Following recent under-the-radar performances by legendary (if slept-on) MCs like Jeru the Damaja, PS 14 continues to bring the realness for Miami hip-hop heads. This Sunday features a bill of rising and established stars: the North Carolina duo Little Brother, Philly's former battle king Reef the Lost Cauze, and Cali MC Evidence, of underground favorites Dilated Peoples.
Dog the Bounty Hunter must not read the obituaries: Al Sharpton and the NAACP buried the n-word months ago. Still, Dog might end up receiving some work from Sharpton if the permed one catches wind of the latest album from North Carolina-based hip-hop duo Little Brother.
"They talk about us not using the word nigga/I want to speak about a couple issues much bigger," flows Rapper Big Pooh on the explosive opening lines of Little Brother's latest album for ABB Records, Getback. With the record, Pooh and partner Phonte carry on the tradition of golden-age hip-hop, but move it forward with their unique brand of personality and charisma. Fans have taken notice, and often speak about the group as if they were personal friends. Little Brother treads a fine line of stepping into a bigger spotlight while still remaining accessible (in fact this interview was arranged after hitting up Phonte on MySpace).
"I think that's the way it has to be. It's all about being in touch with the fan base," muses Phonte from a Boulder, Colorado hotel room. "That's your direct line to how you eat. It's a great time for artists to cut out the middleman." It was this thinking that led Phonte to leak the album himself, attaching a personal message to fans to buy it if they liked it, or check out a tour stop.
Getback also signals a turning point for the group in the business realm. Its previous effort, The Minstrel Show, was the result of an experiment with the major Atlantic Records. The pieces of the puzzle just did not fit, and sales mirrored the awkward matching.
Getback marks liberation from both Atlantic and ABB, and also moves beyond Little Brother's previous exclusive use of 9th Wonder as producer. The title itself references a return to passion for music, beyond concerns for A&R critique or Internet message board sniping. "That's always going to be a part of who I am," explains Phonte. "Once you know that music is always going to be part of who you are, you owe it to yourself to just stick with it." — Robert Sawyer
Reef the Lost Cauze
The 25-year-old Philadelphia MC known as Reef the Lost Cauze is, basically, anything but. Coming up in his hometown's unforgiving battle scene, and spending a long grind on the freestyle circuit, he honed his fierce verbal prowess, as well as an insatiable hunger for success strictly on his own, integrity-driven terms. Beyond that, though, there's his attitude, a down-to-earth, almost shocking friendliness. "I've got all the time in the world to talk. I'm just here in the Laundromat, folding clothes in South Philly," he says recently by cell phone, over the background drone of dozens of simultaneous spin cycles.
Regardless of relaxed laundry time, he's made quick work of propelling himself through the underground ranks, beginning in high school. "I grew up in the late Nineties. You could rhyme all day, but you had to prove your skills in battling. I broke night battling other MCs," Reef recalls. "But where I came up, you not only battled and freestyled, you also wrote songs." And after a number of national championship victories, he retired in 2005 to focus on developing his narrative craft.
Luckily for him, his titles and reputation attracted the likes of Vinnie Paz, ringleader of Philly's notoriously rugged Jedi Mind Tricks. Paz tapped Reef to join his Army of the Pharaohs project, a sporadically recording underground supergroup of sorts. From there he racked up a string of guest appearances, so many he can't remember them all. His first official LP, Feast or Famine, dropped on Eastern Conference in 2005. It was a head-nodding, straight-up East Coast-style effort, full of smoky, politically tinged lyrics couched in extended, building rhyme patterns, and wrapped in low-end jazz licks and chirping soul samples.
However, Reef is an admitted perfectionist, and the long-awaited followup, A Vicious Cycle, is still in the works. To concentrate on finishing it up, he finally quit his six-year stint as a processing clerk at Philadelphia's federal courthouse. And he's built up anticipation overseas with a recent tour across northern and central Europe.
But as a diehard devotee of what he terms "that gutter sound," Reef's got a lonely road to hoe. "Growing up, Big Daddy Kane was my idol. Then Kool G. Rap, Nas, Biggie. That's been it for me since then. No one's really taken the rein." But he's happy to be a near-lone soldier. "It feels good, because I realize I actually have integrity — besides what a lot of women who have dealt with me say. I know I'm not gonna do what's popular," he says. "I don't get to be on the cover of URB or one of these hipster magazines — so what. I honestly don't regret it, because I'm talking about the shit that I feel and the shit I really love." — Arielle Castillo
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