— by Shaheem Reid, with reporting by Mark Marraccini
If you go to one of Little Brother's shows, you may not be familiar with their music going in, but you'll definitely remember the trio after you leave — especially since the group's two heavyset MCs don't let their size affect how they move onstage.
"We have a party onstage," rapper Big Pooh says of himself and the collective's other rhyming member, Phonte. Not only do they handle their business on the mic, the hefty rappers have been known to do imitations of some of Morris Day's crazy dance staples such as the Bird. "People see us [like] we're two big, plus-sized men 'bout to get up on stage. They think we're about to be tired, panting, eating sandwiches and all that. No, it's a party. Come on, man!"
Little Brother, which also includes a DJ, 9th Wonder, have gained most of their acclaim in cyberspace over the last few months, as opposed to under the spotlights of a stage. The guys, who met in 2000 while attending North Carolina Central University in their hometown of Durham, created a buzz by making their music available on www.okayplayer.com and then found themselves in the middle of a downloading frenzy. After thousands of downloads had been made of songs like "Yo-Yo," "Away From Me" and the first song they ever made as a trio, "Speed," Bay Area label ABB Records took notice and signed them. They released their debut, The Listening, in February.
"When we got signed, it was like, 'Wow, OK, what do we do next?' " 9th Wonder said. "We sat on the phone at four in the morning, real quiet, trying to figure out what exactly we were gonna do. When we recorded our album, we recorded it ourselves in seven months. Nobody was [looking] over our shoulders."
"The title The Listening refers to listening to music as an event," Phonte said. "Like, you buy the record and you gotta go home for the listening. So we just wanted to make an album that people would go home and put in, sit down and read the credits. Just like how I grew up listening to records, you know?"
Some of the groups Phonte grew up listening to fused jazz and hip-hop and had a significant impact on Little Brother's hybrid style of music.
"We're the little brother of A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth — that generation of good music," said Big Pooh, who earned his moniker because of his resemblance to his honey-loving cartoon namesake, Winnie the Pooh. "Traditional hip-hop. Even Scarface, the Geto Boys and N.W.A. That was still good music, and that's where we kind of derived that meaning from, 'Little Brother.' We kind of stuck with it."
"Speed," which is about struggling to hold down a steady job while trying to crack into the music business, might remind fans of ATCQ's rap about everyday life in "Stressed Out," while the rhythmic horn melodies and harmonizing in "Away From Me" conjure up musical visions of Pete Rock's legendary rap production.
"We all bring different elements [to the group]," Pooh continued. "Phonte, he's the class clown, he's probably the most creative out of all us. He's always got crazy ideas he wants to try. 9th, he's the mediator, he tries to keep everything [together, like,] 'Let's be calm.' Then I'm the rapper. I'm the one that's like, 'Look, man, just tell me when it's time to rap.' We all gel together with music."
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