Little Brother’s The Listening vs. Slum Village’s Fantastic, Vol. 2. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
Slum Village and Little Brother have many parallels. Both groups featured 2 MCs, and were each anchored by producers who would become among the most revered of the 2000s. Both groups also would go on to release two of the most respected albums of the decade, unheralded, at the time, except by those who were deeply in the know. For the North Carolina trio of Little Brother, that album was The Listening. No videos, little marketing, and a small label were all the help that 9th Wonder, Rapper Big Pooh, and Phonte had to introduce them. For the Detroit-based Slum Village, label moves, delays, and limited resources would do Fantastic, Vol. 2 no favors. In both cases, amazingly original beats, artful rhymes and lots of gumption ultimately allowed the albums to prevail and reach those who needed to hear them. However, in the Finding The GOAT Album competition, only one can stay, so which will it be? (click one then click “vote”).
The Listening by Little Brother
By early 2003, industry politics seemed to construct an artist’s ceiling. The year’s biggest star, 50 Cent, had waited patiently for seven years, until a self-proclaimed “Rap God” signed him, and gave the necessary push. As purebred Hip-Hop acts were seemingly dependent on the label system, a trio of Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina-based college pals had a different approach for an album in The Listening. Released on ABB Records (who had previously ushered in Dilated Peoples and Defari), the album was available in the last wave of brick-and-mortar record stores and CD shops, simply there for the taking, if at all. However, when Little Brother’s debut album landed in the hands of Questlove, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and members of the Rap media, the best-kept secret pivoted to an industry-wide whisper campaign. At a time when the grassroots element of Hip-Hop seemed to be getting paved to a Best Buy parking lot, Little Brother’s The Listening was a quenching refreshment. The soulful creations of 9th Wonder made a sonic pilgrimage for Black music, as Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh offered some of the most insightful, and original Everyman themes heard in years.
In a strange way, perhaps the most evocative moment on Little Brother’s debut is the title track. With 9th Wonder making a brilliant homage to Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s “T.R.O.Y.,” the two MCs made chilling commentary on the direction toward which Hip-Hop was headed. The record prophetically forecast a skim-culture that knew songs by numbers, and evaluated their merits based on beats, choruses, and hardly the true contents of the art. “Love Joint Revisited” played like an inspired group’s solidarity with A Tribe Called Quest’s The Love Movement (and “Scenario remix” too), five years later. With a kidnapping bassline, the two MCs stated the things in their life that they loved. At the same time Petey Pablo was making huge state-inspired anthems, Little Brother showed elitist out of towners that North Carolina had as much Hip-Hop backbone as any place. The dialectic charms of the MCs only enriched their presentation, with a group not identifying itself with place as much as message—a connection that tied back into the album’s theme. “Whatever You Say,” the group’s breakthrough single, was intelligent Relationship Rap. When so many songs about love seemed pre-packaged, the trio knew what was going on in the audience—and the world related easily. In the 1990s, MCs like Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., and Mos Def made critical impact through appearances on single songs. In the early 2000s, the same kind of lasting introduction came courtesy of an album. ‘Te, Pooh, and 9th showed Hip-Hop Heads the error in our ways, and admitted they were not above making the same mistakes. In a time when Rap music was being quickly compartmentalized, judged from the holster, and dismissing its mosaic Black history, Little Brother stood up, and reminded us all of our roots and potential.
Album Number: 1
Released: February 25, 2003
Label: ABB Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): N/A
Song Guests: Chaundon, Median, Keisha Shontelle
Song Producers: (self), Eccentric
Fantastic, Vol. 2 by Slum Village
Following a largely underground debut in the mid 1990s (Fan-tas-Tic, Vol. 1), Detroit, Michigan’s Slum Village plugged away on a proper follow-up. Signed to major label A&M Records, Jay Dee (l/k/a J Dilla), T3, and Baatin worked intensely on an album that balanced their explosive, far-reaching sound, with lyrics that could quench the mind as well as the id pleasure principles. A&M would eventually part ways with the Villa sometime before the turn of the millennium, a dynamic that would recur with the group and its members over the next 15 years. No matter, the trio pushed on, signed to fledgling label GoodLife, and released the contents of an album that felt carefully constructed, with the reach of a major budget. A&M’s nearsightedness would ultimately afford S.V. an organic, completely self-reliant push into the mainstream. The group that had won over the ears of A Tribe Called Quest and Pete Rock in the 1990s, would now do the same with the rest of the world. In a year that Eminem would skyrocket up the charts, Slum Village played reconnaissance, proving that the Motor City was a driving engine of Hip-Hop creativity and possibility.
On video single “Climax”, the trio made a steamy song about threesomes that was not censored for mass appeal. Much of Fantastic, Vol. 2 is sultry, without ever compromising its bravado. Songs like “Tell Me,” “2U 4U,” and “Go Ladies” dealt with relationships, of all kinds. As they had on the first album, S.V. were masters of sequencing songs about sex, Hip-Hop, stunting, loss, and bravado right alongside one another. The album’s subjects and sounds sprayed like buckshot, in a way that was more interestingly unpredictable than ever disjointed. “Players” was a dreamy diatribe against wack posturing, that took on a life of its own, despite not being a single. “I Don’t Know” was a brilliant needle-drop style hybrid of Hip-Hop and dusty Soul. Out of all of this, Jay Dee proved to be in the company of giants. Like the class a decade before him (Large Professor, Pete Rock, DJ Premier, RZA), Dilla established himself with a ride range, and a pocket all of his own. He had pulsating basslines, clever sample manipulation, and far-reaching sources. With Jay’s sound, T3 and Baatin fell right into the grooves. Five years after the producer had been gathering credits with Tribe, Pharcyde, and De La Soul, Fantastic Vol. 2 was the musical master showing that he may have still been hoarding his joints for the home team.
Album Number: 2
Released: June 13, 2000
Label: Barak Entertainment/Goodvibe Recordings
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): N/A
Song Guests: Q-Tip, Pete Rock, D’Angelo, Kurupt, Busta Rhymes, Common, DJ Jazzy Jeff
Song Producers: (self), Pete Rock, D’Angelo
So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.
Related: Finding The GOAT: The Albums