Little Brother just can't seem to catch a break. Their debut album, The Listening (which I reviewed here), despite being deemed a classic by some, was commonly criticized for what people called "bland" production by 9th Wonder. Then, their sophomore release, The Minstrel Show, stirred up all kinds of controversy for the simple fact that the subject matter was intelligent. No; I'm serious.
For those of you who may not know the history, BET refused to air the music video of the album's lead single, "Lovin' It," because the channel thought the song was "too intelligent" and that it was essentially talking down to other forms of hip-hop, as the video did parody some of rap's subgenres.
Ultimately, The Minstrel Show suffered rather poor sales (not that it would have sold much even if the whole BET situation didn't happen anyway), but was still looked at by most as a better offering from the group than The Listening, and to this day, it is generally viewed as Little Brother's best work.
Unlike on Little Brother's debut, The Minstrel Show was not entirely produced by 9th Wonder, as Khrysis contributed one track.
1. Beautiful Morning
Outstanding way to open up the album. The production on "Beautiful Morning" is more energetic than anything on The Listening (with the exception of "The Getup"), and the track really does give off a vibe of something that you should bump as soon as you wake up. Both Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh both do their thing and cruise over the smooth 9th beat. The album opener is also one of the album's best.
2. The Becoming
This cut is very short, spanning one minute and fifty-two seconds, and Phonte is alone on it. 9th Wonder uses a solid sample consisting of some choppy guitar strums, and his trademark snare is ever-present. Decent cut.
3. Not Enough
Just listening to Darien Brockington's hook will make you think this is a traditional, run-of-the-mill love rap, but on "Not Enough," Little Brother is actually talking to the industry and saying no matter what they do, they cannot seem to garner enough respect in the hip-hop circuit, and BET's beef with them illustrates that notion to a tee. 9th's beat here is outstanding, and Darien Brockington does an admirable job on the hook. Great track.
Phonte adopts his Percy Miracles persona here and decides to go in R&B style, singing a hilarious, but at the same time, serious, song about how he caught his girl cheating on him. The best part is when Phonte says he looked in his girl's cell phone and "saw another man's digits." 9th Wonder's (he decides to go by the name of "Piano Reeves" for this track for whatever reason) production is pretty standard (although it does fit the mood), so it is Phonte's lines that make "Cheatin'" worth listening to.
5. Hiding Place
Elzhi makes a guest appearance on this, and he and both Little Brother members rip this 9th beat. This is probably the hardest you will ever see Little Brother go in terms of sounding downright aggressive on a record, and Big Pooh in particular shreds it. "Hiding Place" also contains what probably is one of the rawest 9th Wonder productions you will ever hear. Excellent song all-around.
6. Slow It Down
Like on "Not Enough," Darien Brockington is here for the hook, but Little Brother isn't trying to fool you twice; this really is a love rap, and a damn good one at that. 9th's instrumental is sick, both Phonte and Pooh do it classy, and Darien Brockington, who I really, really like, drops yet another fantastic chorus. We're only six songs in, and I'm already digging this more than The Listening (and I liked The Listening).
7. Say It Again
Actually, I wasn't really feeling this one. My interest waned as the track went on, and that was probably because of 9th Wonder's production; I just didn't like it.
8. Lovin' It
The Minstrel Show's single that caused all of that hubbub with BET. Joe Scudda, who I have always liked, drops by to drop a guest verse, and he fits in perfectly with Phonte and Big Pooh. 9th's beat is very laid-back and ridiculously relaxing.
9. All For You
Darien Brockington makes his third and final appearance on The Minstrel Show on "All For You," crooning yet another hook, but, once again, do not be fooled; this is not a love song. The concept is similar to "Away From Me" off of The Listening, where Big Pooh reflected about his poor relationship with his brother and Phonte talked about how he wanted a better relationship with his son. This time, though, Pooh raps about his damaged relationship with his father. Phonte also does temporarily, but then he realizes that maybe he simply misunderstood his dad and that he had a tougher life than he thought, as Phonte begins to see his father in himself. 9th's beat is pretty solid, although the fact that this track runs nearly five minutes long may make you sick of it after a while. That was the case for me, at least. Nevertheless, this was a good cut.
10. Watch Me
The Khrysis-produced joint. I'm pretty sure I've already stated on this blog that Khrysis is my second-favorite producer behind Hi-Tek, but in case I didn't, now you know. He lives up to my high standards for him on "Watch Me," throwing on a nice, smooth Michael Jackson sample consisting of light piano hits and some well-placed vocals, and Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh ride the beat fluidly. Also, DJ Jazzy Jeff does some scratching toward the end, and it really adds a nice touch. My favorite record off of The Minstrel Show.
11. Sincerely Yours
Rapper Big Pooh gets a solo track here, and I was very happy to see that, as he is my favorite Little Brother member. He does not disappoint, either, flawlessly flowing over a great, almost nostalgic beat by 9th Wonder (I particularly love that vocal sample on the hook). It doesn't get much better than this.
12. Still Lives Through
The hook is pretty poor, but 9th's beat is nice (I love that snare), and both Pooh and Phonte come through with solid performances. This isn't one of my favorite cuts on The Minstrel Show, but it's still decent enough.
13. We Got Now
My boy Chaundon makes an appearance here, and while I've heard better verses out of him, I loved these two lines: "Hate it or love it, who fuckin' wit our music? Yeah, y'all niggas is the shit when it comes to bowel movements." 9th's beat is merely average, though.
In terms of production, The Minstrel Show displays loads more variety than The Listening. What people have to remember, though, is that The Listening was recorded very early on in 9th Wonder's career, so he hadn't really experimented with too many things yet and was essentially still learning on the job. He demonstrates considerable growth on Little Brother's sophomore effort, making the album a much more enjoyable listen from start-to-finish for hip-hop fans.
Once again, do not misconstrue what I am saying; I did indeed enjoy The Listening, but as much as I liked it, it is one of those albums that is fairly difficult to listen to all the way through in one sitting, as there is not much variation in the instrumentals.
Also (and I'm serious about this), Darien Brockington's presence really made The Minstrel Show that much better. There were only two feature artists on The Listening: Median, whom I like, and Keisha Shontelle, whom I thought was a poor choice. This album contains much better guest appearances all around, as Elzhi, Joe Scudda, and Chaundon all join Darien Brockington to make for an outstanding lineup. I usually prefer not to hear too many guest verses, but Little Brother incorporates just enough on The Minstrel Show to improve the overall effort.
For all intents and purposes, The Minstrel Show is Little Brother's best album to date, and because it doesn't look like we're ever going to get another project from the group again (it appears that they have disbanded for good), that will probably remain the case forever. The production, the lyrics, the concepts, and the choice of feature artists was all a stroke of genius by Little Brother, and all of that led to this masterpiece.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
1. Watch Me
2. Beautiful Morning
3. Slow It Down
4. Sincerely Yours
5. Not Enough