Little Brother is done. LeftBack is their last album. In all honesty, it's not like we haven't seen this coming. Once 9th Wonder left the group, they lost a big part of their marketability and chemistry. GetBack was a great album in its own right, but it just wasn't the same group took underground hip hop by storm with every album and mixtape. They lost a lot of the chemistry that made them so successful in the first place. LeftBack has exactly the same problem: Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh are as good as ever, but their music just isn't that unique anymore.
"Good beats, good rhymes, what more do ya'll want?" Phonte wrote that back in 2007, and it's just as true today - Little Brother cranks out quality music, and there's not much to complain about. Once the beat starts, it's the same formula - Phonte spits some of the best, most clever verses in hip hop, and Big Pooh supports with a louder, blunter style. And as always, it works great.
The beats part of the equation is more of a mixed bag. There are three types of beats here: cheap 9th Wonder knockoffs, R&B wannabe cuts, and the greatness of "24" (more on that later). After opening on a terrible note in "Curtain Call," the production is solid, but completely unextraordinary. The first half of the album is sounds like it was left off The Minstrel Show, and the second half's R&B cuts are both basic and unexciting. They function just well enough to stay out of the way, which is OK when the rappers are this good, but not good enough to make great music.
"24" is the one exception. Khrysis drops a fast, drum pounding beat that sounds like he pulled it straight from 1993. That's a compliment - it's boom bap at it's finest, and that's not even the highlight. Torae joins in the fun, and all three of them are on fire. Phonte takes the cake with his verse (spit a couple of verse, make niggas get up like, "what the fuck is my purpose"?), but they're all at their best. It's a throwback to when Little Brother was a hungrier, edgier group.
The rest of LeftBack sees Phonte getting by on sheer talent. He's easily one of the most clever rappers ever ("If you can't feel this, you sniffin' that Lohan, I'm smokin' that Winehouse"), but he seems more world-weary here than ever. On his solo cut, "Tigallo for Dolo," Phonte raps that he doesn't listen to rap anymore, misses his old rapping style, and doesn't want to keep doing this for much longer. It's a sobering track, to be sure, but LeftBack is a sobering album.
On the other hand, Rapper Big Pooh has one of his best performances. He's always been the whipping boy for Little Brother fans, but if he wasn't rapping next to somebody as loquacious as Phonte, he wouldn't look as bad. With Phonte turning in an underwhelming performance, Pooh shines more than ever. He actually its better with the dry, thumping production in LeftBack, and it shows in his rhymes and cadence, which are both as tight as they've ever been. He's gotten better with every release, and it's fun to see him really hit his stride here.
LeftBack wouldn't be a disappointment if it weren't their last album. But for a group as good as Little Brother, it's disappointing to see them disappear with a relatve wimper. GetBack was one of their best albums, but LeftBack just sounds like tracks that got left off their other albums. It even has two remixes of their old sounds that are basically word-for-word remakes. It's a solid album, but nowhere near as good as it should be.
Music: 12/20 Lyrics: 12/15 Creativity: 5/10
Overall: 3.1 out of 5
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