Equal parts soul and satire, Little Brother are back with the highly anticipated and wildly imaginative sophomore album, 'The Minstrel Show,' pushing the
limits of what a concept album can be.
In the minstrel shows of the late 1800s, white and Black performers would blacken their faces with cork and perform as stereotypical, grossly exaggerated racist caricatures of Black culture.
Fast forward two hundred years and Black people are still performing in these shows, celebrating senseless materialism, excessive violence, and blatant misogyny. Only today, they aren't known as minstrels. They're now known as rap stars. Chicken and watermelon have been replaced with rims and jewelry, turning hip-hop into one big modern-day minstrel show.
Such is the central idea behind Little Brother's highly anticipated and wildly imaginative sophomore album, 'The Minstrel Show.' The Durham, North Carolina-based trio of emcees Phonte and Big Pooh, and producer 9th Wonder, struck critical gold with their 2003 debut, 'The Listening,' a soulfully vibrant concept album that focused on a day in the life of a fictional radio station (WJLR, Justus League Radio).
Picking up where 'The Listening' left off, 'The Minstrel Show' opens with the introduction of the fictional television network, UBN (U Black Niggers). After WJLR is purchased by UBN in a corporate takeover funded by the Atlantic Group, the station finds a hit with its new series, "The Minstrel Show," starring Little Brother. The underlying theme is that while the group finds success and escapes their humble beginnings, they ultimately pay a price for it by sacrificing their dignity. Conceptualized like a low-budget episode of "Saturday Night Live," complete with commercial breaks and musical guests, 'The Minstrel Show' is a darkly humorous album that is equal parts soul and satire.
"To me, 'The Minstrel Show' is ultimately about responsibility," says emcee Phonte. "As rappers, we have to take responsibility for what we say, and for the images we portray to our people. If not, we're doing essentially what minstrel shows did: perpetuating negative images and reinforcing those negative stereotypes."
Producer 9th Wonder offers a different take on 'The Minstrel Show' and its role in today's hip-hop climate: "This album is basically us holding a mirror up to our community and saying, 'Look what has happened to our art form, look how low our standards have dropped as far as what we accept as good music.' If we can make people at least think about that, then we've done our job."
"We knew we would probably make a lot of people mad," says Rapper Big Pooh about the album's controversial title. "That's just the price you pay for taking a stand. There's a lot of craziness in hip-hop right now, and hopefully with this album we can bring about some type of balance."
With songs such as "All For You," which focuses on the pain of being an absentee father, and "Slow It Down," which discusses the complexity of male-female relationships, 'The Minstrel Show' explores a wide spectrum of topics that speak directly to everyday people. Although much of the subject matter is serious in nature, the album is not without its comical moments. In "Cheatin," starring Phonte in an uproarious turn as his soul-singing alter ego Percy Miracles, the group takes time to mock present-day R&B.
"Minstrelsy doesn't only occur in rap music," says Phonte about the track. "A lot of people might ask why we would take time to satirize R&B on a hip-hop album, but nowadays the two genres are virtually the same. A lot of these R&B records are just as silly and juvenile as rap is."
Formed in 2001 in Durham, North Carolina, Little Brother first appeared on the hip-hop scene with their 2003 ABB Records release, The Listening. The album immediately struck a chord with the rap community, garnering praise from the likes of Pete Rock and The Roots, as well as catching the ears of Jay-Z, who recruited producer 9th Wonder to craft tracks for him ("Threat") and Destiny's Child ("Girl" and "Is She The Reason"). After swift sales and critical praise from virtually all of the mainstream media, the group inked a deal with Atlantic Records in 2004. However with a bigger record deal, Little Brother goals remain the same, to make dope records.
Slow It Down co-starring Darien Brockington
Lovin' It co-starring Joe Scudda