Big Pooh and Phonte recently released Leftback, their fourth and last Little Brother album. It’s a compilation of songs that never made it to other projects in what they describe as their way to give fans closure, but the end is bittersweet.
“Don’t make a producer part of your group unless the producer raps too. That’s not a shot at 9th [Wonder] or anybody. It’s just that producers and MCs are two different kinds of people from a social stand point,” Phonte tells VIBE. “MCs have to be out and about, talk shit and be aggressive so we tend to be more vocal with what’s on our mind. Producers tend to be more private so you’re dealing with different personality types and different approaches to their craft. When you try to apply it to real life⎯and considering everything⎯it’s almost a recipe for disaster.”
Little Brother, once comprised of Big Pooh, Phonte and 9th Wonder, emerged on the hip-hop scene in the early part of the new millennium. They drew comparisons to “Golden Era” hip-hop groups that inspired their namesake like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and more. Pooh and Phonte provided clever lyrics while 9th was the mastermind behind their soulful sound. Their official debut 2003’s The Listening (ABB records), expanded their fan base beyond their native North Carolina and eventually led to international tours with artists like The Roots and Heiroglyphics, and cosigns from DJ Premier and Pete Rock.
By the time they released their third album, Get Back (ABB Records), 9th Wonder was no longer a part of the group. Phonte and Big Pooh maintain that while communication was misconstrued with their former producer, ending Little Brother’s brief stint in hip-hop was necessary.
“You always have to let the other people that you work with know what your goals and aspirations are because they start the same when you’re in a group, but they eventually change,” Big Pooh tells VIBE. “When me and [Phonte] sat down, had a conversation, saw where we were, realized what the bigger picture was and decided to call it what it was, we stayed friends as a result. We’re still family. I can’t stress enough how important communication is.”
Big Pooh is working on a collaborative EP with Cali’s Roc C that’s expected out this summer, as well his next solo project, Dirty Pretty Things, which will be out later in the year. Phonte has rejoined Nicolay for another Foreign Exchange album that will be out in the fall, but he has also assumed the role of CEO for his Foreign Exchange label and production company that houses indie favorites like Yazarah and Zo!.
“When I study groups and look at why they break up or run into problems⎯sometimes you just need that release and that freedom to do what you want to do outside the group,” says Phonte. “It’s like you got a job⎯you have to have some days off, you have to have vacation time or else you go crazy. With me and Pooh, we would always go do our own thing but we would also come back to home base to assist each other with whatever we needed to do. Even when we were in two different places [mentally] we offered our help and supported each other the best we could. That to me is the best way to not just keep a group together but also to maintain a friendship.” ⎯Starrene Rhett