In part two of our conversation with Little Brother to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of their debut album The Listening, we talk about the lyrical innovations and homages threaded throughout the songs, the lasting impression they have left on groups that followed, who their “little brothers” are and losing one of their biggest influences.

HHDX: On “Whatever You Say” did you plan for that verse not to rhyme?

Phonte: Yeah, that definitely was the plan. I remember when I sat down and started writing it, it was heavily inspired by Slum Village. Fantastic, Vol. 2 was just an album that I played into the ground. I played the MP3 tags off that album. I can’t stress it enough, you know what I mean?

And so, one of the things that was really inspiring for me was just the way that they, as MCs,  incorporated space and rhythm. It wasn’t so much what they were saying, but it was the cadences and the way they kind of became … The way that T3 and Baatin, they became like instruments. You know what I mean? And Dilla as well, of course. And so, that was kind of the thought of going into that verse. I was like, “All right, I kind of want to just play with what 9th has done with the beat. I kind of want to play around that.”



And I kind of started writing it and it wasn’t rhyming, and I was like, “All right, I think I can do this for a whole verse.” And so I just did it. It felt right for the playful vibe of the song, because If you’re going to do the “girl joint,” if you’re going to do the girl record, you still want it to be playful and fun, you know what I mean? You don’t want to make “Wildflower” by Ghostface, you know what I mean?

Speaking of the girl records, what inspired songs like “Nobody But You,”/ “Love Joint Revisited”/ “The Way You Do It” etc.?

Big Pooh: I was trying to get some ladies, man. I’m a shy, shy person.I wouldn’t call myself no player, no mack. No go out back in the day, “Yo, I’m going out, I’m going to come back with three, four numbers.” That wasn’t me. So doing the “girl records” was a way for me to kind of audition myself, so to speak, for the ladies, like, “Hey, you get to know me, this is me” type of thing. Because I wasn’t going up approaching nobody. So, yeah. I mean, for us, we was in our early 20s, you know what I mean?



Phonte: Yeah, Phon Tigallo was the name, yeah, I earned it. I mean, I forgot who it was. It might’ve been like either Dho or 9th, but they was calling me “Yo, Phon Tigallo the Rap Gigolo.” That was just, “Oh, man, go find Tigallo the Rap Gigolo.” That was where it started. And then eventually it got shortened just to Tigallo and I was like, all right, whatever.

But yeah, I mean, there were not a lot of girls at the time when we were writing the album.  There were no girls to speak of. You know what I’m saying? It wasn’t until the album came out and we went on tour, and it was like, “Oh. Oh.”

Phonte: It was a, what did they say? It was an intention. It was a manifestation! “You know what? I’m going to manifest me some hoes, n-gga,” because I have none. Like, none.

Which leads me to “Groupie Pt 2.” and I wondered what made you guys go with Rob Base and E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” for the hook?

Phonte: Nate Dogg was my n-gga. Rest in peace, Nate Dogg. So I just had the thought. I was like, “Okay. I want to sing like Nate Dogg on this hook, but it has to be something else. It has to be something.” And I was like, “Man, what if I sang the Rob Base and E-Z Rock joint like Nate Dogg?” Again, just a thought. You know what I mean? So I just did it, and I just looked at Pooh, like, “Y’all fuck with it?” They was like, “Yeah.” I was like, “All right.”

Big Pooh: Which was ironic, which they didn’t know, or is finding out now, Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock was one of the few rap songs my mother would actually allow me to listen to, that she knew about.

Phonte: Now “It Takes Two” was a mama jam. 



You start “The Getup” saying “This is for fucking Gerald.” For those who may not know, who’s Gerald?

Phonte: Gerald, fucking Gerald. I just had lunch with fucking Gerald a couple weeks ago. So Gerald is Gerald Patrick Williams, also known as Eccentric. He was a …

Big Pooh: One of the early producers in the Justus League.

Phonte: Me and him used to just cook up all the time, do records. He produced “The Getup.” Maybe a couple years after that he had a hard drive crash and lost everything. Lost all his beats, lost everything. So he ended up going to law school and now he’s an attorney. Him and his wife, they’re really dear friends of mine. So yeah, but that’s fucking Gerald, man. That’s him.



What did you think when you saw that Doja Cat was bigging y’all up on Instagram for “Whatever You Say”?

Phonte: To see someone like Doja Cat just to say, “Yo, I’ve listened to y’all’s shit, this is the best verse ever,” it’s just really humbling. To me, it’s just a testament of just not knowing how far your music is going to go. And even if something in 2003, something that when you put it out, it felt like, “Damn, people sleeping on this, they don’t get it, they don’t get it,” for 20 years later, one of the biggest pop stars in the world, like legit pop stars to be like, “No, this is the shit. Y’all need to get up on this.” Yeah, man, it’s extremely humbling. And I’m just grateful that we’re still around to get those flowers, and I’m thankful that our music just stood that test of time. That people can appreciate it now, more so than they did back then.

Big Pooh: I use it as a good teaching tool for the young artists that I mentor, in that you never know who’s listening. So you have to work like everyone is listening, because you never know. And once again, years later. 

Because that’s something that we always noticed, when we would meet different artists that were at the top of the charts during their specific run, and they’ll turn around and tell us how they’re fans of ours. And we’d be like, “What?” Like, “Oh, you heard my shit?!”  So, you just never know who’s listening, and more people are listening than what you think. Numbers do lie. They don’t always tell you what’s going on. They can’t tell you what the impact really is.

Phonte: You might have sold a hundred. You might have sold 20,000, but 200,000 might have heard it. You know what I mean?

Big Pooh: So when I saw Doja Cat, I was like, “Oh shit!” Like Te said, that’s one of the biggest pop stars of the world, fam. Like, this is fucking nuts. And then she goes on and does the verse and then says, “I’m having a May The Lord Watch listening party, come join me.” “What?!”

Phonte: Mm-hmm. She didn’t have to do that at all.

Big Pooh: We don’t know her. You know what I’m saying? I had never met her.

Have you spoken to her at all since?

Phonte: Yeah, yeah, we texted for a little bit. It was around the time, because I want to say shortly after she made that video, that was when I think … She was on tour, and I think she had to stop the tour because of COVID and stuff. But we texted briefly, and I just said, “Look, thank you. I appreciate it.” But it was just brief. But other than that, we had no relationship. It was totally, it came out of nowhere.

But boy, the thing I came to realize is that, in the music business, the musicians and the business people are kind of different in that the musicians are pretty much, no matter what kind of music they make, they’re still pretty much kind of nerds. You know what I’m saying? And so, they’re studying. They’re always studying. 



You mentioned mentorship. Does Little Brother have little brothers?

Phonte: Absolutely.  You got Pac Div. They’re definitely someone I consider a fruit from my tree, like shout-out to Swift D, Like, Mibbs. You know what I’m saying? Pac Div, they were kind of one of the first groups I saw, and I was like, “Okay, yeah, this is definitely … The DNA is strong.” You know what I mean? They’re definitely fruit from our tree. I always love those brothers, man.

Of course the big three: J. Cole, Kendrick, Drake, you know what I mean? They are definitely all kind of fruit from our tree and took what we stood for and took it to another level. Shit, Doja Cat now, apparently.

Big Pooh: Little Sisters.

Phonte: Yeah, we got some sisters too. I mean, yeah, I just think, in many ways there’s just some artists that come along and their purpose is to be a bridge. And a lot of times when people look at our legacy, and that was one of the big reasons why we wanted to tell our story just in our documentary, was just because it was like, look bro, this is not a sad story. You know what I’m saying? This is not a sad story at all.



I think people from the outside looking in, they look and they say, “Well, you should be as big as this person” or “You should be as big as this person.” And it’s just like, for us, when we were younger, it definitely did feel like, “damn, why ain’t we getting that love?” Or “Why aren’t we getting this look?”  But now, sitting here 20 years later at 44, it’s just like, yeah, I’m living the life I want to live.

I think some artists are kind of meant to be bridges. And we were definitely that bridge between A Tribe Called Quest or a De La, and a Kendrick Lamar, you know what I’m saying? Two artists that existed in two different time periods but still very much had similar ethos. And you don’t get from Tribe to Kendrick, or you don’t get from De La to J. Cole, you don’t get there without Little Brother.



That to me is, just to be able to say that and sit in that, that’s better than any money, any whatever.  Our legacy is certified and we still building on it. So, I have no complaints.

Big Pooh: Yeah, man. I remember we was on tour with Hiero, and A-Plus from Souls of Mischief. We was talking, I think we was in Boulder or something. And we was just talking and he was like, “Yeah, man, a lot of people that we work with or went on tour with us, they went on to be bigger than us, status and name-wise.” I remember him saying that. And then I look at Little Brother and I’m like, not necessarily people we went on tour with, but people we may work with or people that have traces of our DNA.

And just how, like Te was saying, how we became the bridge for a large number of artists that came right after us. They were allowed to cross that bridge and then go on to be something much, much more. But they needed that bridge, and we served as that bridge for a lot of artists, man.

Phonte: Yeah, they really were mentors. They really were, Hiero, they really were. Going out on tour with them, I mean, it was a crash course in what independent Hip-Hop looked like, what it really looked like as a touring artist.

HHDX: We all just lost a  Big Brother in Dave from De La Soul. How important was he and De La to Little Brother?

Big Pooh: Very important, man. You know, Me and Te talked about this the other day. We’re actually… I know a lot of people like to compare us to Tribe, but we’re more De La than Tribe, in our makeup. But nah, Dave, man. I had a chance to tour with De La, as a solo artist, for a couple weeks. I don’t remember what year it was. But nah, Dave was just a very good dude. Very cool. 

I had put a post up, and I was like, “I’m lucky I got to tell him what he meant to me as a young writer.” I know a lot of people went to Posdnuos for his style, but Dave was very witty. He was very sharp. I just think about just how cool he was. You knew he was there, but he’d just be chilling, observing, and watching things. So for me, man, I’m just glad I got a chance to meet him, and talk with him, and tour with him. I’m glad I got a chance to experience De La, not just music, but who they are, and for Dave, for who he was. De La was definitely very important to Little Brother, and to me, as far as hearing what we could be. Also, De La is one of the rare rap groups that never split.

Phonte: Yeah. To that point, that was probably my biggest learning moment, in terms of De La. We, in the early days of Questlove Supreme, like when we first started Questlove Supreme. This was, God, this is like 2016.  We wasn’t in no studio. We were interviewing people in Ahmir’s dressing room, which is basically like a fucking closet at 30 Rock.  It was around the time that And The Anonymous Nobody came out. So we had De La. It was just Pos and Dave. Mase wasn’t there. 

Little Brother On ‘The Listening’ At 20 & Marauding For Ears

The thing that I noticed was that every time they spoke, when they were doing interviews, Pos would be speaking, and if Dave started talking, he’d be like, “Oh. Oh. My bad. I don’t want to interrupt you. I’ll let you finish.” Or Pos would be like, “Oh. No, bro, go ahead.” You know what I mean? I just remember sitting, watching, and looking, I was like, “Yo. That is how they have stayed together for 30 years.” It was the most considerate dynamic I’ve ever seen, let alone between a rap group, just between two Black men in their forties, or fifties at that time, whatever they were. But it was just really a model of what a real partnership looks like, and that was something, for me, that really informed my process, when me and Pooh went in to record May the Lord Watch. That was something that I never forgot. Just seeing them in person.



I had seen them perform before. I’ve been to shows. All of that. But just seeing them, just the two of them, just sitting down and really giving space for one another, that was amazing. That was life blowing. It was life changing. So to see him die, when we got the news, it was crazy for me, because he died at 54, and my dad died at 54. So it was like, “Holy shit.” It kind of brought a lot of stuff back up. But nah, it was super sad, and also humbling. We was in a group chat with Pos. You know what I mean? Us just shooting the shit, and being able to reach out to our heroes, and having them say, “Yo, thank you.”  Reaching out to Prince Paul, and him like, “Yo, thanks bro. I appreciate it.”

Come on, man. These are people I was listening to since I was 10 years old, dog. There’s no money. There’s nothing that can top that. So yeah, it definitely put a big damper on my day when I got the news. I’m just thankful that they left the blueprint for us to do what we do, and I’m thankful that they also recognized what we were doing as an extension of them, because they could have been like, “Man, y’all niggas waack. Fuck out of here.” You know what I mean?



It was reciprocal. That was just something that was so beautiful. So yeah, when we talk about 20 years of Little Brother, when you see artists like Dave, and when he dies, and it just really puts that into perspective of 20 years. I’m generally not a celebratory person. I’m not a big holiday, big gifts, big… That’s generally not me.

But for this year… Me and Pooh talked about it. It was like, it’s 20 years of The Listening, but we’re celebrating 20 years of Little Brother, because there’s a lot of brothers that we came in the game with that are no longer here. Just the fact that we’re still here, still able to preserve our legacy, still able to be in top form, in terms of our craft. Still active, still healthy, still able to perform. Still able to build with the people we came in the game with that are still left. I think that’s just something that deserves commemorating. I’m just thankful that we’re around to get these flowers, because 20 years, it goes by like that in this game. 

Little Brother kick off their tour March 3. Get tickets here!