP in general is me saying a lot about what is going on socially. It's a little removed from my normal music where a lot of it is things that are going on in my life. Now I'm talking about a few social issues. I felt like it was necessary and overdue.

You've been in the game for over a decade now. How do you think you've evolved over the years?
I think I've just become a better writer. At first—I actually sent a tweet out last week—I said I always wanted to be where people would say I was a dope rapper. That was my goal. And later as I've grown older and become a better writer, period, now I want to be known as a dope songwriter. That's kind of why I named the EP what I named it, but I want my words to paint pictures now. I want you to see an audio movie. I want you to be able to close your eyes and see exactly what I'm talking about. And I think that resonates more with the listener as opposed to, you can go up there and spit a bunch of bars, have a bunch of punchlines, similes and metaphors, but when you paint pictures it's just what people want. And they're gonna come back to it. And I think that's my growth as an artist; as I got a little bit older I started to understand a lot more about myself, my strengths, my weaknesses. And that's one of the things I definitely feel like I've evolved, as far as my writing is concerned.

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