Phonte Coleman of Foreign Exchange and formerly of my favorite Hip Hop group of all time, Little Brother, recently made an appearance on the Combat Jack Show.
While he dropped a lot of gems about life, the industry, divorce, etc., the highlight of the interview came towards the end where Phonte left the door open for a possible Little Brother reunion.
I vividly remember when Little Brother broke up. It felt like Superman died. Little Brother to me was a symbol of hope. Southern Rap dominated around this time and while I have nothing against the subgenre, I was just always more into that New York-inspired style.
Adding to the pain was the fact that this would be the fourth time a favorite group of mine called it quits. The first breakup I remember being mad about was when Pete Rock & CL Smooth broke up. It made me sad because everything they dropped literally became classic. “Mecca & The Soul Brother,” and “The Main Ingredient,” are universally recognized as classics.
I still feel like they never even peaked. They were still getting even better by the time they disbanded. Luckily for us, this story may have a happy ending because Pete & CL recently finished touring together so hopefully, that will lead to a new album in the future. Fingers crossed.
Fast forward a few years later and A Tribe Called Quest would endure a similar fate. Now this one would sting even more because who didn’t love the Tribe. Pete Rock and Tribe basically laid down the blueprint for style.
They literally gave myself and many others a style to run with and learn from. From the Starter jackets to the Jazz-influenced sound, that was my interpretation of Hip Hop. So once again, I was crushed. I haven’t felt pain like that since Barkley’s Suns lost to MJ’s Bulls in ‘93.
Thankfully, being a Tribe fan would evolve into being a fan of Jay Dee aka J Dilla. Dilla’s name was already bubbling at the time because of his production work with Tribe, Pharcyde, Janet Jackson, Busta Rhymes, and so on and so on. Dilla had his own group with his friends around the way called Slum Village.
I didn’t have access to Slum Village’s “Fantastic Vol. 1” till years later. I was already a huge fan of Dilla’s beats, but my first formal introduction to Slum wasn’t until “Fantastic Vol. 2” dropped. “Climax,” actually got some decent radio play out here in VA so once I heard it, I rushed over to Camelot Music and picked up the CD.
From first glance at the tracklisting, you knew this group was something special. For a debut album to feature Q-Tip, D’Angelo, Busta Rhymes, Kurupt, Common, Jazzy Jeff, and Pete Rock?!
You couldn’t pay for those artists to be on your album unless you were special. I thought Slum was going to hold it down for at least as long as Tribe did. Especially with Q-Tip passing the torch to Jay Dee on the track “Hold Tight,” I thought they were going to usher in a new “Native Tongue” era. But shortly after, Slum would eventually break up with Jay Dee deciding to pursue a solo career. Once again crushed.
Then finally we reach Little Brother. I first discovered Little Brother in the May 2003 issue of The Source magazine with Diddy on the cover. I actually still have that issue. During this time I never missed an issue of The Source. Their 5-mic rating system would have a huge influence on what music I would buy.
Little Brother’s “The Listening” album would receive a 4 mic rating, which was very good, especially for a debut album. I take a look at the picture and see 9th and Pooh in bomber coats and Timbs, similar to what I was wearing at the time, so that got my attention.
After reading the review, the article was talking about how they are the descendants of Pete Rock & Tribe and gave them a lot of praise. Once I read that, I definitely had to see what they were about.
The first song I heard was “Nighttime Maneuvers.” I was floored. 9th Wonder’s beat was soulful and funky while Phonte just obliterated the track. You could feel his hunger and Phonte was just effortlessly destroying every beat on that album. I was instantly hooked.
At this time I was in college and living in Richmond, Virginia. I had a weekly gig where I was playing whatever was hot at the time like Fab, Lil Jon, Cash Money, whatever was on the radio. But I would always try to squeeze in Little Brother songs whenever I could.
I was so hooked on this album and would try to spread it to any and everybody who would listen, but it would mostly fall on deaf ears. That didn’t bother me though because I was used to walking my own path with music.
When I wasn’t in class I had a job working the graveyard shift at Carmax. I didn’t last long at that job, but the only reason I lasted at all was because I was listening to Little Brother and the Justus League every day through my ten-hour shifts.
What I loved about Little Brother was that I could relate to everything they were speaking about. They weren’t talking about living in the hood. They were talking about job struggles, being broke and splitting cans of Starkist. That broke college ramen noodle life. We all knew that struggle well.
I’m not even a really big concert goer, but when I found out they were performing in VA, I convinced my friends to come with me. This was in 2004. To this day, that was still the most fun I ever had at a Hip Hop show. I still have videos of the performance and even got a chance to chop it up with the trio and take some flicks.
Once Little Brother dropped “The Minstrel Show” it was the beginning of the end. After label frustrations, and still unknown personal differences, 9th Wonder ended up leaving the group.
I still haven’t really gotten over Little Brother breaking up because to this day there hasn’t really been a worthy replacement. I had some hope with Pac Div but it wasn’t the same.
Hip Hop groups in general for whatever reason are a rarity in today’s landscape. I’ve learned to just appreciate what Little Brother gave us in that short amount of time. After all, they did spawn an entire generation of newcomers after them. Their classic albums seemed to have aged well over time. Little Brother is even more popular today than when they were still together.
Maybe it’s a good thing that they broke up when they did so they didn’t have a chance to fall off. One example I’d compare it to is Dave Chapelle leaving Chapelle show early. In the end, it worked out for Dave because he’s still just as legendary today, and he got to go out on top.
So that was my way of thinking and I was cool with it. That is until I heard this interview a few days ago and now I’m hoping for the return.
Guru has passed away so we’ll never see another new Gangstarr album. And just recently we lost Phife, although there is a rumor that Tribe finished a brand new album before he passed so we’ll have to wait and see about that one.
The point is that nothing in life is promised. So as a fan, it would mean so much to all of us if Little Brother reunited. Lord knows the world can sure use a dose of soulful beats and top-tier lyricism. But more importantly, one of the best things about Little Brother’s music was that it was fun. It just made you feel good. In 2016 with all of the recent deaths and controversies, we can all use some fun in our lives right now.
So as a life-long Little Brother fan I’m just saying, please come back fellas.