Somewhere between the jazzy, feel-good grooves of A Tribe Called Quest and the yin-yang chemistry of OutKast lies Little Brother. The Durham, NC trio make music that brilliantly splits the line between art and commercialism, all while maintaining their fun-loving hip-hop purist stance. The group's members; MCs Phonte and Big Pooh along with DJ/producer 9th Wonder met in 1998 while attending North Carolina Central University. After noticing that they shared some of the same musical tastes (The Roots, Led Zeppelin, Wes Montogomery), the fellas formed an instant friendship and vowed to help each other develop their careers.
The trio served as a nucleus for Durham's hip-hop community, and played an enormous role in forming groups such as The Organization (1998-2000), and the Justus League, a 12-member crew of first-rate producers and MCs of which Little Brother is still part of. While the trio maintained their alliance through several side projects and aborted solo deals, it wasn't until August 2001 that they decided to come together and make Little Brother an official group.
"The first joint recorded was Speed," recalls 9th Wonder, referring to a song that talks about the pressures of trying to maintain a job while struggling to make it in the music industry. "After that night, we knew the chemistry was there because everything just fell in its right place. TThe feeling was right, so we agreed to keep recording as a group."
Their decision to stay together proved to be a smart one. Within a few short months of recording, the trio had gathered enough songs to grad the attention of local music lovers, radio, DJs, and club promoters. The group received frequent spins on college radio. They regularly headlined at local venues and opened for national acts such as Tha Liks and Defari. They were also voted as one of the Top 10 Artists to Watch in critics poll by the Raleigh News & Observer.
The trio has gained much public attention. They received 4 out of 5 mics in The source, been featured in URB Magazine's Next 100 issue, received countless reviews in magazines like XXL, Elemental, Vibe, and Trace, feautured on MTV's You Hear It First and have shared a stage with Gang Starr, The Roots, Dilated Peoples and Floetry. Not bad for three guys who have only been together for a couple of years. "We're just everyday cats who party, take care of our families, and try to make good music in the process," says Big Pooh, humbly commenting about the group's dedication and musicianship.
Pooh's comments reflect the sentiments expressed by many music fans who applaud Little Brother for their down-to-earth, common man appeal, although North Carolina isn't known for their rootsy, organic brand of hip-hop. "Everybody thinks that North Carolina is this country-ass place with people bouncing everywhere, but it's not," explains Phonte. "When people hear we're from North Carolina, they're surprised because to them we're not what Southern rappers are supposed to sound like. We could be from Brooklyn, Kansas, or anywhere."
Diversifying the face of Southern rap and sharpening hip-hop's dull creative edges are Little Brother's main concerns. To hell with Walt Disney; Phonte, Pooh, and 9th Wonder represent the new Song of the South.