Little Brother has been snapping necks and taking names for over seven years, when the then-trio stepped on the scene with cosigns from legends like Pete Rock and their highly anticipated debut album The Listening. The next step for the humble group from North Carolina was signing to Atlantic Records in 2004. Fans were concerned then, and they had every right to be. Would Atlantic promote the group like they deserved to be promoted? Would Little Brother change now that they were on a major label and morph into something that didn’t reflect their wit and charm on The Listening?
If fans said Atlantic would drop the ball, they were right. With little promotion and BET refusing to play the video for “Lovin’ It” because it was “too intelligent,” the group’s sophomore album The Minstrel Show sold only 18,000 copies in the first week.
Somewhere in between leaving Atlantic and releasing their third album Getback, issues arose within the group that led to producer 9th Wonder’s sudden departure from the group, where he only produced one track on their 2007 album Getback.
As Rapper Pooh and Phonte prepare their fourth and final album together as Little Brother, Rapper Pooh sits down with HipHopGame to talk Leftback, ending LB, issues still surrounding 9th and his plans for the future.
Pooh, the last Little Brother album, Leftback, is almost upon us. How do you feel about it being the last LB album?
I feel good. I’m in a good place with the decision to make this the final Little Brother album, man. I just think that a lot of people, as much as I try to explain it or as much as we try to explain it, I don’t think that people fully understand that we just value our personal relationship over a business relationship and we’re both moving in different directions creatively and businesswise and we just felt that after spending time apart and coming back and talking about things, that this was a good time to go ahead and end it.
Even going back to your previous songs, you’ve talked about how LB is not forever and I think you gave listeners the sense that it wasn’t forever. Did you see this coming for awhile?
Not for awhile. It’s not like we sat down and said we were only going to do a certain amount of albums and that was going to be it. We just saw our lives as artists moving in different directions and we’re both smart enough to acknowledge that and accept that and that it was time to hang this jersey up.
Did you accomplish everything you wanted to as Little Brother?
I don’t think I accomplished everything that I wish we would have accomplished. I don’t have any regrets about any of the decisions we made or any of the albums we made but you always wish you could have done more no matter how much you’ve done. If you’re a ballplayer and you scored 20 points you’ll wish you had scored 30 points. Going back I see missteps and I see opportunities that we failed to take full advantage of, but no regrets, man.
What was the biggest difference between you and Phonte seeing eye to eye on things that led you to mutually decide to end it?
Just knowing where we both were creatively and just knowing that we were going…We were never directly on the same page creatively being that we’re two different type of people but we were always able to meet somewhere in the middle and make Little Brother the special thing that it was. But just taking time apart, Phonte went into the singing thing and was Grammy nominated for the singing and that’s where his heart is at now and I just went a little more edgy with my music and a little more West Coast-inspired with my music and just got further away from the Little Brother sound or style with the vocal samples and things of that nature.
That was part of it, man, well, a big part of it, and businesswise, we both believe in different business models. ‘Te found a business model that works for Foreign Exchange and I’m proud of him and I want him to be as successful as he can be. I haven’t found my model or my niche but I knew I wanted more than what he wanted on the business end and just seeing the potential for heads bumping or the potential for disagreements in those areas and us two being men and being able to sit down and talk about it, we just realized that we didn’t see eye to eye as far as that’s concerned and before we let a business relationship end up corrupting our personal relationship, we decided that it was best to let the business part of the relationship go as far as doing that much business together.
Were you still able to make the music that you both wanted to make for Leftback?
Well, definitely. We got a natural chemistry together, man, whenever we get in the studio. That’s the difference, because we don’t have a problem with each other personally. I don’t have a problem with Phonte Coleman and he doesn’t have a problem with me so we’re always able to get in and do a couple jams or hit the road and do a couple shows. We’re always able to do that because we’re good for each other. We just saw the potential for trouble down the road and we just decided to stop it before we got to that point.
No doubt. On “Curtain Call,” the first single off Leftback, you detail the LB discography and talk about the issues certain releases faced. Was the writing process for that cathartic for you?
Nah. The funny thing is, that’s not even the verse I had for that song. That song came about in a couple of different phases. We both had different verses and then ‘Te hit me and said he had another idea for this joint because we didn’t really have a title at the time. He said he had another idea and he sent me his verse and his idea and I heard it and I saw the direction that he went and he said he was going to go in that direction and I could still keep my verse but I wanted to change mine then! I saw how he approached it and I approached it by running down the discography and the reason why I did that was because once people found out that this was the last Little Brother album, I knew that people were going to naturally ask why and say that they wanted to hear more but the one thing we always tell them is that when you’re putting your music out there, you can always go back and listen to them old joints and remember where you were when you heard them and what made them so special when you heard them. I just wanted to make the discography so they could go back and if this is your first time hearing Little Brother, we got quite a discography.
As far as your fans go, do you feel like you picked up a lot of new fans after your last album Getback or do you think the majority of your fans have been riding with you since your first album The Listening?
I think we definitely gained some new fans. I don’t know how much, but I definitely believe that we gained new fans. And you can always tell when we would go on the road after we released Getback, we always asked if it was their first time seeing Little Brother or people would hit us up and tell us that it was the first album they heard from us. I think we’re always gaining new fans and I hope that the trend continues.
One of the biggest changes from your second album, The Minstrel Show, to your last album, Getback, was the absence of producer 9th Wonder. During the promotion of that album, that seemed to be the only question that would be guaranteed to be asked in an interview. Do you still get inquires concerning 9th’s departure from Little Brother?
(laughs) Definitely, man! It’s even more now than before for the simple fact that this is the last Little Brother album. The diehard fans, they want to hear Little Brother in its original form, you know, how they heard us for the first time. That’s how they want to hear us go out, like it was for The Listening, but I tell them all the time that we don’t have that same energy. We don’t have that same chemistry that we had when we recorded The Listening or parts of The Minstrel Show. What made them records so special was that we enjoyed being around each other and we enjoyed coming to the studio and putting in the work and putting in the hours and doing whatever and that’s what made those records so special. It wasn’t that we had to go off and do our own thing and send in our verses. That wasn’t the process so for us to do that now, it wasn’t going to be the asme and then for you to support it, it’s not going to be the same kind of magic that you heard before. It’s just that thing where you can’t please everybody and we don’t set out to please everybody and we just do what makes us happy and you know, the rest will fall in line.
If 9th came to you and Phonte and said he wanted to be on Leftback, would you guys be open to it?
Nah. Nah, not at all because we have personal things that we need to take care of before we even get to the music portion of the relationship. We need to discuss that who knows how that is going to end up. People don’t understand that it’s not as simple as just wanting to make some music. Nah. We need to settle. Because we had a personal relationship with him, we have to get that settled first and that’s so far down the line. That’s what people don’t understand. When you have a personal relationship with somebody and you came from nothing to something with them and that personal relationship goes astray, it takes so much to set that right before you can even fathom doing music together. It’s as simple as that. It’s not like if you did some beats for me and we never had a real personal relationship and we fell out. It would be easy for us to rectify that and make some new music. I have to like you to make beautiful music with you, but that would be easy.
But this situation is different because the business crossed over into the personal and it fucked up everything. It fucked up the business relationship and the personal relationship. The personal relationship would definitely have to be fixed all the way before a conversation about music would occur.
What’s indicative of how far you guys have grown apart is the situation of Phonte and 9th exchanging words over the leak of “Star.”
Definitely, man. The thing about the whole internet blowup is I saw that coming for awhile now. I didn’t know exactly how it was going to bubble over or explode but I definitely saw it coming. It was a situation with 9th and for whatever reason he can come up with, he refuses to sit down and have a face to face or man to man with me or Phonte or the both of us. He refused that conversation but instead of doing that, he’ll go on social networks and make his little comments to fans and they have the access to hear all of our stuff and voice their opinions and most of the time, I choose not to respond or I don’t ever say anything like ‘Talk to your man 9th’ but we noticed that he was making a lot of those comments like he was taking the high road but he doesn’t really want the facts or the whole situation to be revealed. That’s your high road. You don’t want to discuss it because if you start discussing it, then you’re going to expose yourself.
It’s just one of those situations, man, where I just saw it coming. I think the whole situation with the “Star” song being snatched off the iTunes version of the Leftback record is what really tipped it over with us. You found out that this song was being released as an iTunes bonus and we recorded it back in ’05 or ’06 and it was for a record of yours that has yet to even have a release date. We were just like, ‘Let’s give it to the fans. This is the last joint.’
And once you realized that that was happening and you didn’t want that song to come out, it’s simple. You could have called our cell. You could have called me or ‘Te or Dho or emailed us. The emails and numbers are the same and you have that information so why, instead of getting in touch with somebody over here, instead of doing that, you decide to have someone affiliated with you try to call iTunes and get the record snatched off and jeopardize our release date. I think that was just the final straw and I know that with me and ‘Te, I know that from day one, myself and ‘Te have always been made out to look like the bad guys. We were made to look like we were jealous of him working with big artists or we were jealous of his fame or jealous of how much money he was getting or whatever but that was never the case. We always encouraged him to do bigger and better things, but it’s just like, ‘Yo, people don’t know the facts!’ They don’t know the true story and they don’t know all of the things that went into our situation dissolving as it did.
Can you still find the Little Brother sound without 9th?
Definitely. Me and ‘Te have the ability to take any record and make it a Little Brother record and that’s just something that we’ve always been able to do and we’ve been doing it since right after The Minstrel Show. We did it with the mixtapes and the Getback album, so we were always able to do it. We’ve always done it. It’s just that the diehard fans, they want the original article. They want the Little Brother that they were introduced to in 2003 and it’s 2010 and that Little Brother is no more. This is the 2010 version of Little Brother.
What are your plans for your solo career after Leftback drops?
Right now I’m working on an EP with my man Roc C out of Oxnard. We’re in the process of putting this EP together, man. We got a ton of material. We already have about 13, 14 songs that we have in a short amount of time. We got some nice features right there and we’re working on getting that out by mid-summer. I got the Dirty Pretty Things album coming. I’ve been working on that for a long time coming. That’s an album I started three or four times, personally. Hopefully this is the last start. I got about 10, I think about 10 joints, recorded so far. I’m going to try to record about 10, 12 more joints and pick the best 14 out of that. You know, just work on that music and continue to work as an artist and continue to get better and hopefully I can keep getting not some things outside of music like sports, which I’ve been trying to get involved with.
You’ve always talked about basketball in your rhymes and shouted out little-known players in your rhymes like Tremaine Fowlkes. What do you want to do in sports?
I want to have my own show in sports. I’m a big sports enthusiast and I want to have something like The Best Damn Sports Show where it’s real informal and they have guests on and they interview people. I want to do something like that. I don’t want it to be a formal thing. I want people to be comfortable and wear the clothes they want to wear and just come out and shoot the shit. Blogging for Slam has been a great experience and a great opportunity and I hope I can continue doing that and I got a couple other things on the horizon and I hope I can keep taking it step by step and hopefully one day in the future you’ll see Pooh having a TV show.
I’m guessing that means you were able to correctly pick Butler, Michigan State, West Virginia and Duke in the Final Four this year.
Hell nah! I don’t know nobody who would have got that Final Four right! You know, Duke, I can see Duke being there, but I know everybody had Kentucky and I know most of the country had Kansas and Syracuse. I know they definitely didn’t have Butler going to the Final Four. This is no offense to anyone with a mental handicap but you gotta be on your Rainman shit in order to pick that, man. It was just so unpredictable. The only bracket that I know they picked everything right was a kid, I don’t know how old he was, but the kid had autism. He had picked everything up to the Elite Eight right.
Come on, no analyst, nobody else would have got that, man. It was just Butler, Michigan State, with their injuries, Kentucky not being there and West Virginia beating them up, come on, man! It’s unbelievable circumstances, man. A million tries and I wouldn’t have guessed that Final Four.
Being that you're in North Carolina, do you root for Duke?
Hell nah! I detest Duke. I don’t like any North Carolina team. I’m a northern Virginia guy so my allegiance is with Georgetown or Maryland. Those colleges, I root for. Duke is my least favorite Carolina team.
What about my alma mater, UVA?
I can’t root for them. Nah. The crazy thing is I’ve never been a UVA fan. They had a couple good teams when I was in high school but they could never get it right, in basketball or football. They could never get it right. I grew up watching Georgetown when Big John was coaching, you know, patrolling the sidelines with his white towel and Joey Brown was running the point and they had Robert Churchill and Gary Williams got to Maryland and Walt Williams was there with the long socks. I was a fan of those guys ever since I was little so I was never a UVA fan.
Even though you have the same name as one of their best running backs.
Yeah, man. (laughs) I’ve never been a real UVA fan. I’ll catch them every now and again, but they’re not one of those teams I gotta see play. I don’t care how bad Maryland or Georgetown is, but I’ll watch them no matter what. I’ll watch every game. UVA could be 16-0 but I would rather watch my team over UVA.
In all honesty, most UVA fans probably feel the same way.
(laughs) I don’t know, man. Some talent definitely came from that school but they’re a school about their education down there. They’re about getting them degrees down there. They ain’t big on the sports thing.
Switching gears, this is a big summer for free agents in the NBA. Where do players like Lebron, Dwayne Wade, Amare Stoudamire and Chris Bosh end up?
Lebron will remain in Cleveland. Out of all those free agents, I see Amare Stoudamire being up on a new team and I see Chris Bosh being on a new team. Dwayne Wade will be an interesting case. I could see him being lured to New York if it’s him and Amare Stoudamire or him and Chris Bosh. He could also go home to Chicago. But I definitely think Lebron will be remaining in Cleveland and the New Jersey Nets will not be bringing in any new talent.
And I think the Knicks made many blunders, but by giving away three future draft picks and clearing up all that space, I think they just set themselves up for big disappointment, because even if one of those superstars come to that team, there’s not going to be enough talent surrounding them to start winning immediately and these guys have been in the league for six, seven years and they want to win, especially Lebron. You’re measured by championships and he wants one and needs one and I don’t see him leaving Cleveland. They’re giving him everything he wants. He’s the king of Ohio and the new top guy at Nike and he doesn’t need to move to New York when you can get anything you want in Cleveland.
That’s just the reality of the situation. I applaud Donnie Walsh. He’s definitely trying to turn New York back into a winning team and Isaiah Thomas royally fucked them up. He turned the Pacers into a championship-caliber team. They’re definitely going to get a free agent but it might not be Lebron or Dwayne Wade but they could get a second-tier star like Joe Johnson. I just don’t see them getting one of the superstars.