Little Brother: LookBack

Posted on 04/22/2010

Eight years. It’s hard to fathom that it’s been eight long (or short?) years since Durham, North Carolina group Little Brother first splashed onto the scene, injecting their earnest Native Tongues-influenced musical aesthetic into hip-hop’s landscape while quickly becoming one of Okayplayer’s best kept secrets with their debut full-length, The Listening.

Emcees Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh and producer 9th Wonder made songs with an approach that was unprecedented for the region of the South that they repped; it was a style that instantly resonated with an audience who had grown weary of the state of hip hop at the time. Hip hop gatekeepers from Pete Rock to ?uestlove to Big Daddy Kane all gave their cosigns of approval. Bloggers and message board members latched on to the movement, thrilled that cats cut from their same cloth were able to propel far beyond what anyone imagined was capable for an indie group at that time.

Powered by critical acclaim and an unparalleled live show, the trio accomplished the unthinkable and signed with major label Atlantic Records for their controversially-titled second album, The Minstrel Show. Hopes were high – a success for Little Brother meant more than just a plaque on the wall, but validation that intelligent, honest, and (for lack of a better term) “real” hip hop could have a place at the table of popular music characterized by nursery-rhymes and absurd posturing.

Things may not have panned out that way – and their subsequent release Getback found the trio transform into a duo with the departure of 9th Wonder – but, as always, Little Brother was able to persevere and continue the good fight, providing quality music for anyone who wanted to listen. Now it’s 2010, and several albums, mixtapes, and side projects later, Pooh and Phonte have announced that their latest effort Leftback is also their last. Rather than lament the demise of yet another superb group gone too soon, I asked an all-star roundtable of key players in the Little Brother story to weigh in and reflect on the incredible story of three college students who became international hip hop legends, in the span of just eight years.


VON PEA (member, Tanya Morgan): It must have been 2000 when I heard the The Story of U.S. (Unheralded Symmetrics), the comedy album that Phonte and (producer) Eccentric did. Phonte actually uploaded it to Napster for me. I listened to it and I remember asking, ‘where did you do this?’ And he was like, ‘well, we did this in the house.’ And that was still a big deal in 2000 to make music in your house.

KHRYSIS (producer/engineer, The Away Team/Justice League): The first Little Brother song I heard was their first song, “Speed.” I wasn’t that involved in [Little Brother’s crew] the Justice League at the time, because I was going back and forth between Durham and Winston Salem for school. When I came back home, I started hanging out at Missie Ann [Studios, headquarters for the Justice League], and that’s how I started getting more involved with the crew.

DJ BRAINCHILD (DJ, Gordon Gartrell Radio): Von Pea sent me mp3s of early versions of “Whatever You Say,” “Speed,” “Away From Me,” and the instrumental for “The Love Joint (Revisited).” 9th’s beats hooked me first, and then I started listening to what Pooh and Tay were talking about and that was it. I didn’t know them at all at the time. I don’t even think that Phonte was posting on the Okayplayer message boards then, it was just Eccentric, who produced “The Get Up” on The Listening. So I guess we can blame this whole thing on F*cking Jerrold (that’s Eccentric, by the way)!

KHRYSIS: During the making of The Listening, I wasn’t around for all the sessions, but I was there when they did “Home,” the “Home” interlude, the title track…it’s real spotty. I was the youngest in the crew, but me and 9th both started making music at the same time. We used to live in the same house together – me, Joe Scudda, and 9th Wonder. Cesar Comanche lived down the street. ?UESTLOVE (member, The Roots): I’m handed a lot of demos, but I really shy away from taking any of them – technically just for the law’s sake, because you can easily get accused of plagiarizing work. There’s one thing I never do after a Roots' show – I never go out and shake hands and do autographs and photos and all that stuff. After two hours of constant drumming, I’m just beat. I’m never the guy fishing in the audience.

But there was a show we did in 2002 at Duke University. There was a huge storm and the fans were all standing outside braving this monsoon. We were covered on stage, but the audience wasn’t. I remember (former Roots bassist) Hub saying, ‘I’m not playing, I’m not gonna get electrocuted!’ I was like, ‘these people came out to see us play, let’s play!’ And I guess because I was so touched by them standing in that weather, getting all wet, I took this Little Brother tape. Maybe it was the name Little Brother, because that was the name of one of my favorite J. Dilla cuts…Something inside me said, ‘this is something.’ It was the same voice that made me listen to T3‘s Slum Village cassette tape, the same voice that made me listen to Jill Scott sing.

The first thing that I heard made me chuckle a bit because “Speed” had a hi-hat that sounded like a Jheri curl activator spray! (laughs) Me and Tarik [Trotter, AKA Black Thought of the Roots] were laughing at that. Then I noticed how the drums were crazy off, which is an instant attraction to me. If drums are drunk and played on some stupid level, you had me at hello. Then when I started to hear them flow, I was like, cats must be from New York or something. I was one of those people who made the association between crunk music and the South. There wasn’t no conventional hip hop sounds coming from that region at the time. Once I heard the Digable Planets reference and 9th’s flip of Kool and the Gang‘s “Wild and Peaceful” on “So Fabulous,” I was like, ‘oh shit, they’re really on some shit.’ And then I went on the Lesson board like I discovered something – and in true OKP snark-fashion, they were like, ‘pff, late!’ That’s how I realized I was late to the party.

PETE ROCK (producer): The Listening blew me away. My brother was telling me about them, and he hooked me up with them on the phone. They were in New York, and they came over to my house, a bunch of guys from North Carolina. They slept on the floor of my living room outside my music room where I make beats. They were very excited, and I was very excited because I hadn’t heard a group that made music like this and you could tell that the inspiration comes from what I’d done in the past.

RAPPER BIG POOH (member, Little Brother): To have the ?uestloves and the Pete Rocks not only acknowledge you, but to feel what you’re doing…that’s like a basketball player being complimented by Michael Jordan. At the time, it was a big ‘whoa’ moment. It was like…’you Pete Rock, though. You’re fucking Pete Rock. Ain’t nothing you can say to me. You’re Pete Rock.” I’m still kind of in awe that artists like them would listen to music that I create.

PHONTE (member, Little Brother): We were blessed to have the talent to make the music that we made, and the early cosigns we got felt like a responsibility to uphold that. When artists are in the studio making songs, some might think, ‘ok, what’s the radio going to think about this,’ or ‘is BET going to like this?’ I was always thinking, ‘what would Pete Rock think about this?’ I don’t want to make nothing to make me look bad, but I really don’t want to have someone walk up to Pete like, ‘I heard this Little Brother record, is THEM the niggas you was cosigning?’


?UESTLOVE: I always thought of them as The Time of hip hop. They were funky. They reveled in their country-ness and their blackness, and yet it was appealing on a mass level. They had that one element that most hip hop and most black groups lack, and that’s humor. There’s a big difference between minstrel elements and humor. Little Brother had De La Soul‘s level of humor, full of inside jokes that I got, pop cultural references that I got. I think there’s a way to be humorous without having to lose your dignity. Most hip hop groups are funny, but it’s unintentionally funny.

KHRYSIS: Hip hop was kind of losing its soul at the time. And then here were these guys out of Durham and Raleigh, a place wouldn’t nobody expect, using equipment nobody would expect. We were the first cats to use Fruity Loops and Cool Edit. Back then, the MPC was the fad. If you ain’t had the MPC or something like that, you weren’t doing nothing, but we was knocking ’em out on computer programs. Now everybody’s on Fruity Loops and Reason and Logic and all of that, damn near the whole industry shifted to making beats on the computer after that.

ILLMIND (producer): They really struck a chord and filled a void that was there at the time for new, pure, fun hip hop. They kind of defined the new Native Tongues movement and introduced it to a new generation. It was good timing. They were carrying that torch for good music, good lyrics, and good beats, all just wrapped into one.

?UESTLOVE: It’s the Bruce Springsteen syndrome. They were blue-collar emcees, just like Springsteen had that blue collar appeal from his Wild and Innocent days all the way to the Born in the USA period. You could really relate to them. The subject matter was very vulnerable; they didn’t always get the girl, they had a lot of problems and financial dilemmas that they shared with people. Hip hoppers don’t do that. Hip hop is one giant farce, the tallest tale you can tell.

EVIDENCE (member, Dilated Peoples): I first heard about Little Brother through (ABB label head) Benni B. He told me he was signing a group from North Carolina.

POOH: It was our first time in Cali and Benni was like, ‘yeah, I’m gonna let you come meet Evidence and shit.’

EVIDENCE: So one day, Benni B was driving them around Los Angeles. I was in my crib and he called me like, ‘yo, I’m downstairs with this group called Little Brother, we want to come up!’ I had someone over I was arguing with, and it was just not a good time. There was only one way in and out of my apartment. He kept pressing me on the phone and I stuck my head out the window and was like, ‘yo, now is not a good time.’ And I guess Little Brother thought that I was a complete dickhead because they took it like I was dissing them!

POOH: We were like, ‘this is fucked up, he’s an asshole!’ (laughs) There was nobody who set the scene for us and let us know that he was going through something at the moment. That’s all I thought till I really got to meet him, and he explained the situation. ‘Oh, so Benni's the asshole.’

PHONTE: The early stages were like fucking boot camp. I’d see a lot of stuff going on, but I really didn’t have the experience to navigate it. Like, ‘I don’t know what it is, but I know something ain’t right.’ There were a lot of little things, alarms that went off. But a lot of stuff I went through at the time really helped me later on in our careers, to have that kind of training ground as far as touring and getting our merchandise right. It laid the groundwork for a lot.

A-PLUS (member, Souls of Mischief/Hieroglyphics): In order to get on a Hiero tour, you have to be dope in your own right. We agree on who comes out with us when we headline, and we’ve been in these types of situations before; we took the Living Legends out on their first nationwide tour, and introduced them to our audience. When we asked Little Brother to open for us on the Full Circle Tour, we were showing our respect.


PHONTE: I was always looking for ways to make the live show better and keep it fresh. We would do shows for audiences that weren’t necessarily ‘our audiences,’ like when we opened up a string of dates with Cypress Hill. We’d come onstage and their audience was just standing the fuck still. All high. Or big Mexican biker dudes with the shades on. They were ice cold. But by the end of the show, they’d be rocking with us. That was one of the times I saw it possible to win a crowd over. I kind of thought that we had something that appealed to more than the typical ‘hip hop fan.’

A-PLUS: Souls of Mischief are known as great live performers, and Little Brother made us work for it. They gave their all on their first tour. It reminds me of when Tribe and De La took us on our first tour, and they were like, ‘yeah, you boys are making us work for it, giving your all every night.’ That’s how it is in hip hop, the stripes just go full circle.

I remember our NC show at Cat’s Cradle. I know what a hometown show is like; it’s gonna be real thick with a lot of your friends, and it’s a celebratory night. There was a gang of people backstage, and they were all homies from around the way. We got there a little late, and Phonte was bugging out because someone had stolen his wallet from backstage. In my mind, I was like ‘yeah boy, you’re famous now.’ (laughs) This is rap life. This is what it’s like. It’s bittersweet, and no one can prepare you for it. That’s the kind of story that anybody who broke the threshold will tell you about, when you come from humble beginnings with hard ass work and some crab in the bucket just fucks up your celebration day. That’s classic ‘I made it’ shit.

JOHN BOOK (journalist, Okayplayer): When it was announced that they were signing with a major label (Atlantic Records) for their second album, it was a shock, but it was a supportive shock.

ILLMIND: I was excited. That was a huge step and advancement for them as a group. I’d been rooting for them since day one, and I was happy they were able to make an impact on an underground level and then grab the attention of a major label like that.

ILLYAS (member, Tanya Morgan): A that time especially, seeing what they were doing gave a lot of hope and confidence to artists like us.

EVIDENCE: To me, The Minstrel Show was a step up from the first album. The frequencies were right, the voices were mixed really good, the beats were just upfront. I really enjoyed the interludes, the sequencing, the way that the album flowed together. “Loving It” was just a classic record.

KHRYSIS: By that time, 9th started falling back on the recording duties. I recorded most of The Minstrel Show and half of The Foreign Exchange Connected record. I was also working on the Away Team album, Joe Scudda was working on his album. It got real difficult, because I was only one dude, and I had to produce and record 12 albums all at once.

PHONTE: Since The Listening, Little Brother was a group that had two producers. 9th was the beat maker, and I was more the producer in the sense of arranging songs, doing the mixes, vocal arrangements; more of a producer from the Quincy Jones side of things. (pause) I don’t want to say Quincy Jones in the 2010 sense, more like ’83 Quincy Jones. (laughs)

KHRYSIS: By the time I came in, tensions were already there. Most of the recording sessions were just me, Tay, and Pooh; 9th wasn’t there. I was aware of the tension in the group, but I didn’t look too deep into it.

VON PEA: I remember speaking to 9th before The Minstrel Show came out. He was like, ‘man, they think we crazy up at the label. They look at us as some people who just came to town and set up their own shop. There’s people here who don’t even want us to win because we’re doing it our own way.’

DONWILL (member, Tanya Morgan): Their first major label single had Joe Scudda on it. You gotta respect that they got the homeboy on there. My first rap money check I received was from being on a skit on The Minstrel Show. Whereas most people would be trying to rhyme with everybody popular, they were like, ‘nah, we’re gonna bring our people.’ It was almost like they were making an underground artist mainstream record.

KHRYSIS: “Watch Me” was a great door opener and a very important song in my career as a producer. I wasn’t expecting to get a beat on that album; I was just passing them beats for the hell of it, because I knew Pooh was working on his first solo album Sleepers. Next thing I know, 9th calls me and tells me they want to rerecord a song over that beat I made with the Michael Jackson sample. Ok! Thanks! Cool!


JOHN BOOK: "The minstrel show" they spoke of is what the music had become. I mean, the album cover was also a parody of a TV Guide; they were portraying boobs in a world where everyone is getting nutrition from the boob tube. They were saying, ‘is this what it’s really become?’ Fans who loved the first album embraced the second one even more. It’s been said the best music speaks of the times, and hip hop in 2005 was less about making statements and more about waving your jazz hands and suffocating in the club. When we are to look back at the first decade of the 21st century, I think people will look at The Minstrel Show as one example of incredible artistry that was dampened by the powers that be who didn’t get it.

A-PLUS: There’s countless hip hop songs throughout time that talk about how major record labels are fucked up, how they’re not going to try and preserve your art. We all hear the stories, and as it turns out they’re all true. They’re not there to preserve art, they’re there to make money off of it.

BRAINCHILD: I don’t think that label was a good fit for them at all. Plus, it takes pretty big balls to do an album called The Minstrel Show for your major label debut. You can’t really expect an industry – that as a whole has no clue who you are – to take a big risk on you with a concept as controversial as that one was. I wanted it to work, but deep down, I kinda knew it wouldn’t…

ILLMIND: Even though they didn’t sell as many units and weren’t promoted the way they might have expect, at the end of the day it was a win.

PHONTE: I believe you should always stand by what you create as an artist, whether it succeeds or fails. The last thing I wanted to say is that The Minstrel Show wasn’t really me. I wasn’t going to shit on it because it didn’t sell the way we expected it to.

POOH: I don’t think we did as good a job as we intended to in really explaining the whole concept behind the album. It left a lot of people wondering who exactly we were talking about.

PHONTE: I had a light bulb moment when Bun B came out in the interview with and said, ‘I’m listening to Little Brother and they’re talking about a minstrel show. I wonder who they’re talking about. Are they talking about me? Because I like to rock chains…’ And I just remember being like, ‘goddamn! We ain’t talking about you, nigga, you Bun B! I could never diss you!’ I think if there was a failure about The Minstrel Show it was that as an artist I didn’t show them the full spectrum of who I was as a person. First and foremost, what I stand for is dope music. If you’re rapping about pimping or selling drugs, I care first and foremost that you’re a dope rapper.

POOH: After The Minstrel Show, the mixtapes we released (Separate But Equal and <…And Justus For All) just proved that we were capable of doing more than being put inside a certain box.

EVIDENCE: They dropped the Gangsta Grillz shit with DJ Drama while we were out on tour together, and I was really into that. It was a mixtape, but I wasn’t used to emcees being so high caliber outside of official albums.

PHONTE: Post-Minstrel Show, I just wanted to give people the full spectrum of what they missed or what I hadn’t articulated properly. I wasn’t trying to reinvent myself, but whenever people gave us the ‘conscious’ tag, I wondered what that shit meant. Most of the time it was, ‘ok, you’re not a drug dealer, you’re not a pimp, you’re not a gangsta, so you’re conscious.’ That’s an empty title. Just because I’m not doing those things doesn’t mean I’m necessarily a better choice for your kids to listen to. That was the biggest misconception to me. ‘Ok, they don’t rap about guns, but oh my god, they’re talking about going to the strip club?!?’ Yes, nigga, I like ass, we like to fuck! I have two kids – you think I got that shit by talking about the five elements? Niggas is men. The whole ‘conscious tag’ is such an empty title.

VON PEA: They did what they had to do, and they left the label. Everybody thinks they got dropped, but as far as I know, they just came to them and said, ‘look, can we just do what we want to do? Because what we do doesn’t work for y’all.’ And then the label let them go.

KHRYSIS: Them leaving Atlantic was more of a surprise to me than them splitting with 9th. I could kind of see the split coming with the tension that had been there. By that time, I know I felt the Little Brother audience was pretty comfortable with hearing Tay and Pooh without 9th. On all the mixtapes and side projects, they were getting beats from me, Illmind, Oddisee, Pete Rock.

A-PLUS: Everybody knows all those clichés about how hard it is to keep a band together. There’s members of Hiero that are no longer in the group. A bunch of personalities experiencing success based on the hard work for the first time is a very powerful experience.

?UESTLOVE: When they came to Philly during The Listening era, I told them everything I knew that had allowed me to survive the last 15 years. I gave them the basic survival tips. Number one, I told them no matter what, never break up. I told them to do as many side projects as possible. I told them there might be a point – and this happened to Slum Village – that there might be some sort of interest or gravitational attraction to one member of the group. You have to quickly get over it and use that to your advantage. If 9th winds up hooking up other established hip hop artists, consider that a plus and not a threat.

NICOLAY (producer, The Foreign Exchange): Phonte has always been the sole person that I was in contact with. I’ve only met 9th once or twice. (Regarding the tension within the group), I didn’t want to be a part of it because I already see things through Phonte’s perspective. I understand it more from a musical standpoint and I think their split with 9th came as a shock to a lot of people because they didn’t really understand the workings of the group. 9th never really toured with them.

?UESTLOVE: I told 9th don’t pull that Dilla shit where you don’t go out on the road and just stay home and make beats. All your beats are on a laptop, so you have no excuse – you’ve got to multitask. You need to be out there exposing yourself, doing crazy interviews with them; you guys are a brand, the three of you, together.


PETE ROCK: I talked to 9th more than I did to Pooh and Phonte. I would have loved to have had a conversation with all three of those guys. I’m familiar with going down the road of groups breaking up and people not being able to get along with one another. Everyone has their own ideas and it may not always work with what the producer wants to do. I would have offered them words of advice to work together, no matter what. I never got to talk to the rappers as much as I did with 9th, and I felt like I didn’t want to pry by asking them, but if they brought it up I definitely would have talked to them with an open mind.

NICOLAY: People fantasize about groups and how the members are obviously the best of friends, and that they hang out and go to BBQs by the pool. It's not always like that. That kind of expectation affected the Justice League even; people expecting them to be a strong collective.

KHRYSIS: As far as the entire Justice League is concerned, I can’t say there was no real issues that kept everybody apart. It was never anything as serious as the Little Brother situation, but people definitely picked sides. Look, there’s no way in hell that 15 grown ass men can hang around each other 24 hours a day, every day, and really keep up with each other for over a goddamn eight year span. You ask me, there’s really no issues. For those who say there’s beef in the Justice League, I think that’s just a ridiculous statement.

NICOLAY: I never really spoke with Phonte about it in so many words, because I’m not really a party in it, but I do understand that though they started as a trio, fairly early on 9th saw an opportunity to do a lot more outside work. From my personal perspective, it may have spread their sound a little too far. There was a point when a lot of different artists had that sound, and at that point, it becomes unclear what brand you’re really representing. That’s what led him to not really being present on Getback and essentially them breaking up.

?UESTLOVE: I told them they would get tired of each other. We’re in a place in which we had a label to sort of fund us for tour support; you guys seem to be coming out of pocket for everything. I don’t know if we would have survived like that. I told them you really are walking on a road that’s the equivalent of the tortoise and the hare. Patience is what gets you through the year. Talent goes a long way, but I know a lot of talented people that don’t have any patience and they give up. The small stuff is what can break the camel’s back. You could be mad about something else backstage one day, and Pooh might look at Phonte on some ‘motherfucker, I don’t like the way you chew your Starbursts,’ and be ready to go at his throat. Make sure there’s always a mediator between you two or three. I told them a whole bunch of survival guide stuff that they could use, and they’re hard headed. (laughs) They didn’t listen to me.

KHRYSIS: I would be very surprised if 9th ever reconnected with Pooh and Phonte. That would be a huge surprise. (laughs) It’d be a great thing, too. But nah, that’s not going to happen. I’m not holding my breath.

JOHN BOOK: As much of a downer as it could be, it essentially means the music is now split in three, which means three times as much music from them individually. Black Star did a song called “Little Brother,” and they split. Maybe someone will form a group called Nighttime Maneuvers and continue the unspoken passing of the torch. I look forward to hearing that album.

DONWILL: Getback came out between our first album Moonlighting and The Bridge EP. I was at a point where I was wondering if I had made the right decision to even do music, and I went to the Getback listening party. I talked to Phonte and Pooh, and something just clicked with me that made me go full steam ahead. If the music industry ain’t for you, it’ll kick you out but if it is for you, you’ll fight and stay in it.

POOH: We blocked all the outside world while making that record and just went in and made joints. It was very free-flowing. We didn’t have a concept behind the whole album. We always had a point to prove when we made a record, but this time the point was that we could still make a dope record without 9th being involved.

ILLMIND: It felt really good to make the cut on four songs for the album. People definitely talked and said that I was trying to take 9th Wonder’s place, but people don’t really know what they’re talking about when they say shit like that. 9th Wonder even said it himself: if there was anybody who would replace me as a producer in the group, it would be Illmind.

?UESTLOVE: I could relate to the message in “Good Clothes.” Everybody went through that scenario.

ILLYAS: Getback was like hearing them polished and on a new level. Hearing that they were still positive after their trials and tribulations with the label and their inner circle. They just kept going.

PHONTE: Getback is probably my favorite of the records. For me, if the Little Brother story had ended there, I would have been fine with it. It was where I just became a man and came into my own, and stopped worrying about other peoples’ expectations. I was really just doing me and becoming the artist I wanted to be. It was a complete portrait, with a lot of self-realization.


BRAINCHILD: I think it’s a great album. The first time I heard it I was riding in the back seat of a van after getting picked up at the airport in Atlanta, and Tay and I planted the seed that eventually became Gordon Gartrell Radio. Plug plug.

DONWILL: They were one of the first groups – and probably one of the only groups to this day – to do it on their level who understood the level of savvy their fans had, like when Phonte went ahead and leaked Getback before it came out. He was like, 'I know you're gonna get this shit anyway; if you want it, y'all will buy it, but if not, I'm just gonna let you hear it anyway.'

POOH: Leftback is for the fans. Nobody likes when their favorite artists walk away and don't tell them. It's not like me and Tay won't be doing music, we're just ending the Little Brother chapter.

EVIDENCE: You can't keep trying to resuscitate things. If it's not there, it's just not there. I don't think their chemistry isn't there; Big Pooh and Phonte will always have that chemistry embedded in them, and the fact that they got on without 9th Wonder is another thing. But you can't force it and I feel like them saying this is their last record gives them the creative freedom and the edge to make a crazy album. I'm grateful to have a Little Brother album this year.

VON PEA: You can't expect them to go back to sitting around in Missy Anne and to make another album with radio skits.

EVIDENCE: I'd rather see the catalog stay flawless than to have them all come back together just so we can have something to do that night or have an album to cop that year and then be disgruntled about it.

POOH: It was originally supposed to have been an EP with some choice cuts left off of Getback along with some remixes, but after me and Tay took the time apart to do our individual things, we ended up coming to a point where we just felt it was better for our personal relationship if we ended our business relationship as Little Brother.

?UESTLOVE: I’m going on record by saying I don’t believe in this breakup. I wish they would take a cue from us. How come nobody acknowledges the fact that the Roots have been together for 18 years? Want to know why? Because we go away and do other stuff and then come back to the base and build the brand up.

NICOLAY: People asking for the three of them to come back together is like asking the Beatles to reunite. You know that there's going to be fighting in the first week. I don't personally think they will ever all get back together. A lot has happened and everybody is at a different point in their lives now. You grow, you mature, you learn, you move on, and you live. All three of them will continue to improve and show why they need to be remembered. People should also realize that all of them are in their early 30s. What all is to come, we don't know.

?UESTLOVE: I’ve talked to the three of them individually on and off – like, how water and oil are me and Tarik? Two tour buses is the answer to how the Roots have stayed together. Because he has his tour bus, with all the weed smoke, and I have mine, with my Playstation and Rock Band. If we’d been in the same bus, the Roots would have been over around Illadelph Halflife. That’s just how it goes down. I think the thing I hate most about these kinds of breakups is that it’s prime time that’s being wasted. If this were the Roots, we wouldn’t have ever made Things Fall Apart. This is premature. It’s precious time being wasted, that’s the thing I’m mad about, because I know come 2014, it’ll be like, ‘hey, we’re back together.’

PHONTE: Me and Pooh are completely opposite in a lot of ways. I'm more music 24/7, he don't really do music like that. His thing is more sports, I hate sports. In terms of business and stuff with our careers, I'm more of a DIY, fuck a label dude. He's more of a traditionalist in terms of how he likes to use a label. And there's nothing wrong with either way. The thing that has allowed us to stay together as friends is that we were always able to communicate about our differences and hash them out like men.

VON PEA: If they did stay together, you'd get an album that half sounded like Foreign Exchange, and half sounded like Pooh and [his side project] Reservoir Dogs. Half of it would have Phonte singing, and half of it would be Pooh, Joe Scudda, and Jozeemo. We already dealt with that kind of scenario with Outkast.

PHONTE: In art, passion is something you can hear. Once in a while you can pull off a lie, but nine times out of ten, an audience can tell when it's some bullshit. I thought that they deserved better than that.

DONWILL: On some hip hop historian shit, Little Brother first dropped at a time when you could still drop a white label vinyl. There's still groups like Hiero that have been around since cassette tapes, but there's not too many people that weathered the storm from when they came into the game till now. It was like the door of being an independent underground hip hop artist and still having a viable, marketable career was closing right as they walked in. Today, white labels drop every day, but they're mp3s on blogs, and people don't have to pay for them.

A-PLUS: Little Brother is definitely in the hip hop books. Their run was great, and they put out quality shit all the time. They're staples in their community, and they represented North Carolina well. And everyone doing hip hop in that area should be proud of what Little Brother has done for anybody who comes after them.

NICOLAY: I think their impact will be that they launched the careers of several really, really talented people. When you look at it that way, you can only have respect for what all of them have accomplished.

BRAINCHILD: Aside from being much more talented than a lot of us, the members of Little Brother are just like you and me. They don't try to be anything but that on wax or in person. They're about as real as it's ever gonna get in this business.

VON PEA: They taught me how to record and make music at home. Without Little Brother, Von Pea wouldn't be making music, and I wouldn't have met Don and Illyas because I wouldn't have any music to meet them with.

?UESTLOVE: The Listening hit me at a wonderful moment in my life. The Soulquarians chapter had just closed; we officially took our stuff out of Electric Lady Studios after having been there for near seven years. It was clear that D, Erykah, the Roots, Mos, Common, Dilla, James (Poyser), and Bilal weren't going to make music as a collective anytime soon. And I was sort of resigned to the fact that maybe our movement was over, and that maybe this was the beginning of a new movement. And I was fine with that. I was happy to see that kind of symbolic torch being passed to the next level. Had Little Brother come out maybe just two years later, maybe they might be included in this new movement that we have now, with the Cudis and the Drakes.

NICOLAY: They definitely paved the way for a lot of people, even people who are doing bigger things than Little Brother now. A lot of people who are on the verge of being signed or this and that are really doing their thing because Little Brother broke open some of that barrier.

KHRYSIS: They set trends with incredible music. After The Listening and The Minstrel Show, the quality of everyone's music changed. I think a lot of people might have taken that for granted. What people don't realize is they might be influenced by someone who is influenced by Little Brother and their music.

EVIDENCE: It's the greatest success story: three dudes out of college that no one knew about, and now the whole world is crying that they're stopping rapping.

PHONTE: Putting out this last album is like telling your girlfriend you're breaking up with her, and that you don't want to be with her no more. There's really no perfect way to do that shit. No matter what, she's not gonna want to hear it, even if you send that shit with a dozen roses. A lot of people were saying it's the last album, we should go out with 9th. I was like muthafuck we don't, it's the last album dude, there's no way we're gonna please people with the last record. Even if we did do the album with 9th and got all these guests, and made it an event, people would still be mad because it's the last one. There's no easy way to say goodbye. Knowing that, it's just like fuck it, let's do what we do, and that's the end.

VON PEA: I will fly anywhere if they do a show with all three of them before they break up. I will get in any car, plane, or bus, straight up. If I find out Little Brother is performing with 9th in North Carolina, I will be there.

NICOLAY: I've always been impressed with the amount of work that they put in. A lot of people don't even see that. It's not just talent, it's an incredible amount of work that I've seen those cats do since the beginning. With that kind of work ethic and love for music, you really can't go wrong. No matter what happens, those records are never going to go away.

POOH: We never had a road map for what we was doing. We never gave the world an outline for what we was doing. It's always been a flow thing. We go where we go, we move how we move, and this is just another one of those instances. We weren't flowing in the same direction, so we're gonna continue to flow opposite of each other. It's like how your parents would say, you'll understand and thank me for this later. A lot of people will understand later. I think this is the best thing that we could have done, because I don't think you would have wanted to hear a project with two people not on the same page. There'd be no passion in it.

PHONTE: It feels like it's been longer than eight years, but I don't know. It goes by so quick because you're just working all the time. Time goes by, but it's hard to stop and look back because you've just been working so much. Times are changing. It really goes so fast.

JOHN BOOK: Despite what may have happened between them, they refused to give up. I think they showed that with talent, determination, and a bit of confidence, you may not be able to beat the odds, but you're able to meet up with the odds, which is more than most people get a chance to do. Look at the name, Little Brother: they were bowing down to their hip hop elders. They were the little kids who listened to what came up, and now they wanted to play in the hip hop game. As in real life, the little brother may be little but he can be a force if the kid has talent and heart. Little Brother did.

Sean Kantrowitz