Remember When Little Brother & Black Star Picked Up Where Native Tongues Left Off? (Audio)
In the late 80s and early 90s, Native Tongues, the collective led by De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, and consisting of members like Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, Black Sheep, Monie Love and more, began a movement that would last well into the 2000s. Beyond the musical legacy these artists created, their work would influence artists for decades to come.
By the middle of the 00s, Native Tongues’ output had waned considerably, leaving a void for many. De La’s last album of the decade would be 2004’s The Grind Date, and ATCQ’s 1998 album The Love Movement proved to be their last as a group. In 2007, however, two of Native Tongues’ sterling disciples, Black Star and Little Brother, came together on one record to show the Tongues’ tradition endured.
In the late 90s, when labels like Bad Boy and No Limit were dominating the charts, the seeds were sown for a fertile underground movement. From that rich soil sprung Mos Def & Talib Kweli, collectively known as Black Star, and the North Carolina trio of Little Brother, consisting of MCs Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh, and producer 9th Wonder. The groups were two of the most respected leaders of the new school, pairing complex and substantive rhymes with choice beats in a manner like their forebears did. Though both camps had a healthy respect for one another and had rhymed on each other’s projects as individual members, they had not done a collabo together as full crews. The closest they had come was on Little Brother’s Separate But Equal mixtape in 2006, with the song “Let It Go,” featuring Mos. It was not until a year later, however, with the release of the Black Star version of the song, that Talib would join, making the collabo complete.
Armed with a 9th Wonder beat, the 4 MCs each brought their A-games, and Mos and Talib, particularly, signaled their understanding of what the moment meant for the culture. Talib drew the connection to their lineage with A Tribe Called Quest, rhyming “I rip mics. Rap life make me attack like a pit fight. Grab a flashlight. Took on Marauder in Midnight,” a nod to ATCQ’s classic third album. Mos, for his part, acknowledged the Black Star/Little Brother connection. “It’s pro-black, pro-progressive, so effective. The 9th Wonder is a Lil’ Bro collective,” he rapped, followed by “I got soul mayne, heart and brains to match. I’m wit the Lil’ Bro, what’s fuckin wit dat??” Indeed.