In the early 2000s, Little Brother became one of the first hip-hop groups to rise to notoriety through internet buzz. The trio’s debut album, The Listening, is widely considered an underground classic.
After the release of the group’s follow up album, 2005’s The Minstrel Show, the group’s producer, 9th Wonder, left the group and went on to craft tracks for Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, Ludacris, David Banner, and many more. Little Brother’s remaining members, Phonte & Rapper Big Pooh, kept the group going until last year when the group officially called it quits after the release of their fourth album, Leftback. Phonte also spent time developing his Foreign Exchange project with producer Nicolay.
9th Wonder & Phonte were mostly tightlipped about their split, but very public about their reconciliation which took place at the top of 2011. We sat down with 9th & Tay and got them to open up about why 9th left the group, and what they learned from their time apart.
TUD: How did this reconciliation come about?
9th: We have a mutual friend, my man Fatin, that’s been wanting this to happen for a very long time. It was a new year, and there were things that, prior to us meeting, weren’t adding up to me. I always told people, “If I ever sit down and talk to him there’s gonna be a lot to come out and things that get cleared up.” [Fatin] reached out to Tay, and he gave me Tay’s number. I called him, and that was it. I talked to him all the way to his house. I let him talk straight without interruption for about 45 minutes on the phone. By the time I got to his house, we sat and talked for like 6 hours.
TUD: I understand there was some food involved…
Phonte: My wife had made some roast pork with black beans and rice and salad. That was the plate that saved —
9th: I didn’t know that was pork. I don’t even eat pork no more. That’s wild!
Phonte: Welcome back n*gga!
TUD: From the time you left the group how were long the lines of communication closed?
9th: We talked twice, The only angry confrontation we had for everyone to see was on Twitter. That was it.
TUD: What was the tipping point that made one of you say “I’m out the group” or “You’re out the group”
Phonte: There was a point where Little Brother was becoming, and I think it was Pooh that described it, it was becoming a charade of trios. We had three different trios that were Little Brother. In the studio, Little Brother was me, [producer, engineer] Khrysis, and Pooh. On tour little brother was Me, Pooh, and DJ Flash. Yet on contract, Little Brother was me, Pooh and 9th. It just got to a thing where, particularly when we were on Atlantic, they would ask us “What’s up with 9th” and this that and the third. Promoters were asking us “Where’s 9th?” He don’t tour with us! We been rocking for the past 4 years without him!
Initially we were trying to make things easier for everyone in the situation. For us and him. I didn’t think it was fair for him to be bound to a group as a producer. Producers eat differently than emcees. They make their money in the studio. We make ours on the road. To chain one person to that standard is not gonna work. Beyond that, when there are people in the group, me and Pooh are sweatin it out, and 9th’s making his beats, and we’re apart, there’s a natural distance that grows and it doesn’t make for a good group dynamic. So in my thinking it was just like “what’s the easiest way to dissolve Little Brother on paper yet Phonte, Pooh and [9th] remain friends?” We were able to dissolve it on paper, but the friends part… that didn’t quite turn over the way I thought it was going to turn over.
TUD: Now that the beef is squashed, is the friendship between the two of you different now, or is it just like old times?
9th: The clowning was all still the same. I think the focus is different now, and understanding how each of us is is different. There’d be a lot of times where Tay would ask me “Dog, I feel like you need to be more this way” and I’d be like “Well Tay, I think you need to be more this way” or whatever. Now it’s a situation where we respect each other’s space. That’s what it is. That just comes from growing up. I think it’s much better now because after not speaking, what else do we have to be mad about? Once we sat down and started talking, we figured out over half, 75 percent, 85 percent of what we were mad about had nothing to do with me and him. It was whatever it happened to be. But I think now, it’s good to see him and where he is and I believe, he’s told me many times, he’s happy to see where I am. We just respect each other in that space.
TUD: Where does Pooh fit in to all of this?
Phonte: That’s really a question you have to ask Pooh… That’s really all I can say…
TUD: So what’s the lesson learned from all of this?
9th: Things are not what they seem
Phonte: (laughs) N*gga…
9th: People are not who they say they are. I think in between not speaking for 4 years and all the beef is concerned, one thing I always knew about Phonte is I knew where he stood, and likewise. But the people in between, it’s just a grey area of…. And that’s one thing. The biggest thing is that I learned to talk, because I wasn’t a talker. I’d just be like “I don’t wanna talk about it…” And Phonte learned to listen. That’s the biggest thing we learned.
That first week we started talking, we talked that week on the phone and in person a total of about 20 hours. We’ve crossed a lot of the same people. We’ve seen a lot of the same people. A lot of people he’s encountered, I’ve never encountered, and vice versa. A lot of the same people we know…
Phonte: Saying one thing to him, and saying another to me.
9th: I swear every night we had a “What’s The Word On This N*gga?” meeting.
Phonte: (laughs) Right… right…
9th: We’d just name a person and it’d be like “yeah he’s good people…” or Tay would say “I mess with him” and I don’t, or vice versa…or it’d be “I don’t f*ck with that n*gga at all!” That “I Don’t F*ck With That N*gga At All” box got bigger and bigger!
Phonte: For me, it was the same. I learned to listen a lot. I learned the importance of keeping things private. Me doing the Vimeo video and going on Twitter and all that was not the smartest thing I could’ve done, but I see now how you can fix a problem in private as long as it stays private. But once it goes public, it has a snowball’s chance in hell of resolving itself. Luckily we were able to resolve it. That’s what I learned from it. I learned to communicate, and not be so reactionary. Everything someone says to you doesn’t warrant a response. Sometimes you gotta let that sh*t go.
Check out the first part of our interview with Phonte & 9th Wonder where Tigallo talks about his upcoming solo album, Charity Starts At Home.