"We just wanted to make some nigga music," says rapper Big Pooh by phone from his native North Carolina, where the would-be everyman is getting his hair braided in preparation to tour. "Niggas talk about regular everyday shit, not hugging trees, saving whales and burning incense. Not just guns, dope and mistreating women like how a lot of mainstream thug hip-hop represents the black community. So from wanting real nigga music came the idea for The Minstrel Show."
Minstrel shows were vaudeville revues of exaggerated "Black Dandy" and ludicrous, grotesque slave stereotypes performed by Caucasians and African-Americans in blackface from the 17th century through the early 1900s. With the inflammatory title The Minstrel Show, the critically acclaimed North Cackalacka trio Little Brother -- made up of Pooh, MC Phonte (aided by his satirical quiet-storm alter ego, crooner Percy Miracles) and producer/DJ 9th Wonder -- uses its sophomore album/Atlantic Records debut to profess that the hyperbole of minstrelsy still finds a home in mainstream hip-hop. Using a loosely coherent concept, Little Brother hopes to stake the middle ground.
Since the group's 2001 debut single, "Speed," Little Brother has been holding a mirror reflecting down-to-earth pressures and set to a throwback-soul-laced shuffle. The group's ABB Records release, 2003's The Listening, was full of down-home flavor and grounded, socially conscious lyrics for fans of A Tribe Called Quest, Slum Village and the like. So it's strange now that an album explicitly about returning focus drifts out of focus at times. At the heart of The Minstrel Show is conflict -- the thin line between consumer and critic, hip-hop's soul vs. hip-hop sold -- and Little Brother isn't immune to the syndrome.
"We'd like to show you to everything there is to know/This is our life, this is our music/It's our minstrel show," rings out the honeyed hook of The Minstrel Show's opening track, "Beautiful Morning." It stands in stark contrast to the loose thread holding together the skits: a series of interludes for the fictional UBN (U Black Niggas) network that are more concerned with skewering others. Over scratchy beats, Little Brother addresses lost dignity and responsibilities with an almost bite-the-hand-that-feeds fractured nerviness.
Of course, that could be partially because these native tongues are from North Carolina. See, Southern hip-hop catches a trickle-down effect. The sounds of the Northeast and West Coast drip like tributaries of sweat down your brow, influences pooling in what Big Pooh considers a region -- itself conflicted between pride and guilt -- known for its pain and brute honesty.
"Up North, it's hustle and bustle, and out West, the 'game' thing is really big," observes Pooh. "Down here, lot of us laid back, sit back and take the time to take it all in and then talk about it.
"Then there's other homegrown stuff," Pooh continues. "Something like crunk ain't wrong if you doing it because it's what's right for you. There's a major lack of balance when people all over do something like crunk just because it's hot. When NWA came out, nobody was on the hardcore murderer shit, so they brought it to the forefront. But over on the East Coast, they was doing their own grimy Wu-Tang, Das EFX, Tim'-boots-and-fatigue-suits thing. Now people look to whatever region makes SoundScans and everybody jumps on that to make double-platinum in two weeks and buy ice, making hip-hop about the wrong things. Little Brother, we just listen to what we always was going to listen to and hope to bring the attention of hip-hop back to dope beats and dope rhymes."
Certain publications, however, have insinuated that The Minstrel Show jabs at the wack without follow-through, threatening to antagonize more than analyze. To those claiming Little Brother is not as balanced as its agenda, Big Pooh responds: "The songs are detailing our personal minstrel shows we have to go through. We trying to make a change but gotta play part of the game from the inside if we're going to bring it back to how it was back in the late '80s, early '90s. In the meetings, they sign you on potential -- not to make dope music most of the time, but the potential to make money, be marketed. [The Minstrel Show] was a mirror including ourselves, consumers, record execs, critics. Not everybody going to like what they see, but we can't let it stop our progress."
*Christ, Lord sorry
"Punk" style like this seems like it is the polar opposite of punk. Bradford Cox…
They're kind of starting to look like a joke of themselves. Song's good though.
All 80s movies want you...
Their show with Chris, Lord about 3 years at the Unicorn was the best.