Creative partnerships typically end acrimoniously; it’s rare that “creative differences” lead to an amicable split. When rap’s Little Brother threw in the towel last year, after nearly a decade in the trenches of underground hip-hop, it left some lingering questions. Namely, what was the beef?
The closest thing the new millennium had seen to a group in the Native Tongues mold, North Carolina’s Little Brother had a solid run with its throwback boom-bap, spitting old-school rhymes over dusty loops care of burgeoning producer 9th Wonder. That is, until he quit.
Now, the in-demand beatsmith is hitting the road with one of LB’s two MCs—Phonte. It’s a savvy move from a pair of old friends with new records to promote.
Phonte hits it out of the park with his solo debut, Charity Starts at Home, his message often earnest but never sappy. It doesn’t hurt that his former Little Brother DJ provides a third of the album’s backing tracks, including working-class anthem “The Good Fight” and the hook-heavy “Not Here Anymore,” where the MC easily morphs from battle rapper to R&B crooner.
The favor is returned on “Band Practice” from 9th’s The Wonder Years, in which a cut-and-pasted soul clap is repurposed into a testament to their long-standing partnership. Proof that even early retirement can’t keep Little Brother down.