Little Brother The Listening

Ask a hip-hop head to name artists from North Carolina and you're not likely to get many answers. You'll maybe hear the name of barely tolerable shirt waver Petey Pablo, or the names of artists of the past like Black Sheep and Yaggfu Front. But you can now add Little Brother to this list. This trio, featuring DJ/producer 9th Wonder and MCs Phonte and Big Pooh, have as their name suggests been raised on a steady diet of classic hip-hop and as it turns out, this is ample preparation for delivering an end-to-end tour de force in The Listening. Possessing a soulful boom-bap sound that betrays the particular influence of the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and Pete Rock, the invigorating chemistry, bliss-inducing vibes and seamless radio station-themed sequencing on display, helmed by sound provider 9th Wonder, is invigorating enough to rouse the most jaded and cynical hip-hop devotee. The laidback style of Phonte, who also lays down smooth vocals, and the rough and rugged approach of Big Pooh are favourably contrasting, and as proof of their cipher-tested lyricism, they even make the mundane day-to-day routines explored on "Speed" sound downright exciting. And therein lays the appeal: Little Brother comes across as regular guys who just so happen to love hip-hop. And after hearing this record, you'll love it (again) too. (ABB)