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Little Brother reunites to record new album ‘May the Lord Watch’

After nine years, the hip-hop group reconnects to make new music

Rapper Phonte is not a fan of looking back.

The otherwise jovial emcee and member of the hip-hop group Little Brother, who recently reunited with rhyme partner Big Pooh for the group’s new album, May the Lord Watch, sours on any talk of a throwback song and dance. “I didn’t want us turning into that group where people say, ‘Little Brother, I used to love them when I was in college,’ ” Phonte said. “I’m not a fan of nostalgia.”

But this is par for the course for an act that has always taken the less predictable road. The college buddies met in 1998 at the historically black university North Carolina Central University. Five years later, Little Brother made its debut album The Listening, which included DJ/producer Patrick “9thWonder” Douthit.

In early 2007, 9thWonder departed amid news of infighting. After 9thWonder left, the future of the group was in doubt. Phonte and Big Pooh continued on as a duo with Little Brother, releasing their third studio album GetBack in 2007 and Leftback three years later. With 9thWonder no longer part of the equation, Phonte and Big Pooh are discovering that brotherhood conquers all.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What was your biggest fear after deciding to reunite after nine years?

Big Pooh: Would the chemistry be the same? Would it still sound like we are a group? There have been so many years since we made records together and during that time we were both consistent with our own music. But those fears were put to rest pretty quickly.

Phonte: I never had any doubt in my mind that me and Pooh would still be able to deliver at the top of our game, because we’ve been active since [the breakup]. It’s not like we stopped putting out Little Brother records. I just questioned whether the audience would really give a s—.

Both of you have become established solo acts. Did you find yourself needing to check your egos?

Big Pooh: We both understood that Little Brother was always bigger than both of us individually. At the same time, we had to relearn each other during this process. So, we made the conscious decision in the beginning that we were going to create this project together. We wrote and recorded everything together.

Were there any reservations with doing a reunion tour without 9thWonder?

Big Pooh: None. We just figured that from this point forward Little Brother, which has been a duo from 2007, will remain a duo.

Did you have to balance what old school Little Brother fans expect?

Phonte: We wanted to make an album that falls right in line with our previous work. You can put all our songs from The Minstrel Show to May the Lord Watch in one playlist and that s— is going to sound consistent.

Big Pooh: We have to meet the people where they are right now. And we have to talk about our lives as they are right now as both men and artists.

Phonte, younger fans on Twitter claim that you sound like Drake.

Phonte: That was just a troll Tweet that went viral. He was just being funny. But to the larger point, for our music to live on through artists like Drake, J. Cole, and Kendrick [Lamar], that’s crazy. People will try to put their expectations and issues onto you. People will say, man, that dude stole your style. You need to call him out.

That stan culture is real.

Phonte: Right! I just have to tell people constantly, look, I don’t want to be these n—-s. I’m good being me.

Recording May the Lord Watch was the most time you two spent together as friends.

Big Pooh: I found out that ‘Te plays way more video games than I could have ever imagined. I would have never imagined that he was a gamer and about that life.

So, has May the Lord Watch met your expectations?

Big Pooh: I didn’t think we were going to make a bad album. But every track that we completed it became, bruh, I don’t think we need any features.

Phonte: I can honestly say that this is our best work. I can’t ever argue favorites with anybody. But as someone who knows what work went into it this record … yeah, this is our best.

Keith "Murph" Murphy is a senior editor at VIBE Magazine and frequent contributor at Billboard, AOL, and CBS Local. The veteran journalist has appeared on CNN, FOX News and A&E Biography and is also the author of the men’s lifestyle book "Manifest XO."