Durham, N.C. is not hip-hop’s epicenter – yet.

Todd Weiser
Courtesy of littlebrothermusic.com

Ok, honestly, it will likely never supplant New York in rap’s geographic hierarchy. However, The Listening, an auspicious and exciting debut LP from Little Brother – producer 9th Wonder and MCs Phonte and Big Pooh – portends that hip-hop’s best new group will put Durham on music’s map single-handedly.

Updating a sound reminiscent of the Native Tongue family, Little Brother makes music that all hip-hop fans should love, and as the group stands on the precipice of greatness and universal acclaim, the three affable and intelligent gentlemen spoke with The Michigan Daily about their music and their careers.

The Michigan Daily: How did you guys hook up?

Phonte: We all met at North Carolina Central University and the night that we recorded “Speed” was the night when we decided that we would try to make things happen as a group.

TMD: What are you guys doing to get your name out there aside from putting The Listening in stores?

Big Pooh: We’re doing live shows and meeting people, man. When you can hear a band and see them in person -that’s real and it will help separate us, once everyone sees us perform. We’re just doing dates here and there right now, though.

P: Yeah, just hitting certain cities and states right now. We might also go abroad. There won’t be a full out tour until this summer when we’ll be out for like a month straight.

Aside from that, it’s like what Pooh said, just trying to stay in contact with people, making connections, responding to emails in my inbox, you know? It’s important to acknowledge the fans. That’s what we’re all about.

TMD: Do you like it when people compare you to De La Soul and Pete Rock?

9th Wonder: We’d rather be compared to those cats – De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest – all day because we really don’t want to be compared to new jacks. If you’re playing ball, you’d rather be compared to Mike Jordan than Sedale Threatt. You want to be compared to the great ones.

TMD: 9th, how do you make your layered beats, which are sample heavy?

9th: At first, I didn’t know what I was doing, so I’d hear a sample, throw drums on it, and that was it. Now, I have my own type of sound, which is derived from a lot of others, and I do a lot of stuff that other cats don’t. I just start on one phrase, one piece of a sample, and just build on that.

Sometimes you have your good days and sometimes you have your bad ones, but if you just keep at it – get a hot beat and hot lyrics – you’ll be alright. That’s a big piece of the Little Brother story.

TMD: So then Phonte, Pooh, how do you guys go about writing once 9th gets you a hot beat?

P: It all starts with the track, and Pooh and I will sit down with it and come up with a concept or whatever. I come up with a lot of the hooks, so I might get one in my head and then we’ll write around that. It’s like writing a paper: The hook is the thesis statement, and you then build around your thesis. The important thing is that we make sure we have something to say; we make sure we ain’t putting words together just for the sake of rhyming. It doesn’t have to have a message, but people need to know more about Phonte and Pooh each time after hearing us on the mic.

TMD: Who is your target audience?

BP: Everyone who listens. We didn’t set out looking for a certain group. There’s something for everybody.

P: However, when Pooh says that there’s something for everybody, it’s not like we said, “Let’s get the Neptunes to do one club joint and Timbaland to do another.” Unlike most rap albums now, where there’s 16 or 17 songs with no focus, having done something for every crowd, we don’t try to appeal to everybody and then wind up appealing to nobody. We just wanted to stay true to our sound and make a regular record using our early-’90s throwback sound. We don’t just want the backpack crowd, we’re trying to get to the cats listening to Fabolous too.

For more from Little Brother about music, Durham and wheatgrass-drinking, coffee-house motherfuckers, peep the full transcript of their interview at www.michigandaily.com on Monday.

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