Little Brother – Leftback [Review]

Hmm… It seems like we’ve been down this road many times before in Hip-Hop/Rap. Rap group “X” releases several albums that receive acclaim and praise from critics and fans alike, troubles surface in the group that can’t be resolved, group breaks up much to the dismay of loyal fans. A Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, N.W.A., Fugees, Hot Boys, EPMD are some groups that have previously traveled this road. While some have been able to put aside their differences and reunite, many group breakups have been permanent with no signs of a reunion in sight. Unfortunately the latter seems to be the case for North Carolina Hip-Hop/Rap group Little Brother who have announced Leftback as the final album of their extensive catalog. While this came as a shock to most in the industry and was a substantial blow to their diehard fans, it can’t be said that it wasn’t seen coming. After the disbandment of producer 9th Wonder from the group following their 2005 album The Minstrel Show, it had to be a sign to listeners that things weren’t sitting right within the Little Brother camp and things might be awry. With their 2007 album Getback only seeing one production contribution from 9th Wonder and the group heading in a different direction sonically, it was pretty much concluded that Phonte and Big Pooh had parted ways with their former producer. The breakup was solidified recently after an argument between Phonte and 9th Wonder on Twitter became known to the public, leading Phonte to make a final statement via video about the situation and the future to be placed in 9th Wonder’s hands. After all of this we finally arrive at Little Brother’s grand exit from the rap game with their last album entitled Leftback. After three studio albums and several mixtapes, Little Brother sets to write the final chapter of a storied career of a group that has seen its fair share of hardships and triumphs. Let’s embark on the final journey of a group that we hate to see go.

1. Curtain Call
Produced by Khrysis
Those that have been following the Little Brother saga should be familiar with this track by now as it was the first official single for the album. Equipped with some 70’s influenced production from Khrysis filled with a synthesized bass, early drum machine snare roll, and lush backing sample, Little Brother lets listeners known right from the jump that this is the final act, finale, or whatever else you might want to call it before the curtain drops on the stage. Phonte and Big Pooh properly use the track to speak about their past and things they went through to get to this point in setting off the album on the right foot.

2. Table For Two
Featuring Jozeemo & Yahzarah; Produced by Khrysis
Khrysis is given the producer duties on this track in which he provides a slow moving beat for ‘Te and Pooh to deliver rhymes about providing a night of relaxation and spending quality time with their significant other. Jozeemo provides a guest verse on the track as well as Yahzarah singing on the hook, but it does little to make this track much more listenable. Not sure if it’s the beat or the accompanying verses, but this song has a sort of lazy feel to it that holds it back from really standing out. This is a song that Little Brother could have seen better results from with a more suitable beat for the topic.

3. Tigallo For Dolo
Produced by Khrysis
For years now, Little Brother fans have been patiently waiting on a solo debut album from Phonte (arguably the group’s more talented half… Any objections??), but to no avail it still hasn’t been seen and for that fact might not ever be heard. Regardless of the fact, Phonte or Tigallo as he’s called at times absolutely owns this track from beginning to end. With Khrysis behind the boards for the third straight track (9th Wonder who??) providing a nicely sampled beat reminiscent of the Dream Merchant, Vol. 1 days, Phonte displays why he’s been such an underrated emcee for so many years with lines like:

Like I was the chosen, one for flowin’
I’m done, the rap game’s no country for old men
I always spit whenever the spirit hits me
But fuck if I’ma be doing this shit when I’m sixty
And that’s no disrespect to KRS
I’m just tryin’ to make my art and do what’s smart
I’m sayin’, rapping ‘Te four and a half mic honoree
Or singing ‘Te first time Grammy nominee

The last two bars of that quote clearly show why we may never see a solo album from Phonte in the future, but with results like that how could you think differently. This song along with a few other solo joints on previous Little Brother albums might be the closest we get to a Phonte solo album, so it might be best to just create yourself a nice fan-made compilation and keep it moving. Having once heard Drake mention Phonte as his favorite rapper and somebody he was influenced by as an artist, and listening to this track you can essentially hear where Drake got his style. I mean Phonte raps and sings, delivers witty/comical punchlines… Coincidence? Think not.

4. Revenge
Featuring Truck North & Median; Produced by Khrysis
Khrysis once again handles the production on this track as the go-to-producer on this album but the beat doesn’t hold up quite as effectively as the previous track. Mainly slow tempo drums and bass accompanied by wailing vocals compiles the beat with a scratched hook of James Brown’s “The Payback” filling out the chorus. The verses from Little Brother along with their guests are what keep this song from being skipped, as they deliver some good lyrics rhymes that hold the listener’s attention. This doesn’t stand as one of the better tracks on the album.

5. So Cold
Featuring Chaundon; Produced by King Karnov
Five tracks into the album and we’re introduced to our first producer not named Khrysis in the form of King Karnov. Not too familiar with the name or any previous works, King Karnov keeps in the same tempo as the previous track with a synth filled staggered beat. I don’t know if it’s me but the lyrics from Pooh and Phonte don’t really sit well with the beat as well as the chorus sung by Phonte. Guest feature Chaundon does provide some energy to the track with his verse, but I don’t think it’s enough for putting this track out of skip range. Like the previous track, this is one of the more average tracks on the album.

6. Second Chances
Featuring Bilal & Darien Brockington; Produced by Denaun Porter
One of my more favorable tracks on the album that fits Little Brother’s style much better than the previous two songs did. Denaun Porter provides LB with one of his signature soulful beats as they speak about second chances at love and the things it instills. Bilal is a nice fit on the chorus for this track, as well as a small part from Darien Brockington who provides background vocals as well. It’s with tracks like this that allow a group like Little Brother to be the young adult and adult contemporary choice for Hip-Hop/Rap and be coined ‘Hip-Hop’s Neo Soul”.

7. Go Off Go On
Produced by Khrysis
Khrysis returns to the producer’s seat for this track utilizing strings and synths for the beat’s main structure. While Phonte uses his time to speak about young rappers in the industry that don’t hold a candle to his skills and the young ladies that seem to be attracted to them, Big Pooh steals the show with a fiery verse that will have listeners taking a second look at him as an emcee. The very basic chorus from Phonte does more to hurt this track than it does to enhance it. Other than that aspect that track doesn’t come off as too bad but it isn’t spectacular at the same time.

8. What We Are
Featuring Quiana; Produced by Young R.J.
Earlier in the album Phonte got his chance to shine solo on “Tigallo For Dolo” and now it’s Big Pooh’s turn to go for dolo with a track that matches up quite nicely to the best tracks on the album. Young R.J. of B.R. Gunna and Black Milk fame hooks up a soulful beat for Pooh to address relationship issues on. He speaks about how he and certain young lady could never be more than just friends for various reasons. Vocalist Quiana provides a suitable chorus that sums things up quite nicely. More tracks of this quality would get Pooh much higher regard as an artist from fans and would be more appreciated on his solo albums like last year’s The Delightful Bars.

9. After The Party (S1 & Caleb’s Who Shot JR Ewing Remix)
Featuring Carlitta Durand; Produced by S1 & Caleb
From that song we transition into my favorite track on the album, which happens to also be a remix of track 5 on their previous album Getback. Highly skilled producers S1 & Caleb (Check out their remix of Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em’s “Turn My Swag On” on YouTube to hear some producers that make him listenable) deliver some superb production that gives this song new life from the original version. While this was originally a good track on Getback with sufficient lyrics from ‘Te and Pooh, this remix ultimately trumps it as the production seems more suited to the subject matter and lyrics as well as complimenting Carlitta Durand’s chorus.

10. Two Step Blues (Zo’s Purple Suit With The Matching Gators Remix)
Featuring Darien Brockington; Produced by Zo!
Much like the previous track, this happens to be a remix of track 8 on the Getback album. Now while the previous remix further enhanced the original version, this track keeps much of the same feel and vibe that was heard with the original. Just as how the original version was meant for steppers on the dance floor, this version works just as well in keeping things moving with much of the same elements in terms of lyrics. There are a few additional instruments on this version along with a piano solo at the end of the track, but for the most part this remix works just as well as the original.

11. Get Enough Pt. 2
Featuring Khrysis; Produced by Khrysis
I really can’t say that I’ve heard part one of this track since this is the second part, but I’d be interested in seeing how it compares. Khrysis provides an eccentric sounding beat this time around as well as getting on the mic in delivering a verse and chorus for the song. He isn’t too bad on this track and isn’t totally overshadowed by Phonte and Pooh who deliver some pretty average verses in their respect. While this isn’t a bad track it’s not one that jumping out at me in being outstanding.

12. Before The Night Is Over
Produced by J. Bizness
J. Bizness provides the backdrop of pulsing pads for another “grown folk” themed track from the group as they deliver more relationship focused lyrics in similar topic to the previously heard “Table For Two”. This song sounds like what happened following the dinner date in “Table For Two” for ‘Te and Pooh respectively with their ladies. While this is another track that fits the “grown folk music” niche that Little Brother has carved for themselves, the results aren’t nearly as strong as some of the similar songs heard on this album and Getback.

13. 24
Featuring Torae; Produced by Khrysis
The last track to heard on the last album from Little Brother as a group concludes with a lyrical exercise that see Phonte, Pooh, and guest Torae going all out for the finale. Khrysis makes this his seventh produced track on the album as his comes through with a fast paced beat that matches the same intensity as the emcees on the mic. Already familiar with Torae as a wordsmith from his solo and collaborative albums, he doesn’t slack off for a minute with his verse that lyrically challenges Phonte and Pooh equally. Little Brother ends the album off on a strong note with this track, utilizing their strength of lyricism in showing why they caught listeners’ attention in the first place.

Bottom Line:
And with that the story of Little Brother comes to close with a fitting ending. After listening through the 13 tracks you get a conclusive feel as a listener that this really is the end of Little Brother (no Diplomats styled reunion) and now we, as listeners must look to solo and collaborative works for new material from Phonte and Big Pooh. Much like when I saw the final track listing for the album sans any production from 9th Wonder, I still feel the same and would have liked to hear at least one authentic Little Brother song on the final album from the original trio. But much like the Getback album, Little Brother as a group doesn’t suffer from the absence of 9th Wonder and have ultimately moved on and proved that 9th isn’t necessity for them anymore. Producers like Khrysis, S1 & Caleb, Young R.J., and Denaun Porter prove to be more than suitable in filling the void left by 9th Wonder. This album feels much like a continuation of Getback than an entirely new album. Gone are the more organic sounding and soul sampled beats of The Listening and The Minstrel Show, and a more mature sound reigns on this album. This album has its share of both hits and misses, but the good edges the bad overall. I wouldn’t call Leftback Little Brother’s best album, but an album that sits well in the catalog and shows a group still effective as ever. But just as how Mr. Douthit has moved on from the group to achieve bigger accomplishments like producing for superstar artists (Jay-Z, Destiny’s Child, Mary J. Blige, etc.) and become a Grammy award winning producer, Phonte and Big Pooh will move on from their humble beginnings to even bigger things. Phone has already seen this from his work with Nicolay as Foreign Exchange and Pooh has the potential to take his solo career to the next level. Even though this isn’t what fans every wanted with a group like Little Brother who seemed like the last credible rap group outside of the 90’s era, fans shouldn’t look at this as the end but as the last chapter for a new beginning. Phone and Big Pooh will still be making quality music in the industry that fans can support and be proud of while being able to smile and tell future generations about a Hip-Hop/Rap group that defined their generation and stayed true to themselves even when labeled “Too Intelligent”. With Leftback, Little Brother has left us with another album to add to the collection (The Listening, The Minstrel Show, Getback) that we can always go back and visit to rekindle memories.

nappyPicks: “After The Party (S1 & Caleb’s Who Shot JR Ewing Remix)”, “Tigallo For Dolo”, “What We Are”, “Second Chances”, “Curtain Call”, “24”, “Two Step Blues (Zo’s Purple Suit With The Matching Gators Remix)”