Okay; so The Chittlin Circuit 1.5 is really more of a mixtape than an album, but nevertheless, it has LP-like length and I just got through listening to it, so therefore, I am choosing to review it.
Generally, there is no in between for Little Brother; you either absolutely love them, or you find them incredibly boring (a lot of people simply do not like 9th Wonder's beats). While their debut album, The Listening (released in 2003), may have had some dull points, let's not forget that that was the very beginning of 9th's career, and, subsequently, many of his beats sounded amateurish and/or redundant because of it.
By the time The Chittlin Circuit 1.5 was dropped in 2005, 9th Wonder had released his first solo album, The Dream Merchant, Vol. 1. As you can guess, his production variety had improved vastly since The Listening, leading one to have high hopes for this Little Brother mixtape.
No one ever questioned the rapping ability of Rapper Big Pooh or Phonte (the two MCs of Little Brother); the problem many people had was being able to listen to an entire Little Brother album without falling asleep. Hopefully for all parties involved, Little Brother could break that pattern with The Chittlin Circuit 1.5. TRACK-BY-TRACK
What a start. "War" may very well be the best track 9th Wonder has ever produced, using a sample of Marvin Gaye's "Anna's Song." It is a very upbeat record that both rappers kill, but Big Pooh (who is easily the better rapper of the two, in my opinion) is the one who really shines: "I got the, heart of a lion, eye of the tiger, 20/20 vision watchin' shit transpire, non-perishable my records don't expire, I'm that blue flame if we're speakin' on fires." Sick. Every Little Brother fan (or hip-hop fan in general) should have "War" in their catalog, as it is the best song the group has ever put out; bar none.
2. Third Party
I didn't like this song the first time I heard it, but it quickly grew on me. Khrysis' beat is pretty awesome, and you know what the best part is? He used a sample from Sesame Street. That's right; effing Sesame Street.
3. The Honorable
"The Honorable" is pretty straightforward, sounding like your prototypical Little Brother song. That's not to say it's terrible, but it isn't very entertaining, to say the least. Thankfully, Chaundon stops by to drop a verse, highlighted by these two lines: "If my name's in your mouth, every time the wind blows, I toss your Microsoft ass out of ninety-eight windows."
4. On The Way
Now this is pretty good. It's no "War," but how many songs are? While the beat is very simple, it is catchy, and it suits Phonte and Pooh perfectly. The snare drum is the best part of this record; it's almost hypnotizing. Phonte drops some great lines, too: "The honorable, least benevolent, it's 'Te spitting game like a ref with a speech impediment, whether they radical screamin' 'impeach the president,' or a senator caught in Middle East embezzlement, I never ease the elegance, Phonte - he's the delegate."
5. Nobody Like Me
This one is alright. It's not great, and it's not bad. I really don't have much else to say other than the fact that it sounds like it belongs on The Listening.
6. What You Do
This is one of the stronger tracks on The Chittlin Circuit 1.5. The beat is incredibly smooth and Pooh rips it: "In the mind of this nigga brainstorming, he gotta get her back, somebody gonna take the rap, so he kept putting bait in the trap until the snake bit." He also kills his part of the hook, rapping: "You better watch what you say and what you do, 'cause you never really know who got they eyes on you, they be plotting, scheming, eyeing, scoping, waiting for the day they get you out in the open."
7. The Yo-Yo (Remix)
That brings us to the first of a three-part series of remixed tracks from The Listening. It's hard to say whether this version of "The Yo-Yo" or the original is better, but either way, I really like both. The beat here is very smooth and relaxing, much like its predecessor.
8. Nighttime Maneuvers (Remix)
In this case, the original is definitely the stronger of the two songs. I thought "Nighttime Maneuvers" was one of the best tracks off of The Listening, so remixing here is just an injustice.
9. The Way You Do It (Remix)
Why Little Brother decided to take three old tracks and remix them right smack dab in the middle of The Chittlin Circuit 1.5 is a story for another day, but even with that said, the remix to "The Way You Do It" is very, very effective and is one of the best songs on this mixtape. I mean seriously; what a beat.
"Smoothness" and 9th Wonder are seemingly inseparable. "Altitudes" just affirms that notion, as the beat is extremely steady and grounded. Pooh puts down some good lines over it, too, including: "Who ready for a trip where the sky's the limit? These days nobody slide, they rely on gimmicks."
11. Welcome To Durham
The beat on "Welcome To Durham" is fantastic, so fantastic that Big Daddy Kane decides to hop on and drop a verse (I never thought I'd see the day that BDK collaborated with LB, but hey, who's complaining?). I'm sure you can guess by the title what the song is about, and if not, then you might want to brush up on your geography.
Chaundon, who seamlessly fits in with Little Brother, makes his second appearance on the mixtape on this Khrysis-produced track. He does a fine job, as usual. "Starvation" isn't spectacular, but it's definitely a solid cut.
13. Flash and Flare
L.E.G.A.C.Y., another member of The Justus League collective, drops in to rap a verse over a very nice beat by 9th Wonder. Horns blare throughout the track and constant thunderous hats are present, as well. The "ohs" in the background tend to become irritating after a while, but that one little hiccup doesn't take too much away from this record, which is pretty good.
14. Take It There
This track really grew on me after a couple of listens. The beat may seem dull when it first starts out, but fret not, as it evolves into a real head-nodder. I also really love the hook here. This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite records off of The Chittlin Circuit 1.5. Honestly, I have not found too many weak points on this mixtape thus far.
15. Ladies' Jam
Jay-Z's boy Young Guru produces the beat here, and he does a heck of a job. "Ladies' Jam" is pretty similar in concept to "Groupie Pt. 2" off of The Listening, but I like this track a bit better for the simple fact that it actually has some length to it. "Groupie Pt. 2," while very good, consisted of way too much talking instead of rapping toward the end of the track.
16. Doin' Me
This is the third and final Khrysis joint on the mixtape, and it's the best of the bunch. The beat is very fluid and complements Little Brother perfectly. A rapper named Supasition also flows effortlessly over the production. I wouldn't say it's one of my favorite tracks off of The Chittlin Circuit 1.5, but it's still pretty good.
17. The Beginning
That brings us to The Chittlin Circuit 1.5's finale, a song naturally named "The Beginning." It is Illmind, however, who earns the final production on the mixtape, and he comes through with one of the better beats on it. A female singer named Yahzarah sings the hook, a hook which seems fairly conspicuous on this record. That said, "The Beginning" is a very nice cut.
If you're going to take anything away from The Chittlin Circuit 1.5, it's that, at the very least, 9th Wonder had clearly grown and matured as a producer by this point. You still had some naysayers who said (and still do say) that he used too many of the same drums and too many similar-sounding samples, but in my opinion, 9th's production on this mixtape remains steady and nearly flawless throughout.
Once again, Rapper Big Pooh and Phonte prove that they are more than comfortable on the mic, tirelessly spitting great metaphors and punchlines over a bunch of silky and soulful productions by The Justus League (and the one by Young Guru). Three months later, Little Brother would release their second full-length album, The Minstrel Show, regarded by many (including myself) to be the best album Little Brother has ever put out.
Judging by the way most people felt about The Listening, seeing a 17-track mixtape produced predominantly by 9th Wonder would probably look like a horse tranquilizer at first glance, but that turns out to be quite the contrary after delving into it, as it is 9th's crafty production that really carries The Chittlin Circuit 1.5. I will admit that I was a bit disappointed that at no point during the mixtape did any song even begin to approach the sickness of "War," but hey; that happens sometimes.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
2. The Way You Do It (Remix)
3. Welcome To Durham
4. On The Way
5. Ladies' Jam