Part of the new-millennium resurgence of alternative rap, Little Brother’s inspirations were atypical for Southern hip-hop: classic Native Tongues outfits like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, as well as more recent torch-bearers like the Roots and Black Star. MCs Phonte (born Phonte Coleman) and Big Pooh (born Thomas Jones) swapped rhymes with an easy chemistry, but the group’s real focal point was DJ/producer 9th Wonder (born Pat Douthit), an old-school sampling technician who quickly established himself as a worthy heir to production wizards like DJ Premier and Pete Rock.
Little Brother formed at North Carolina Central University, located in Durham. All three members had known each other since 1998, when they performed in a local hip-hop outfit called the Organization; after its dissolution in 2000, they spearheaded a 12-member crew dubbed the Justus League. The trio worked together off and on in varying combinations, until they officially teamed up as Little Brother in August 2001, adopting the name as a humble nod to their influences.
Their first recording together was “Speed,” a playful, down-to-earth look at the pressures of holding a day job while trying to make it in the music business; it set the tone for much of their early material. Over the next few months, they developed enough of a repertoire to start performing live around the area, and quickly earned a following. When the group made its music available for download on the Internet, a substantial buzz built far outside of North Carolina, and it eventually earned them a deal with the Oakland-based ABB Records in 2002. In early 2003, Little Brother released its full-length debut, The Listening, which won widespread critical praise that focused especially on 9th Wonder’s production.
The buzz helped him earn a raft of high-profile outside gigs, including tracks on a pair of multi-platinum releases: The Black Album by Jay-Z and Destiny Fulfilled by Destiny’s Child. Little Brother leapt to a major label (along with ABB) in 2005 for The Minstrel Show. In January 2007, as the group was finishing up their next release, Getback, it was announced that Little Brother had left Atlantic and that 9th Wonder had amicably left Little Brother.
Source: Steve Huey, All Music Guide