The fiercely cult-beloved North Carolina rap trio Little Brother came together in 1998 in Durham, where all three members of the group were in college. They went on to release four albums of elegant, conversational, politically incisive classicist rap music, starting with the 2003 word-of-mouth classic The Listening. Little Brother never became the commercial force that a lot of people imagined they could be, but they were influential, both on rap’s internet underground and on eventual stars like J. Cole and Drake, whose early mixtapes basically sound like Little Brother tributes. The group’s producer 9th Wonder did achieve a certain level of prominence, both before and after he left Little Brother in 2007. The other two members of Little Brother, Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh, continued, recording together in fits and starts until they officially announced their breakup in 2010. But now they’re back together and, out of nowhere, they’ve got a new album.
In recent years, Phonte and Big Pooh have both been busy with other projects; the Foreign Exchange, Phonte’s post-soul duo with producer Nicolay, has made some really great music. But now Little Brother are back together. Last year, at the Art Of Cool Festival in their Durham hometown, Little Brother played a last-minute surprise reunion set. They’ll perform again in Durham next month, headlining the Hopscotch Festival. And yesterday, they made an announcement: The new album May The Lord Watch, the first Little Brother album since 2010’s Leftback, would be out at midnight. Sure enough, it’s in the world now.
On first listen, May The Lord Watch is very much a Little Brother album. It’s a concept album full of provocative skits — this time about a TV network that exists to exploit and pander to black audiences. But it also works as a straight-up rap album. Phonte and Big Pooh once again find a casual, locked-in give-and-take. And while original producer 9th Wonder did not participate, Little Brother instead worked with a series of producers who know how to make that same warm, organic thump: Khrysis, Nottz, Black Milk, Phonte himself. The “Ante Up” sample on “Everything” is a thing of beauty. Stream the new album below.
May The Lord Watch is out now on Imagine Nation Music/For Members Only/Empire.