Little Brother

The Minstrel Show (Atlantic)

You'd think it would be difficult to tell who's wearing blackface when you're looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but the guys in North Carolina hip-hop outfit Little Brother think they have a grip on the situation. On songs such as "Cheatin'" and reoccurring interludes, Little Brother MCs Phonte and Big Pooh take aim at the entertainment industry's portrayal of African Americans. The duo's cadence and themes owe more than a little to Common and Q-Tip, and that nostalgic vibe is mirrored by 9th Wonder's production. Much has been made of 9th's similarities to mid-Nineties luminaries such as Pete Rock, DJ Premier, and J. Dilla, and though he does borrow elements from those greats, The Minstrel Show finds him slipping into a style distinctly his own. His minimal arrangements on songs such as "All for You" and "Watch Me" emphasize thinly chopped vocal loops juxtaposed against spare drums and thumping bass lines. The result is a sound that is head-nodding and surpassingly lilting. The production's soft heart helps the MCs' politically pointed messages go down a lot smoother, making The Minstrel showone of the most enjoyable and easily digestible hip-hop releases of the season.

 
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