On Its 10 Year Anniversary, Little Brother Remember The Minstrel Show With New Perspective
According to many Hip-Hop Heads, one of the most complete, cohesive Rap albums of the 2000s is Little Brother’s The Minstrel Show. Released by Atlantic Records, the LP is a bittersweet moment for its makers and its legions of fans. Ten years ago yesterday (September 13, 2005), 9th Wonder, Phonte, and Rapper Big Pooh made their final studio album as a trio. Their highest charting appearance in a group career that spanned 2001-2011, the North Carolina-based trio delivered the kind of album that fans hoped would follow debut The Listening.
In the decade since The Minstrel Show, much has changed for Little Brother and the complete Hip-Hop landscape. While that moment in musical time produces a lot of questions, what-if’s, and warm general sense of nostalgia, one thing is true: all three group founders are making great music still.
Although Phontigallo, Pooh, and 9th rarely go backwards these days, they—joined by former group manager Big Dho, Atlantic Records exec James Lopez, and Soul Council/Away Team member Khrysis, honored the group’s lone major label LP with reflection. Watch Loud spoke to the men, and gathered some information that makes the remembrance all the sweeter.
This comprehensive feature by Jerry Barrow recalls the storied (and sudden) meeting with Lyor Cohen, Big Pooh forgetting lyrics twice in one day (circa 2003), and the growth the group and its members made between 2001 and 2004.
Looking specifically at The Minstrel Show, it is revealed that Kanye West, Just Blaze, Method Man, Sean Price, and Yasiin Bey (among others) were present for many of the album sessions (Dho provides photographs of the studio and the master DAT tapes). The famed cover art was shot at the label (by Dho), by mere happenstance—on an out-of-the-box camera.
“We’re coming off the heels of Rawkus Records and that term ‘backpack’ was really thrown around and it was us against the ones we thought were too commercial,” reflects 9th. “I can honestly say us being on Atlantic [Records] we went in trying to be social misfits. We weren’t trying to fit in in anyway shape or form.”
While 9th reveals a listening-heavy phone call from UGK’s Bun B, Phonte addressed a perceived disconnect on The Minstrel Show from L.B. and the Southern Hip-Hop acts they deeply respected. “Maybe instead of a sledgehammer we shoulda used a chisel,” said ‘Tay. It was an interview on AllHipHop.com and Bun B was like ‘I love their music but who are they talking about? I like to wear chains, etc.’ I just remember reading that shit and–first and foremost I had no idea he knew who we were–then to see him big it up and then ask if they were taking shots at me, my heart went right into my stomach. Shit, are we possibly alienating people who would otherwise ride for us?” Later cool, Phonte says he wrote his “Dreams” verse, clarifying the perception: “I still go to the crib and see my niggas on the corner/ Chillin with the pounds on they waist, gettin old/Gettin round in the face and when I hang with them/They ask me if The Minstrel Show means I’m ashamed of them.” He explains, “That was that moment of me saying I didn’t mean to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
As Bun B tied to the album in a distant way, the Slum Village family was attached to The Minstrel Show too. While Elzhi made a deeply important (to his career) guest appearance, Pooh reveals that J Dilla was planned to appear on the LP. “Elzhi was actually in North Carolina and came through the studio and we knew we wanted to get [J] Dilla on the song from the get-go. The whole Dilla thing got scrambled and lost in the mix, but we were still holding out hope to get him on the track.” He hedged his bets with the verse. “I shouted him out just in case he ended up on the song. He didn’t end up on the song but we kept that ad-lib in there anyway. It was dope when we played it for him at Rock The Bells in [California] and when he heard his name he went ‘woooo.’ It was my first time meeting Dilla and I got his approval on a joint before he wasn’t with us anymore.”
The special-access feature does a track-by-track breakdown, and explores more facts surrounding the direction, label relationship, and aftermath of this benchmark LP from L.B.
What is your favorite Minstrel Show moment? Do you think it is the group’s finest hour?