More Reasons Why Being Deaf Sucks/Rocks: R.I.P. Little Brother

I’m way tired. Work is completely kicking my tail and there’s no end in sight. Still, on the plus side, I’m pretty sure that because of all of the work I’ve been doing, I’ve been able to afford to purchase at least as many albums in the past five months as what I was able to buy all of last year, and probably more. I can live with that silver lining.

But the down side is that I’m drained of any energy. I’d wanted to write about seeing The xx at Sonar a week ago (a concert from which I’ve still yet to fully get my voice back) but I don’t feel that in my current state I could do the experience justice.

I also sort of wanted to write about Aliya S King’s tweet up, which happened the same night, but again, I’m out of energy.

In fact, I’m left to write about something that really just occurred to me today—the brief life and times of Little Brother. And it literally occurred to me as I was on the bus to work today.

It really seems like not too long ago when my fellow contemporaries and I were bombarded on a seemingly weekly basis urging us to pick up Little Brother’s debut, The Listening. The urging came from Phil Watts Jr. Though it took me some time to heed his words, he was right; The Listening was indeed a stellar debut and I was kicking myself for not picking it up sooner.

Of course, that was seven years ago. And in those seven years the group has become splintered and eventually disbanded; that really sort of makes me sad. But the more that I think about it the more I realize that it shouldn’t.

Sure those first two albums (The Listening and The Minstrel Show) were impressive documents that stood in contrast to the era in which they were produced. They were albums that weren’t glossy and had themes that weren’t related to materialism. They offered up commentary about both on hip-hop and overall culture as well. They were actually intelligent albums, which is something that’s been pretty hard to find for quite some time now.

But once 9th Wonder became an “in-demand” producer and essentially left the group, things were never the same. Part of the throwback allure of Little Brother was that they were two emcees and one DJ. When 9th left they were just sort of a more down-to-earth version of Slum Village; two emcees who rhymed over an assortment of beats. No matter how nice Phonte and Pooh were on the mic, part of the whole Little Brother dynamic was 9th’s beats. Once he left, the chemistry was irrevocably and horribly altered.

I suppose the writing should have been on the wall once they had a song featuring Lil Wayne on their third release, Getback. At that point a Lil Wayne feature was almost an industry joke, but they weren’t even doing it ironically. I should have recognized the death knell when it rang. I didn’t.

And that brings me to Leftback, the “last” Little Brother album. After the departure of 9th, Pooh and Phonte finally decided to call it quits. I can’t really fault them, as Phonte is clearly getting more success and attention from his side projects (like The Foreign Exchange) and Pooh just seems to be the odd man out. Both Phonte and 9th Wonder outgrew Little Brother, which is understandable because Little Brother never really took off.

But it makes me sad because I really did like the group; I liked their sound and their approach; I liked the working class lyrics and the common man perspective; I liked that they seemed to love the same hip-hop that I loved. To me, Little Brother was like a comfortable pair of old jeans—they were familiar, easy to get into and conjured up pleasant memories. And now they’re done.

And to make matters worse, their last album isn’t one of their best. It feels more like a collection of songs offered up to (a) provide closure and (b) fulfill some sort of contractual obligation. So now it’s like they’ve left the room, but before they left they unleashed a pretty foul fart for you to remember them by. I’ll never be able to wash some of those songs out of my ears.

And the demise of Little Brother is just one more nail in hip-hop’s coffin. I mean, c’mon… one group, seven years and four albums, and then you move on? That depresses me.

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