When you re-listen to the album now, are there any moments that make you cringe?
Phonte: Oh, my God. All I hear is mistakes. Yeah, there’s certainly a lot that once I listen back to, I’m like, man, I could do that better. And I won’t mention the specific parts just because I don’t want to ruin the experience for the fans.
I remember Beats by Dre [launching] and the tagline for Beats by Dre was “Hear the music the way that the artist hears it.” And I can think of no greater hell. You do not want to hear the music that way, trust me. To hear a song as the artist hears it, it’s a very masochistic kind of thing, because all you hear is your fuckups. But for me, a big part of art is just understanding that it exists. It’s a document of where you were at that time, and who you were at that time. And for us to be 21, 22 year old guys making our first record, shit, I got no complaints.
Little Brother was anointed as successors to the legacy of the Native Tongues collective, which I always thought was a double edged sword. You guys became standard bearers for typically college educated “Real Hip-Hop” types, and were placed, unwittingly, in opposition to the T.I.s and Mike Joneses of the world. When you look back, do you think that that idea hurt or helped your career?
Big Pooh: I think at the end of the day, we just wanted people to see us as cats that were dope and made good music. That was our fight more than anything. It doesn’t matter which side of the underground you decided to land on. If the music was dope, the music was dope because, shit, we were listening to 50 Cent [too], you know what I mean?
Phonte: It definitely was a gift and a curse, some of it by our own doing. [On]our first record, “The Yo-Yo,” I’m pretty much skewering the whole fucking boho coffee shop shit.
But then to do a concept like The Minstrel Show, where you’re still skewering something, it’s kind of satire, but now you’re hitting on elements of class, now it becomes an even bigger conversation and it becomes a conversation that, for me, I never really wanted to be a part of. I just thought the shit was funny, period. So we were never like who people were saying we were. We weren’t anti- gangster, anti-whatever. We was just anti-fucking whack. Just don’t be corny. And I think that was what got lost. But in terms of our positioning and how people kind of viewed us as bringing back real hip hop, that was something that we definitely leaned into at times.
Big Pooh: There was no social media, so a lot of people were able to assume shit about us, and project what we were really about onto us. That didn’t help us. The craziest thing was when we got ready to put out The Minstrel Show, and got word that Bun B was disappointed. That changed everything. I hit [label mate] Paul Wall up for Bun B’s information, and I couldn’t get on the phone with him any quicker. Had never met or talked to Bun B a day in my life, but obviously, I respected who he was. Like, I had to get on the phone to explain myself. But unfortunately, you can’t do that with everybody, right?