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Retrospective: Little Brother's Getback and Leftback



By @TrueGodImmortal

Getback


Tracklist
1. Sirens
2. Can't Win For Losing 
3. Breakin My Heart
4. Good Clothes 
5. After The Party
6. Extrahard
7. Step It Up
8. Two-Step Blues
9. That Ain't Love
10. Dreams
11. When Everything Is New

Leftback


Tracklist 
1. Curtain Call 
2. Table For Two 
3. Tigallo For Dolo
4. Revenge 
5. So Cold
6. Second Chances
7. Go Off Go On
8. What We Are
9. After The Party Remix
10. Two Step Blues Remix
11. Get Enough Part 2
12. Before The Night Is Over
13. 24 

Little Brother is one of my personal favorite groups in hip hop history. The trio featured two MCs in Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh, along with a producer in 9th Wonder, similar to the Phife/Tip and Ali Shaheed dynamic of A Tribe Called Quest, which was the inspiration of the group. They were the little brother of Tribe in hip hop. They set out to make a classic on their debut The Listening and they did just that. The album was glorious and fit perfectly with what we needed in hip hop at the time. Both Phonte and Pooh provided us quotes and 9th provided the soulful instrumentals that made the world take notice of this collective. It garnered them critical acclaim and a spotlight which got them signed to Atlantic Records. Atlantic Records wasn't really ready it seemed for their brand of hip hop, but what spawned from that relationship was the best Little Brother album and one of my personal favorite albums period, The Minstrel Show. A conceptual album with the right amount of soul, flare, lyrics, and a powerful statement. However, that classic didn't truly light the charts up, as I believe it only cleared 90,000 sales in total, causing Atlantic to part ways with LB. With the relationship severed with Atlantic, Little Brother went through growing pains and 9th distanced himself from the group. Phonte and Pooh would continue on recording and eventually they would start working with a long list of producers such as Nottz, Illmind, Hi-Tek and others. Once it was known that 9th was no longer a part of the group, the duo set out to release an album that saw them step out of their comfort zones.



That album would be titled Getback. Now, the album Getback is much different than the previous two. There's a variation in sound, there's not a true concept, it is just a solid short album. Where the first two albums spawned 17 to 18 songs a piece, Getback was 11 songs. You could say LB took the approach of less is more and wanted to go a more commercially viable route perhaps. However, the issue that plagued Getback when it released was that it couldn't compare to the classics that The Listening and The Minstrel Show are. Is it possible that fans were just nitpicking? Is it possible that we missed out on some strong music by comparing it to previous projects? Yes and no.

Getback is a good album. A very good album. Lyrically Phonte is razor sharp and Pooh is at his best from a lyricist standpoint and the production here is definitely solid. The opening of "Sirens" welcomes you into a world of booming drums and a sinister loop that keeps heads bopping to the beat. Pooh hits us with some hard lines and challenges the activists of the time in 2007 who were saying black artists should not use the word 'nigga'. "Sirens" rings as a call to arms in some way and alludes to the powers that be watching over the game and the cops and their never ending pursuit to harm us, which still applies today. Phonte however goes off in his verse with some poignant views and points regarding a number of things. His entire verse is a journey that attacks critics of hip hop, and also vents off about the mental aspect of programming:

"I came back from NY, a nigga lost his deal/
Felt sick to the stomach, almost lost his meal/
Lost friends from way back, and on top of all that, they tryin to blame this rap shit for all of our ills/
Like I can stick you up with a mic/
Like I can rape you with a verse or use a verb as a knife/
Like before Kool Herc, everything was alright/
Like y'all wasn't callin black women hoes before Rappers Delight/
Shit.... That's just idiot talk/
This whole shit is a farce/
I refuse to be hip-hop's pallbearer/ 
Had to tell me son cut that bullshit off, them ain't videos nigga, that's psychological warfare/
Too many different variations of the same face/
Designed to keep yo' broke ass in the same place/
Somethin else more yo it gots to be/
But I'ma end transmission cause they watchin me/"

That's masterful lyricism and it is just the beginning of the album. The next song "Can't Win For Losing" is a solid follow up and features a smooth yet different beat where the drums aren't patterned like the average hip hop track. It works and is followed up by the only 9th Wonder produced song on this album, the Lil Wayne featured "Breakin My Heart". To have a Lil Wayne feature in 2007 usually meant you were bound to have a hit, but I personally am not a fan of the song. I think all three MCs did good on their verses, but I'm just not a huge fan of it, and I wish that the only song 9th had on this album would have been a little stronger. It doesn't slow up the pace of the album, but it's just a song I tend to skip on regular listens. The next single "Good Clothes" follows and that is essentially the fun natured side of LB that we heard on tracks via their mixtape "Separate But Equal" in spurts or on interludes via their albums. It's a track that's self explanatory and pretty simple in essence, and almost a mockery of the hip hop state at the time, as materialism is always prevalent in the culture, for better or worse. The song is a fun listen and it was the first single off the album as well.

The hilarious "After The Party" is a real song that speaks directly to the single life and what goes down for those involved. The party is fun, you pop bottles, you meet women, you turn up, you get lit.... but what about after that? What do you do then? Is it fun being alone at night? What do the lonely people do after a night of clubbing? The concept on this works, though there's a bit of a comedic side to the song that takes away from the seriousness of the concept itself. It is followed by my least favorite song on the album "Extrahard", which is honestly a good song, but the Mr. Porter produced track just didn't do it for me. Both MCs came with solid verses, but something felt like it was missing in that track. Still a good song, but one that fell just a bit flat on repeat listens and the production is middle of the road for me.

In what can be considered the follow up to "After The Party", LB discusses early dating on "Step It Up", and Phonte comes through with a really solid verse and some adlibs at the end about the early days of dating where you'd ask the lady if she wanted a massage as a play to get some pussy. While the concept here is mostly comedic, the point is that when you find the right woman who makes you want to step your game up, it shows immensely. Check Phonte's verse:

"I laughed cause it seemed she had me all figured out
And my game ain't work like it did befo'/
Them are days long gone, cause once they get grown, these hoes ain't impressed by Applebees no mo'/
Gotta dig a little deeper for that PF change, for PF Chang's/
And if you can't afford it, you can still do thangs/
To show you ain't on no dumb shit/
Take her to a gallery, museum or some shit/
Thank God for you and all the crew that you run with/
Giving new meaning to the blind date/
You so official, but a nigga can't attract Cristal, with a Boone's Farm mindstate/"

Now while I personally disagree with some parts of Phonte's verse, he makes his point clearly. The next two songs, "Two-Step Blues" and "That Ain't Love", and both are truly solid listens. I feel like both songs represent entirely different moods and help flesh out the short album honestly. However, the final two songs are fantastic and probably the two best songs on the album.



"Dreams" is an anthem of sorts, and it feels like the beginning of a new era for LB. The hook resonates with "mama I got dreams, but dreams won't keep the lights on", and the verses tell a story of trying to make the impossible happen at any costs. We all are born with dreams to do things against immeasurable odds and while Pooh sets the tone, it is once again Phonte who drives home the drive, ambition, and in some form, desperation to succeed with his verse, while speaking about the path he could have taken:

"And when I hang with them/
They ask me if The Minstrel Show means I'm ashamed of them/
Well - I can't say that I'm proud, but can't say I'm allowed to judge, I'm just glad to see you/
Cause truth be told, if my records never sold, and I wasn't raised this bold, nigga I would probably be you/
I've been God blessed with the gift to make music, it took me all over the continent/
But still got boys on the block and fam, smokin rock, so please, miss me with that conscious shit/
I spent many a sleepless night because of it... until I had to shake that shit off and reach the conclusion/
That every now and then, you gotta ask yourself, Do you really wanna win or just look good losing/"

Verses like those are what make Phonte one of my all time favorite MCs. The honesty. The reality. The rawness. That continues on the final song, the true wave of a new era it felt like, on the aptly titled "When Everything Is New", which is an amazing song as well. It starts off with a speech to close the album out from Phonte and goes into the smooth singing hook, before Pooh attacks the mic with a hunger unseen. Phonte hits hard with yet another amazing verse, and they bring the album to a close. There's a sense that despite losing 9th from the group that things would be fine. LB would be fine.

But it wasn't.

Leftback was the most inconsistent project that either MC would release. It is essentially a thrown together album intended to give fans a final taste of LB before their "breakup". The group decided to part ways and separate, bringing an end to one of the most promising groups in hip hop history. Leftback starts off well with the swan song opening "Curtain Call", with a smooth soulful beat as the two MCs take a trip down memory lane. However, this would be one of the rare highlights on this project. Phonte and Pooh reflect on the times, good and bad, as they bid the game farewell as a group.

One rare gem on here is the trademark hilarious "Table For Two", as Phonte starts the song asking if he can pay at a fancy restaurant with multiple credit cards. It's yet again Phonte at his funniest and another reason why Leftback was so bittersweet. It showed the great things we loved about LB, but only a small glimpse of it, so their final album wasn't really a chance to live on forever as a group, but just to get that chapter over with. Jozeemo and Pooh have some fun lines on "Table For Two" as well, and the hook is infectious. The highlight comes on the solo "Tigallo For Dolo", where Phonte leaves us with a dope track full of amazing lines. Phonte goes above and beyond the call of duty here and the production rings of classic LB music. Three songs in, and the album isn't off to a bad start. But, all good things must come to an end they say.

And it does.

While "Revenge" carries the classic LB sound, it still feels lifeless and falls a bit flat. The same could be said for "Go Off Go On", which isn't a bad song, it just feels out of place. These songs on the rest of the album aren't bad, they just don't seem to have any life of them. They sound thrown together for the hell of it. There's a few  unnecessary remixes on this album as well that don't add anything to it and take away from any chance of cohesion the album would have. While "What We Are" is decent, and I don't necessarily dislike "Before The Night Is Over", these songs feel like they could have been put on a different project. This is a Little Brother album. The final one. We need that good ol LB music on the last one. These songs were out of place here and I'm sure on other albums they would be fine, but it doesn't work here. The Torae assisted "24" knocks, and this is one of the biggest highlights on the album. Phonte kills his verse with amazing wordplay, as seen below:

"Ayo, get on the mic spit a couple of verses/
Make niggas give it up like what the fuck is my purpose?/
Cause he's such an elaborate wordsmith/
Phon-teezy, spit greasy, like a bucket of churches/
Three piece, these streets wanna see what I'm workin' with/
So you Ringling niggas can stop that Circus shit/
Y'all got hip hop soundin' like kids-bop, so I'm gonna murk these tracks like Berkowitz/
The Son Of Samuel, watch me surface with/"


That's what we needed. It's the final song on the album, so a fitting end to the album I guess, but aside from the first 3 tracks, "24", and the Darien Brockington and Bilal assisted "Second Chances", this album lacks in the important areas. It is more so a thrown together project than a true fluid cohesive album. And there lies the conundrum with Getback and Leftback:

While Getback is a very solid album and essentially slept on, Leftback sees its potential wasted by unfortunate laziness. Though we likely won't see another LB album, it is a bit bothersome that they ended things off on this note.

-DAR 

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