Little Brother’s rise to underground prominence started with a co-sign from the legendary ?uestlove in 2003, and ended with a loose concept album titled The Minstrel Show in 2005. The trio’s (consisting of Big Pooh, Phonte, and 9th Wonder at that time) second studio album simultaneously acted as a satire for the WB television network, and a call for “better rap music.”
The Minstrel Show emphasized 9th Wonder’s sleek soul production and the rappers’ tendencies to put themselves above mainstream contemporaries. Their entitlement proved to be divisive amongst the music community. Things only got worse when inner turmoil sparked a decline in the trio’s seemingly untouchable camaraderie. Their albums following The Minstrel Show (Leftback and Setback) were disappointments for obvious reasons. 9th Wonder left, and Phonte and Big Pooh went into hiding.
The North Carolina natives surprisingly announced a return to music in 2019 (nine years to be exact), albeit without 9th’s contributions. Despite the tumultuous break-up, both Big Pooh and Phonte show no signs of re-hashing old wounds on their newest, and maybe best album, May the Lord Watch.
As the title suggests, both rappers appear spiritual and self-fulfilled. Gone are the days of self-indulgence and menial subject matter (i.e, saying they’re better than everyone else). Little Brother are instead thankful for what they have; and optimistic about their future.
The slick runtime of 37 minutes suggests a more concise showing of everything that made them famous in the first place. The UBN skits have returned (courtesy of radio personality Paul Rosenberg) with a refreshing self-awareness from both spitters-especially in the case of Phonte, who comedically kills off his R&B pseudonym Percy Miracles on “A Word From Our President.” The aforementioned ?uestlove shows up later in the album to introduce Phonte’s beat-making alter-ego-Roy Lee-on “Inside the Producer’s Studio.” The whole joke is centered around Phonte’s apparent tendency to copy other people’s beats. He even name drops 9th Wonder as a possible attempt to squash all the beef between them. These comedic spurts represent a shift in maturity for a group that wallowed in their own deficiencies for years.
The void of 9th is aptly filled with melodic boombap renditions courtesy of Krysis, Black Milk, Devin Morrison and Nottz, Zo! In fact, the producers add a much-needed vibrancy to these drums-thus allowing Phonte and Big Pooh a platform for constant self-meditation.
The introspective rappers are at a point in their career where a wife and kids have taken the place of “bitches and clubs.” In fact, both of them seem unimpressed with their previous lifestyle. Phonte spits, “After 35, the club’s a different kind of torment” as if his earlier escapades were an unhealthy addiction (and maybe they were). Big Pooh even admits to his contentment with falling back into a normalized living situation.
The breezy intro track “The Feel” strikes an exemplary balance between danceability and confident self-reflection (Phonte raps, “And my n****s used to raise the roof/And move units outside of state on some real independent shit”). Little Brother reaffirms their satisfactory state on “Goodmorning Sunshine”-a song that operates as an ode to their respective loved ones. It’s crazy what nine years of growing up can do.
The easygoing nature of May the Lord Watch can sometimes result in a lack of lyrical depth, or even an inability to leave one’s comfort zone. For the most part though, both rappers use their infectious energy to their advantage. “Right On Time” is peak euphoria, highlighted by a mesmerizing chorus about appreciation. It’s a prime example of Little Brother’s undying knack for glistening transitions between rapping and singing. A colorful dimension is added when this occurs.
Even without the legendary additions from 9th Wonder, Little Brother lives on through simplicity and self-evaluation. Finally, they seem happy with the culture that made them who they are. With adulthood fully in front of them, there’s no room for fighting anymore. There’s more important things to deal with now.