Few independent groups ever rise to this level, and even fewer do it this quickly. After tapping the we-just-want-some-early-90s-shit market with “The Listening,” the Little Brother storm just kept building. 9th Wonder became the producer du jour after “God’s Stepson,” “Murs 3:16,” and his contribution to Jigga’s opus and Phonte turned even more heads with his Foreign Exchange album. Top that off with a major label deal with Atlantic, a dope Big Pooh album, the emergence of the Justus League, and multiple mixtapes. Heads have been turning to say the least.
As the release of their major debut and incredibly titled sophomore album drew closer, the wind continued to blow at their back. Word came from The Source that their editor quit over Zino’s refusal to give Lil’ Bro 4.5 mics. At the time, XXL debated over giving them the full monty, only to go with an XL in favor of giving Kanye the classic rating. Oh, and BET told them their single “Lovin’ It” was “too intelligent” to be played on their station. What was the name of the album again?
Of course, all of this controversy means nothing. Little Brother made – and continue to make – their reputation from one thing; dope fucking music. Now 9th is making better beats and Pooh and Phonte have both stepped up their games. Phonte is on his way to being an elite emcee, a voice we desperately need. “The Minstrel Show” isn’t just the title, it’s a concept. A few skits are placed throughout to tie the concept and individual songs together. Plus they’re hilarious. Take note people, this is how you do skits. Take “Diary of a Mad Black Daddy,” which is not only side-splitting (“if it was ya damn timetables, would ya luh dat?”), and it bridges the silky “Lovin’ It” with the ode to fatherhood “All For You.” Phonte recounting his struggles as a family man is verse of the year material. ‘Te also gets open on his blazing solo joint “The Becoming.” After teasing his verse at the end of the dope opener “Beautiful Morning,” ‘Te crumples up his paper and lets loose over a fresh 9th offering; “I went from, niggas tellin’ me I really shouldn’t rhyme/to droppin’ a classic album muthafuckas couldn’t find/took my respect, took lessons and took the time/if you want a success story just take a look at mine.” Not to be outdone, Big Pooh gets go-for-self on the statement-making “Sincerely Yours.”
Of course, the third of the trio ain’t no slouch either. The ever-improving 9th Wonder creates an incredible backdrop for this 50 plus minute show. There isn’t a producer today making more soulful beats than 9th. Just see “Lovin’ It,” “Slow It Down” or the incredible “Not Enough.” Now for the inevitable, did the indy-turned-major crew trade in their artistry for a fatter knot? Hells no. There is not one noticeable moment of ‘damn, the label must have made them do that shit.’ Even their foray into R&B with Phonte’s aka Percy Miracles (“Cheatin'”), they make a fun, dope song that needles R. Kelly & co. the whole way. The idea of a sophomore jinx is just laughable here. Not only have they far outdone their debut, but they’ve really made a body of work that epitomizes their talents. Give me a couple years and I’m sure I’ll be giving up that 0.5. “The Minstrel Show” is just what this minstrel show needs.