Little Brother

The Minstrel Show

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Few groups earn a major-label contract based on their producer's merits, but when Little Brother jumped to Atlantic for their second full album, The Minstrel Show, any cynic looking for a good reason would point to the increased profile of trackmaster 9th Wonder (Jay-Z, Destiny's Child). But it wasn't just 9th Wonder that made Little Brother's first album one of the best underground rap debuts of the new millennium; rappers Phonte and Big Pooh matched a smooth Southern drawl with up-North smarts. Like their influences in the Native Tongues family, the trio cast a clever eye over music and culture, sniffing out hypocrisy and greed, then dismissing them with sparkling satires. The Minstrel Show presents more of the same, expanding the palette to a host of hot topics: R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" series, which gets skewered by the spot-on "Cheatin"; exploitative urban TV stations (the album's main concept); and even the need for brand-name clothes ("5th and Fashion"). And any fans who feared that 9th Wonder's success would lead to a diluted or overly polished record have nothing to worry about; awash in '70s soul and mellow, slapping beats, his productions make the message tracks carry just as well as the humorous material.

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