By Kyley Jones | March 26, 2023

Touring to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut album, The Listening, Little Brother brought hip-hop heads of all ages together for their long-awaited show at Brooklyn Bowl. Kooley High and Brooklyn-native, Skyzoo, set the vibes for the night with their energetic opening performances. Between openers, DJ Mick got the crowd reminiscing about some of the best tracks that hip-hop has to offer. 

Phonte and Big Pooh, collectively known as Little Brother, are hip-hop veterans whose work has inspired the likes of Drake and Kendrick Lamar. The duo (originally a trio that included rapper/producer 9th Wonder) hails from Durham, North Carolina. The group made their mark on the hip-hop scene in the early 2000s, with music that strayed outside the lines of typical southern rap. Phonte’s ability to mingle buttery vocals with witty rap bars has been the blueprint for many of the melodic rappers that grace the game today. The group was one of the first to gain career-propelling success off of the internet, namely QuestLove’s Okayplayer message board. Though not at all unheard of in today’s day and age, navigating virality was largely uncharted territory for rap groups like Little Brother at that time. 

In the 20 years since the release of their critically acclaimed debut album, the rap duo has masterfully grown from young twenty-somethings to prominent figures in the industry. As they took to the stage, the crowd gave Phonte and Big Pooh a warm welcome to their sold out show. They took us on a journey through their discography, and fans rejoiced in the sweet sounds of the music while celebrating Little Brother’s first concert in New York City in 10 years. 

The room filled with hip-hop nostalgia when they opened the show with “Hiding Place,” the sixth track from their sophomore album, The Minstrel Show. The album is playful and somewhat satirical in nature. It pokes fun at the state of hip-hop at the time of its release. Though not commercially successful, the album manages to tell a precise story from start to finish, and showcases both emcees’ ability to deliver clever rhymes. Phonte and Big Pooh went back and forth as they expertly traded verses to “Hiding Place.”

Between songs, the duo told stories from their 20-year long career and expressed their deep appreciation towards the fans who have stuck with them since the early days. They spoke about aging gracefully within hip-hop, and laid down the rules of “grown man rap time” to their audience of eager listeners. “We do things a little differently at 44. When you come to a Little Brother show, we operate on grown man rap time. Grown man rap time operates under a very simple principle. You come to the show, we spit these raps, and you take your ass home.” The emcees’ good-natured senses of humor made several appearances throughout the show as they segued between hits. 

As the night continued, Little Brother performed songs such as “Not Enough,” “The Way You Do It,” and “Lovin’ It.” They gave a comical tribute to Percy Miracles, Phonte’s alter-ego, and descended into an acapella version of “Cheatin” that had the audience shouting the lyrics right back to them. In some of the final moments of the show, the crowd chanted, “LB, LB, LB,” and held their fingers in the shape of an ‘L’ to the sky. At the end of the night, Little Brother aptly closed the show with “Life of the Party.”

This show was a perfect testament to the timelessness of Little Brother’s discography. Though much of their work was written in response to specific happenings of the early 2000s, it’s clear that the stories they were telling then are still relatable to audiences today. Even 20 years later, fans of all ages are able to find joy in Little Brother’s storytelling. As promised, the audience abided by the rappers’ rules for “grown-man rap time,”  and took their asses home when the metaphorical curtain came to a close. It was a joy to witness two of hip-hop’s most underrated players, Phonte and Big Pooh, bathe in the love that the audience radiated throughout their performance at Brooklyn Bowl. We hope to see Little Brother bring this same energy to NYC’s hip-hop community again soon.

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📸: shot by Levi Barrie

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