Prologue: I hate that when Little Brother is mentioned, Rapper Big Pooh is merely an afterthought. Pooh, though, added a sonic and lyrical punch to Little Brother’s music that – despite how dope you feel Phonte is – was extremely necessary. The LB albums wouldn’t have been LB albums without Pooh and I in no way mean to short change his contribution.
With that said, this series will focus on Phonte for two reasons: 1. his lyrics resonated with me more than anyone else’s and 2. Tigallo’s Foreign Exchange projects and solo album are a major part of this journey. So please don’t take this as a slight on Pooh’s (or 9th’s for that matter) contribution to the Little Brother experience. Anyway, on with it.
I have a weird relationship with Phonte’s music. While there are certainly musicians that I’ve related to or have shaped me in the past – Ghostface’s relationship songs or Outkast’s detailed sketches of the South I grew up in – Phonte’s music was different. While I had to go back and catch up on some of ‘Kast’s music or had to wait until I was older to get the nuances of Ghost’s approach, Phonte was releasing music that paralleled my life as I was going through these pivotal moments.
In this five-part series, I’ll take you on a journey through Phonte’s releases and the mindset of a younger David D. As I went through my different phases of life personally, Phonte was making music that could act as the soundtrack I imagined would play in the background. Here in part one, I’ll look at how a new underground group named Little Brother kept a college freshman’s backpack full.
I remember exactly where I was when I heard my first Little Brother song. It was April 2004 and I was pulling out of a Food Lion in Davidson, North Carolina. I was making a college visit to a Davidson school I had no intention of going to. At this point in my life I was getting fed up with mainstream music. Who could blame me? Hip-Hop was in a dark place in 2004 as Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, Outkast and Eminem had all backed away from the spotlight to make way for the absolute worst era in Hip-Hop: the snap movement.
I turned to my brother-in-law, who always kept both Timbs firmly planted in the underground to make a mix CD (remember those?) for me to explore some different artists. Around this time, I’d also gotten into sites like Allhiphop and Hop-Hop Site to see what sorts of music I could find. Track three on the CD was Little Brother’s “For You.”
I was hooked.
At the time, I’d only found an infinite nothing between radio bullsh*t and what I thought to be preachy, self-righteous Hip-Hop about starting revolutions during the fourth moon cycle or something. Phonte and Big Pooh were two undeniable atoms that collided in that void to create a new reality where regular guys could talk about everyday life.
Of every lyric on the nigh-classic debut, Tigallo’s verse on “The Yo-Yo” became my personal mantra. He described the exact feeling I had as a guy who wanted to dance at the booty clubs then go home to read a Cornel West thesis over a bucket of chicken. One line summed it all up: “I ain’t about to hear no fucking speeches cause I wanna have some bacon.” It was rare to hear a rapper who found coffee shop rhetorical slam poetry and snap music equally insulting.
The other verse that really stuck to my ribs was from “Speed”: “And that’s the way we rolling in, needed to chill, And take a rest stop cause my job got me slaving like I’m Dred Scott.” My Freshman and sophomore years were a blur of all-night studying, booze and sleep deprivation. When it all got to be too much, I’d rely on Te’s words.
When I moved to North Carolina to attend that same Davidson school, I had a sister who lived 45 minutes away, but other than that I didn’t have any family or friends around. So Phonte was sort of my guide to the new, unfamiliar territory.
By the time the first Foreign Exchange album dropped, I was a full-on backpacker. My iPod was complete with MF DOOM, Masta Ace and Wordsworth. Even Quasimoto got some burn. But the Foreign Exchange debut Connected was among the top of my playlist. And the whole time there was Phonte, imparting wisdom and providing melodic breaks from the boom-bap that consumed my life. Not to mention, he gave me an occasional song to play for the ladies who
didn’t know any better decided to pop over.
Overall, Phonte became the voice that welcomed me to North Carolina and made me feel at home in my most alone moments in a brand new state. This is where my bond with Phonte’s music started. A bond that continues to this day.