Interview: Little Brother On Nostalgia's Complexities & How Their Reunion Was "Right On Time"

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Raleigh, NC – Following a lengthy hiatus, Little Brother is back in full effect. Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh’s first album in nine years, May The Lord Watch, arrived last month and the duo was welcomed back with open arms.

While the warm reception was almost a given, what they didn’t expect was the stronger friendship that evolved out of the album-making process. Now with their fifth official full-length LP out in the world, they’re focused on not only the now but also the future.

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Simply put — they’re ready to rock the crowd.

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Ahead of their performance at Oakland’s annual Hiero Day on Monday (September 2), Little Brother explains how a little bit of magic helped propel May The Lord Watch, why the club isn’t cool after 35 and reminds people they aren’t responsible for your nostalgia.

HipHopDX: It’s got to feel good to get all this positive feedback on the album. 

Phonte: The feedback is good and I’m glad to see people enjoying it. I’m glad to see people are understanding the vision we were making. It’s just always amazing to see because once you let your art go, you have no control over it.

HipHopDX: Exactly.

Phonte: Art lives kind of in three different spaces. It lives in your head, and then it lives on the page, and once you get it out it lives in the world. Once it lives in the world, it takes on a completely different life of its own and you have no control over it. And so to see people getting all the skits, the vibe and an understanding of what we were doing, it’s very humbling for me and really satisfying. I’m just thankful and grateful for all of it.

HipHopDX: Yeah, and you didn’t know my mom had passed away or that “Work Through Me” really resonated with me because of that. Music can help somebody get through something. Good stuff. 

Phonte: That means so much. I really appreciate that. Thank you.

HipHopDX: I hear this from artists a lot. It must be so frustrating for fans to expect you to keep making the same album over and over again for 30 years. You know what I mean? People, we hope, evolve.

Phonte: And the fans don’t need it either. I’m not a fan of that saying you always hear in customer service, “The customer is always right.” That’s always what you hear. I’m of two minds on that. One, I don’t always believe that because sometimes the customer can just be a fucking asshole, right? The other side of it is when they know what they like, they go for it. Do you feel me? So the customer is always right in that sense. That play on the phrase “50 million of us can’t be wrong” — it”s like if something is working and if it’s speaking to a demographic, then yeah, they’ll write about that. There’s something in that that is speaking to people.

But at the same time, as artists, you can’t only give the people “what they want.” You know what I mean? You first and foremost have to give them what you want. Because I do know I got to go out here and live with this shit. If I make a wack record, that shit stay on my record forever. Like, “Nigga, you made some bullshit.” So that’s it. Wack records don’t die — they live around forever. So for me, I have to make a record first and foremost that I’m proud of and I’m excited about because if I’m not excited about it, I can’t go out here and make you excited about it.

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Phonte: I can’t lie and be like, “Oh, this is a great album. You should come to our show.” No, I know this is bullshit. You know? It has to be something that you’re excited about. I think sometimes people get caught up in their nostalgia and I can’t compete with you on nostalgia.

If you fell in love with the song, it’s not just that song you fell in love with; it was the girl you were listening to the song with and the night you went out and, “Oh, I remember we went here and this song was playing, and the first time I heard this.” Nigga, I can’t compete with that. Just because you want to relive a time in your life when you had less responsibilities and weighed 40 pounds less, I can’t complete with that. That’s nostalgia. I’m talking about now. I want to do stuff that speaks to people now. Like we in the now.

HipHopDX: There you go. I feel that. 

Phonte: We ain’t taking it back. Fuck all that shit. Nigga, this is for right now. Like this is it.

HipHopDX: But this song was played at my wedding! [Laughs] 

Phonte: Just make new memories. That’s where we are. That’s what this album is about. We definitely make some references to the past but to kind of tie up those loose ends and bring the story full circle. But this album is 100 percent rooted in the now.

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HipHopDX: From listening to it, it sounds like you’re in a really, really great place. What’s up for Little Brother in the near future?

Phonte: Man, we got shows coming. We’re announcing tour dates soon. So definitely hitting the road. We’re able to exist in a space now where there are things available to us now in 2019 that wasn’t available to us in 2003, 2004. Instagram wasn’t around when we made The Listening, you know what I’m saying?

HipHopDX:  Yeah. It’s a lot easier these days. 

Phonte: It’s lot easier to get the word out and it’s a lot easier to create content that is based on you. I remember, we shot our first video for “Lovin’ It” on Atlantic [Records]. That video was $65,000. Now it’s like, “Dude, do you know what the fuck we could do with $65,000 today?” 

HipHopDX: Tierra Whack released a whole album on Instagram. That was the shit.

Phonte: That’s the thing. We have things now that are available to us that weren’t available to us when we started. That’s the exciting part about it. That’s pretty much where we are. That’s where we are with it. So, we got like a lot more content coming. We got merch, we got shows and we’re really just about to have a lot of fun, and that’s all I can say. We’re going to have a whole lot of fun.

HipHopDX: I hope you make it to Denver. 

Phonte: Denver is coming for sure. 

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HipHopDX: Are you still juggling Sherman’s Showcase too? How are you going to do all this together? You do so many incredible things. 

Phonte: Man, I appreciate it. I just make space for it all, sometimes to the detriment of my family and my health, you know what I mean? So now I’m really getting back to it now that the record is over. I spent the last eight months sitting in front of a fucking computer recording this shit. Now, I can get back to the gym. I can get my health back in order. I’m just trying to make space for it all. I’m very much involved in Sherman’s Showcase on IFC. I got that coming back. I think there’s a season two. I don’t want to speak too soon, but I’m almost certain. I’m also acting on that show as well. 

HipHopDX: Pooh, what made this the right time for Little Brother to do another album?

Rapper Big Pooh: It was the right time of us. If anything was going to happen, as far as us doing the album together, it just had to happen organically. We didn’t talk for a few years, and then when we started back talking, we didn’t even do any music together. We just built on our relationship. I can say it was just something that just magically and organically happened after that reunion concert. That just ended up being the right time. Everything was right. Everything was in place, and it finally happened.

HipHopDX: On “Sittin Alone,” where you guys talk about being over 35 at the club is a different kind of vibe now, when did that shift happen?

Rapper Big Pooh: For me, that happened probably around 29 or 30. I was the go out guy in our party. That was me. I was in the club every weekend. I was buying a drink. That was me. I just got to the point where it’s like, “Man, I’m seeing the same people, I’m hearing the same music. How fun is this really?” You’re seeing people literally age in the club every weekend. It was like, “That’s me, I’m looking at me.”

It just got to a point while I became a homebody. I started just enjoying being home, enjoying my house, enjoying just not doing anything. And ever since then, I’ve been that guy. Even now, people will be like, “Oh man, let’s go out.” I’m like, “Go out where? We’re going to Top Golf? I can do Top Golf. I’m not going to nobody’s club.”

HipHopDX: That’s the same thing that happened to me too. I quit drinking in 2006. I was like, “I’m done.” It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. 

Rapper Big Pooh: Oh, yeah. I had blood clots in 2013 and I really stopped drinking. I would drink a little bit after that, but this past year I just stopped. I’ll do wine every now and again, but that’s it. I don’t even really do hard liquor anymore. You go to the club and everybody got bottles of liquor and stuff and I’m thinking, “I don’t want any of this stuff.” I don’t like the taste of it. I don’t want it.

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HipHopDX: When you think about it in its simplest terms, you literally are poisoning your blood. To me, maybe that’s not the best idea. [Laughs]

Rapper Big Pooh: Maybe that’s not the best idea in the world.

HipHopDX: It’s cool that we all get this chance to grow and evolve. 

Rapper Big Pooh: Most definitely. That’s “Sittin Alone” is one of them songs you write when you realize it’s OK to grow out of different phases of your life into something else.

HipHopDX: You’re going to be touring, you’re going to be doing all sorts of things with Little Brother, which is super exciting. Pooh, what does that mean for your solo career? I loved the Everything 4 Sale album that you did in 2016. I thought it was so good. You continue to put out albums like RPM, etc. What are you going to do now that Little Brother is back?

Rapper Big Pooh: I’m going to maintain doing both. Little Brother obviously takes precedence over whatever else I was doing, but it also allows me to gain more coverage on those things. At this point, I’ve been really putting out music just when I was inspired. It wasn’t the thing of, “Oh, I’m still trying to be a star. I’m trying to sell 50 million units.” I would love to sell that many, but I was just putting on music because I was inspired to work on a piece of music, and I’m going to continue to do that. When I’m inspired, I’m going to work on the music and put it out, and people are going to receive it how they are going to receive it. But at this time, as far as music, Little Brother’s at the forefront.

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HipHopDX: That’s great. You’re probably going to get in front of a lot more audiences too. Now everybody’s going to know about Rapper Big Pooh.

Rapper Big Pooh: Definitely.

HipHopDX: I still have Everything 4 Sale in rotation. 

Rapper Big Pooh: Thank you. It’s so crazy. I only did that little EP because I getting ready to go on a little run with The Beatnuts. Me and DJ Flash had started producing a few years ago. For him, I wanted to show him he was ready. He still didn’t believe he was ready for the big time. I was like, “Yo, you ready.” We just started recording songs. I had him sending me beats and he didn’t know what he was sending them to me for. Then finally, I just sent him three or four of the records at one time and was like, “This is what I’m doing.” 

HipHopDX: Wow. That’s so cool of you. He must have been super excited, huh?

Rapper Big Pooh: Yeah, he was going crazy and that’s why it was so short. I just wanted to do something quick for him and then for the tour.

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HipHopDX: That makes sense. If you could pick one song on the new record that makes you proud, what would it be? 

Rapper Big Pooh: Damn. That’s a hard question. I hadn’t even thought of it. I think “Goodmorning Sunshine” might be the song right now.

HipHopDX: What about it?

Rapper Big Pooh: Just how that record came together. It’s one of them songs. It’s how it makes you feel every time they come on. It feels good. I’m a big feel guy when I hear music.

HipHopDX: Me too.

Rapper Big Pooh: That song just makes you feel good. It’s us about love from a mature perspective, which you don’t get from a lot of rap music these days. It’s playful. I will admit when Tay and I were getting ready to write the song, and we were working on it, trying to figure out how to approach the song, I was, “Yo man, we’ve always had the ‘girl type of record.’” Our perspectives have changed throughout time. He was like, “I don’t want to make it sound like we washed.” I was like, “No, let’s make it playful. Let’s make it like who we are. It doesn’t have to be heavy.” 

HipHopDX: Right, make it light. 

Rapper Big Pooh: Yeah, it could be light, but it still could get the point across. That’s what we did when we wrote it. We made it light and made it a nice playful record. But it also is a record that you can hear and then feel. You can tell, “Oh man, they really love not only the person that they are with but who they’ve become.” That’s probably why that’s my favorite. And the instrumentation on that record is crazy. Shout out to Focus…

Check out Part 1 of the Little Brother interview here. 

Source: Hip Hop DX