Archive for March, 2010

The Legacy Of Little Brother

March 28, 2010

Originally completed November 5th of last year. I reached out to Big Pooh, Phonte and Illmind (huge contributor to the Getback album, his quotes didnt really fit in the end). I kind of suspected I would get the brush off/too busy treatment from 9th Wonder so I didn’t bother trying to hunt him down, but having a running rapport with Phonte it was easy for him to get back to me and reach out to Pooh. When I shot Pooh and Tay the questions, I made sure to note that I wasn’t going for a tell-all piece and that it was perfectly fine to be politically correct as the split was concerned.

But that was November of last year.

Yesterday this happened, and to quote a formerly popular wigger it had “the innanet goin nuts”.

Fast forward through a lot of hoopla and small talk on the matter to this, giving the people just a bit of light into Phonte’s feelings on everything. Though he kept it candid and comedic as usual, the brother is nothing if not sincere in his personal truths and beliefs (as usual).

My personal take: I know what it is to be passionate and ready to air shit out, and it’s usually the cool, calm and collected party who doesn’t want it to go there. Phonte has always gone on record saying he no longer has a working relationship with 9th, 9th came passive aggressive a few too many times and here’s what we have. I’m neutral as a supporter of both, the rapper/singer/renaissance man can do little to no wrong musically in my book and I don’t know what happened to the producer’s gift (I’d like to write a piece on this soon).

In any case, here goes my piece on the group’s history.

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Just as the concept of meaningful fun music centered around quality beats and rhymes seemed lost earlier this decade, the Justus League showed up seemingly out of thin air. Without a formerly established buzz, the collective brainchild of North Carolina’s Cesar Comanche and producer 9th Wonder made the internet flock like hounds, considered by many to restore faith when matters seemed hopeless.

Without question, the League’s breakout success story was Little Brother. Sprinkling songs “Whatever You Say” and “Speed” online served to whet appetites for the full length debut The Listening which sent a seismic shift through the underground. No longer was independent Hip-Hop solely dedicated to bearing grudges against what the culture had become, The Listening represented the hearts, minds and feelings of those raised by the golden age.

The fleshed out vision of 9th along with rappers Phonte & Big Pooh, Little Brother was more concerned with making well balanced music than being painted into the lonely corner where backpackers await cultural saviors. For example, they delved into the trials and tribulations of the rat race on the aforementioned “Speed”, and the group was unafraid to explore the concept of budding romance on “Nobody But You”, both songs with singing hooks (largely considered an anomaly to “real” Hip-Hoppers). As well, the pink elephant that had become the spoken word coffee house subgenre was eloquently (albeit playfully) picked apart by Phonte on “The Yo Yo”.

Looking back on the group’s beginnings, Phonte says “I think it was something that was truly God given.  We were brought into each other’s lives to bring our music to the world and hopefully inspire people. We were just happy to be making records.” True to his rapping persona, Big Pooh’s reflections on LB’s start are blunt and edgy as he states “I just see a lot of youth and naiveté. We were at the front of the whole acts getting recognized and signed via the internet movement. We helped make it ok for cats to make music being themselves.”

Though The Listening was widely considered brilliant breath of fresh air, its title track was stark irony as ABB Records showed a considerable lack of concern in promoting and distributing the group. Shooting for the stars and signing with Atlantic Records, the group’s grittier sophomore effort The Minstrel Show wasn’t granted much more favor, leaving fans baffled at labels refusing to push the envelope and break true talent.

To make matters worse, the heads of programming at BET reportedly said the video for The Minstrel Show’s single “Lovin It” was too intelligent to receive airplay. Like any embattled warrior in combat, a fed up Phonte took the network and his labels to task with his scathing verse from “Boondock Saints”. This song was featured on Separate But Equal, a mixtape that could be considered the start of what became the group’s DIY mindset, as it spread their name where corporate interests failed to. Regarding their music industry woes, Big Pooh says “The music business is 95 percent business and 5 percent music.” Phonte concurs, saying “The main thing I learned is that no label will work as hard for you as you will work for yourself. Ultimately being signed to any type of label just ain’t the move for me”.

Since Little Brother’s initial foray, 9th Wonder has gone on to record with luminaries such as Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Destiny’s Child and Ludacris, while Phonte has given mainstream R&B quite the suitable alternative in his Foreign Exchange union with Nicolay and Big Pooh’s burgeoning solo career has kept his name alive in the underground. The group’s MCs joined forces for what was possibly their final hurrah with the 2007 album Getback. No less stellar than any of their extensive catalog up to that point, there was the notable absence of producer 9th Wonder from a partnership that once seemed sent from the heavens. With only vague mention made by Phonte on Getback’s “That Aint Love”, the three gentlemen have neglected to go the public route like many of Hip-Hop’s fallouts (i.e. Rocafella Records). Regarding Getback, Phonte says “Me and Pooh were just looking for different sounds and ways to put a new twist on our old formula”, with Pooh remarking “We took a lot of heat with the 9th departure but people realized we were more than capable of still making dope records.”

Going on a decade since their formation, 9th Wonder, Big Pooh and Phonte have come far from their humble beginnings. The producer has gone on to secure multiple label deals to put out his own artists, and while Pooh steadily grinds with his own music Phonte has become one of urban music’s most ubiquitous figures. Between backing the careers of his Foreign Exchange family, doing countless guest appearances alongside comrades and hosting the thriving Gordon Gartrell Radio podcast, not to mention a reported solo album in the works, you never know where he’ll show up next.

In a word, Little Brother’s music can be summarized as feeling. Each of their songs inspired a range of traits from emotion, introspection and humor and determination to name a few. They rode the fine line between the mainstream and underground, sounding at home alongside everyone from Mos Def to Lil Wayne and stood for the uplifting of Hip-Hop most of all. When asked about their legacy, Phonte says “I’d just want us to be remembered as three cats that made music that everyday people could see themselves in.” Pooh chimes in agreement “I don’t think I really understood how many people we actually touched until after Getback. I get asked no less than 10 times a day about another Little Brother album. Our legacy will be that we consistently put out good music. No matter label situation, group situation, or personal, we kept it fresh.”

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Afterthought: I found this tweet by their manager to be poignant and moving.

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Donny Goines Interview/20X (Free EP)

March 5, 2010

I’ve known the name Donny Goines for a few years now, this kid is a different breed of MC altogether. First off, he was inspired to seriously pursue rap by the movie Fade To Black, yes Jigga’s live concert flick. You’d think if that were the impetus for one’s music career they couldn’t be serious about their craft, an assumption that would be wrong here. Donny Goines has dedicated himself to improving with his artistry, having forged relationships with the likes of street veteran Dame Grease,  future avant-garde 6th Sense and what seems like everyone else on the come up from New York and elsewhere.

I’ve been a fan ever since Ricky’s Story , I’ve given most of his projects at least one spin (I listen to so much music that most of the time select songs get multiple spins aka Party Apple from 2009’s The Breakfast Club album) and I’m a supporter of his movement. Donny’s impressive motto is “If you don’t know my name, I’m not working hard enough” and he has set out to earn his place amongst future mainstays by way of a steady growing presence online and on live stages. Most notable is his humility and consummate professionalism as he knocked out this interview 15 minutes after I sent it to him.

Here are reflections from Donny Goines as well as a link to his new EP 20X, available online for the free as of yesterday.


You’ve come a long way in a short time, what would you say has been your biggest accomplishment to this day?

That’s a great question. I’ve had many great accomplishments thus far but truthfully it’s hard to pick just one because each accomplishment holds significance for different reasons. As an unsigned artist who’s only been doing this for about four years now I’ve done some amazing things. I’ve been on MTV/BET, Hot 97/Power 105, XXL/The Source, performed all across the country, worked with legends, etc. and the best is yet to come.

With “No Apologies” (the first single from 20X) you came harder than people may have expected, seeming to have a chip on your shoulder. What was the inspiration behind that record and can we expect more like that down the line?

Honestly, sometimes you just need to vent. As an artist, things become disappointing at time and you can get very frustrated with it all. To me, music is a cathartic process (and also one of the main reasons I decided to do it in the first place) and if I don’t let things out sometimes it will fester inside of me. I feel underrated at times, and that’s just me throwing up a middle finger. It is what it is. That kind of record is not my norm, because I’m a very positive person but sometimes you gotta chin check some people [laughs].

You expressed some dissatisfaction that New York wasn’t represented in this year’s XXL Freshman class. What are your feelings on New York Hip-Hop in its present state and what do you consider your personal role to be?

Before I touch on this topic let me just say this. I got love for XXL and a lot of the artists on the cover. It’s really not a personal thing with anybody. As a New Yorker though, it saddens me to see that one of the premier Hip-Hop magazines in the world didn’t recognize the talent that’s emerging from our scene. I feel as if we are now stigmatized in the game, and that cover just reinstates those feeling that I have. I’m a New Yorker and that will never change. It’s just disappointing to me, but XXL is entitled to their own opinion and I’m not at all mad about it. Personally, I just do the best I can to represent the city I love and the people who feel like me in it. I am a representative of this culture and I have to hold my city down for better or worse.

Who amongst your peers should people look out for coming from Hip-Hop’s mecca?

See that’s the thing. There are SO many talented artists out here that did great things last year and have amazing careers ahead of them. Artists such as Esso, Skyzoo, Torae, Outasight, Sha Stimuli, Homeboy Sandman, The Kid Daytona, Mickey Factz and many more that are out here grinding, making dope music. I love the Hip Hop scene out here and although we may be underdogs, it’s still a beautiful vibe out here. I look forward to the future of NYC music.

A lot of people would definitely say you deserved a slot on that XXL List. But keep in mind Fashawn’s debut LP was last year and Wiz Khalifa has been grinding for a minute now, my point being that technically neither of them are really “freshmen”.  Would you accept a place on next year’s list if offered?

That’s a tough one. Honestly, I don’t think I “deserve” or am “entitled” to anything. I am a very humble person and artist so whenever someone shows me love in any context I’m very appreciative. I aspired to be on this year’s list, no doubt about it. I worked my ass off and prayed on it. Some things are just not meant to be though and I’m okay with that. As far as next year is concerned, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

With Just Blaze recently setting up shop in your home studio Stadium Red, can we expect you’ll be working with him soon?

Shout out to Just Blaze. Cool dude. My studio is a great place to record and make music. Stadium Red is a state of the art facility that has many talented producers, engineers and people working within it and I am blessed to be considered family up there. Engineer Ariel Borujow and Westward Music are really great friends of mine and I’ve been working with them for years. Wherever they go, I go. It just so happens that Just Blaze is in the building now. 20X is going to be an interesting year.


You have a strong online presence, have major labels started hollering about anything? If so, what would factor into your decision to sign a deal at this point?

I got some offers and situations on the table but unless the money and terms are right I’m staying independent. I like being in control of my career and think I’m doing a pretty good job so far. With the help of my management, publicist, and others around me I’m doing amazing things. In the past six months alone I’ve pulled song licensing situations with Nike and MTV, put together my OWN shows with Live Nation, secured majors shows and that just the tip of the iceberg. Bottom line, I can thrive without a label so they need to come to the table with something substantial.


The year is still early and I know you’re always working. What do you have planned for the rest of 2010?

First off, its 20X!!! All I can tell you is that this year is going to separate me from the pack. Mark my words on that. 20X which is presented by Rocksmith Tokyo just dropped, I’ll be touring, doing major shows and many other things I can’t speak on now. Suffice to say this year is gonna to be crazy.

With a grind so heavy, what is your ultimate goal with your music?

Greatness.

Download: Donny Goines – 20X (Free EP)

XXL Freshman Class of 2010 – Obligatory Opinions

March 4, 2010

Up until a few years ago when all you had to do was have an album about to drop, be in the midst of rap beef or be signed to Interscope to get on the cover, people could take pride in reading XXL Magazine. Former Source editors started the magazine (I want to say this was the summer of 1997), and where Benzino’s monthly $4 roll of toilet paper outsold it, XXL made up for in quality and “street cred” (if such an ideal exists for monthly publications that don’t cover infamous street felons and the hood element). The first issue announced  to the world “Jay-Z busted Hip-Hop’s dick though many of you don’t realize it, we’re up on game”, displaying the magazine was unafraid to kowtow to popular opinion. The summer of 1999 I bumped into Damon Dash in midtown Manhattan, he considered me hip just because I had the new issue in my hands. This is before he was all in the videos wasting liquor on pretty women and a good four years before my brief stint interning in the music industry, my point being you had to *know* who he was the same way you had to be in the loop to buy XXL the day the new one was out.

Fast forward through the time I literally cried down at college in Florida because I missed this, the magazine capitalizing off of 50 Cent’s meteoric rise to the top, Benzino beefing with former editor in chief Elliott Wilson, big moments like the exclusive Shyne interview after his sentencing, all of this reinforcing my idea that XXL had its finger on the pulse of the culture. Sadly, the pulse of popular Hip-Hop is now as weak as it’s ever been, and what was once a highly esteemed publication is now on some keeping up with the Joneses bullshit and barely worth flipping through though I’d still receive compensation to write for them.

Over the past few years some brilliant mind came up with the concept of XXL crowning each year’s 10 Freshmen to look out for, so as to continually prove their tastemaker prowess. The problem here (well actually, one amongst a myriad of problems) is diehard critics with their ears to the streets were up on many of these picks long before they were set to put out debut LPs. For example it’s a little disingenuous to call Wale a 2009 Freshman when I’d already been a fan two years prior, which leads to the glaring flaw that became evident with last year’s abomination earnest attempt at this idea. Charles Hamilton, Wale and Asher Roth failed to make big impacts, Blu & Curren$y did much of nothing last year, B.O.B.’s album is JUST NOW about to come out, who is Ace Hood? Mickey Factz isn’t eating off the strength of that cosign this year. This does far more damage than it extends any credibility to the magazine’s ability to pick breakout stars, yet they insist on trying to get it right.

In any case, here’s what you should know about the 2010 XXL Freshman Class from someone who many believe to have a decent ear for this rap shit:

The Good – The following have made a solid impression on whatever my personal opinion amounts to

J Cole – From Fayetteville, NC rapping with a bit of the south in his accent but the determination of a young warrior ready to go head up with anyone from the five boroughs of New York. He’s signed to Roc Nation, meaning he’s in the good graces of one Jay-Z, a name you may or may not be familiar with at this point.  Go get last summer’s mixtape The Warm Up if you haven’t.

Pill – Back when I was a fucking blogger, I was put up on dude.  Despite the Trap Goin Ham video controversy and the subsequent plea coppage about how it isn’t exploitation, this dude raps his ass off and you might miss it if you cant hear past the strong Atlanta drawl.

Freddie Gibbs – Coming out of Gary, Indiana he has released a plethora of music, gotten a lot of buzz and acclaim and deserves a slot on this list if for nothing else aside from his grind being so strong. He’s good enough to me, he makes good songs but I’m not totally amazed at his rapping game.

Big Sean – G.O.O.D. Music signee out of Detroit, personally I’ve been a fan since 2007’s Finally Famous mixtape, and now in preparation for what I’m guessing is a debut this year he’s rapping over popular nigger anthems to get his buzz up (Yes, the author of this blog is black. It’s okay for me to use the word nigger, expect to see it more) Even if he’s steered a corny commercial direction, I can vouch for him having rap skills at one point.

Donnis – This selection struck me as odd, not for any lack of musical quality (we’ll get there in a second) but because compared to the first four names above this kid’s “buzz” was comparatively kind of dead in the water until it turned out he recently signed to Atlantic Records. Now he’s all of a sudden a freshman worth paying attention to, I’m picking up the fine odor of politricks here. His mixtape had one of the greatest opening rap lines ever “First of all, yall can miss me wit that hipster shit”, and “Sexytime” was one of my favorite songs of last year.

Fashawn – Clearly the magazine’s attempt at pleasing “the real Hop-Hop heads”, not exactly a freshman since his debut album produced by Exile came out last year. If you haven’t heard Blu & Exile’s Below The Heavens, either opt to change your life by hearing this album or strongly consider the “one yourself” cliché or whatever that is the kids like to say nowadays.

The bad – I don’t understand the public outcry in support of the following garbage well-intentioned rappers

Wiz Khalifa – The great white hope Nicolay used to make music with this kid, I’m going to assume at least the beats were ill. But like Phillip Bailey nem sang, something happened along the way and dude is now stuck in an uncreative rut. I heard a cringeworthy project from him last year, so much that I don’t recall the name nor do I wish to. I want to say autotune was involved, my ears were sodomized and I felt the need to cry in a corner and take a scalding hot shower afterwards to scrub myself clean. That’s what I get for being curious about his buzz though. Wiz Khalifa, on behalf of everyone who wants dope music to thrive – sit cho ass down.

OJ Da Juiceman – I’ll be fair here, all I really know from this dude is the small selection of freestyles I’ve heard and the fact that he rolls with Gucci Mane. I’m familiar with “Make The Trap Ay” (if I have the song title wrong, consider it a blessing I’m not well versed),  and I think he got a slot because XXL sought to pander to uneducated degenerates be mindful that Hip-Hop can no longer be contained within a capsule of what “real” is. Though I don’t know much of his music, this told me all I needed to know.  His 32nd mixtape being his 32 anniversary of mixtapes must mean that this is his two anniversary of XXL covers for all of us ‘equivalent heads’ out here. Think he has no vocabulary? Yes, you may be right, but if you have time to sit and criticize him about his vocabulary he is doing something perfect. Last but not least, the great Juice claims to have “six rings on like a basketball player”, rhyming that with being “freshman of the year like a basketball player”. Asking me overlook the lazy factor and not point out the technicality that the NBA doesn’t give out Freshman Of The Year awards is asking a lot. I consider OJ Da Juice Man a disgrace to Hip-Hop, to black men, to incarcerated running backs, to movies where 2Pac and Omar Epps go from friend to foe and to every brand of juice from Tropicana to Dole on down the line.

The ones I don’t care about – I never claimed to be in the know about everyone trying to come in and get their thing off. Jay Rock and Nipsey Hu$$le are coming out of Cali, I’m assuming representing authentic west coast shit not much different from what Game did, but neither of them have impacted my radar or struck up my interest. However I can vouch for the likes of TiRon, Ayomari, UNI, Pac Div, El Prez and Kida to name a few coming from the left who are worth your listening pleasures.

So there you have it, six artists I consider dope in some capacity or another, two who embarrass me as a staunch defender of the music and another two who I just don’t care to delve into at this point. For what it’s worth, I believe Hip-Hop should be well rounded and that lists like this should not only seek to be ahead of the curve but reflective of true talent. This seems like yet another feeble attempt at selling magazines on the strength of a gimmick based around recognizable participants.