In the beginning, there are dreams, fantasies and wishful thinking. The dream of entering the Hip-Hop game with your closest friends seemed all too alluring for many to pass up the smallest of opportunity. There’s the fantasy of being able to strike it rich without having to compromise morals, artistic credibility or allegiance to one another as well. For all, that type of wishful thinking only pans out to reality in the movies. Nothing is as it seems, and people, well, they change for better or worse. But best believe, they do change.
It was all a dream for Durham, North Carolina’s Little Brother. Perhaps boasting one of the biggest underground followings the culture has ever witnessed, the trio of Phonte, Rapper Big Pooh and producer 9th Wonder achieved the critical acclaim that friends sit up until dawn dreaming about as they accomplished with their first pair of albums. But the ability to keep a tight-knit union through the inner perils of the industry proved to be fantasy indeed as 9th skated from the group after the sophomore effort, The Minstrel Show. 2007’s GetBack saw Phonte and Big Pooh truckin’ right along but the three years since the supposed revenge has seen the unraveling of Little Brother as we know it. Determined to give it one last go for the road, LeftBack, the fourth and possibly final album in the LB era lives up to its name by taking a couple steps in the wrong direction and leaving a confusing and mixed message to linger in its hallway.
Little Brother’s service merchandising for themselves ultimately does a disservice to the fans with a hodgepodge of shoddy remixes and cutting room floor material. As the album opens to the bubbly “Curtain Call,” the duo proceed to treat the rest of the LP as if the show is already over and listeners are merely privied to backstage chatter and outtakes. Takes of “Revenge” hardly hold any weight if this is meant to be group’s swan song. There’s no direction, no overarching purpose to LeftBack, mostly just a healthy helping of girl records. In-house production wiz Khrysis holds up his end of the bargain, scoring a chunk of the organic sound present. But with the big boys simply spinning their wheels on date fodder like “Before The Night Is Over” and “Table For Two,” it’s easy to get lost in the melody and flows the group has perfected instead of absorbing any new food for thought.
Which is why Phonte’s “Tigallo For Dolo” hits the hardest for every ear in the room. Over three minutes of a Khrysis sautéed drum loop scampi, the front man lets honesty be the victor as he puts the group’s situation into perspective with lines like “21 years-old/I used to slang verses/but ten years later/I am not the same person…I’m done/the rap game’s no country for old men/I always spit whenever the spirit hits me/but f#ck if I’ma be doing this when I’m 60...“ Which therein lies the ugly truth of Little Brother in 2010. At this point,”Curtain Call” pretty much sums up everything there is left to be said. Which in turn, makes for an average showing on the album front with remixes from the previous album cluttered in the mix and leaving the unconvincing “24” (featuring Torae) to seal the airtight coffin.
Consider it wishful thinking to want an artist to go out with a bang (read: classic) because truthfully speaking, if all was well in the kingdom, there would be no need for formal talks of retirement. Tay & Pooh seem to be more interested in their solo efforts at this stage of their careers regardless. For LB as a whole, the end result may have lifted a ton of proverbial weights off their shoulders. But they shouldn’t feel surprised if most fans are a little bothered that LeftBack was a bit of a letdown.