(13) Album Review -- Little Brother "Leftback"



Next Tuesday is the scheduled release of NC duo Little Brother's final-as-a-duo album Leftback, and I am not sure how I felt about that fact when I read it on Okayplayer a few months ago, all I know is that it was not a good feeling.
That being said, and knowing how these things normally transpire, about as soon as I heard the lead single, I kept a keen eye on my RSS feeds for the day the entire album leaked which I would then use as my front-loaded and usually preconceived feeling as to whether or not I would be making a retail purchase at my local FYE for $9.99 or less for single-disc albums (c'mon, man... somebody cut me a check!)...
I say that to say this:
I am a fan of Little Brother and they have not yet dropped a retail release that I found anything less than enjoyable enough to not be pissed that the player in my car is being a bitch right now after 3 years on the playback of random MP3 discs, indicating that it is likely near life and close to replacement before my birthday. Otherwise this review would be already written and finished for the most part... Instead, I need to get home to the computer to listen to it, or load it onto the iPod before moving forward.

but I digress...

I say that to say that, based upon past performances, I would go to amazon right now and pre-order the album in good faith, at best trusting that their past product makes this one worth it and/or at worst offering this one as their one chance with me to catch a brick and make me listen to EVERYTHING they release, or would from here on in if they weren't going their separate ways after this one.
[Phlip note - The Roots and Common have both spoiled their one chances... Everything is to be listened to BEFORE money is laid out from now on]

That being said, they've not spoiled the one fuckup I am somehow benevolent enough to allow my entertainers, regardless of what I may find myself having to say over the course of the next 11 tracks, 2 remixes and one leaked-because-it-couldn't-be-included 13 songs. The last-Thursday download will not spoil my intent to retail purchase this album... Individual results may vary.

01. Curtain Call
YES!!!
Once upon a time, people would start an album with no intro and would make RIGHT with the lead single. I liked this song when I heard it, though it does come off a bit lead single-ish. Hey, when you're in the arena of selling records, even if it is not likely based on past performances that there won't be a ton of units moved, you go right the fuck in, I guess.
This beat is cool, the samples used give me the feeling that 9th Wonder is missed, if not influencing. Not too busy, even with many elements. The lyrics match it well too.
Not a bad start...

02. Table For Two f. Jozeemo & Yahzarah
Silly song intro, but funny. It is not a skit, just coming into the song. The beat puts me in the mind of Life of the Party. Let the record show, however, that is a good thing.
The hook leaves a bit to be desired in presentation, I am blaming that more on presentation than writing. Jozeemo gets a middle verse, so that BETTER mean that Phonte is about to tear this bitch off to close... Just sayin'.
Man, this hook needs to be on Yahzarah's album.
Phonte plays with the verse. It is not bad, and is filled with punchlines. I like it, and it fits well as he develops into and through it, worthy of being last on this song. That is not saying a lot though, I really expected more, and the hook takes away from it largely.

03. Tigallo For Dolo
Khrysis is doing a very effective job of making us forget that 9th Wonder is not coming through that door over there.
This song sees the business end of the group goes at it alone, as the song title suggests. The beginning of the first verse puts me in the mind of Big Daddy Kane, and that is not a bad thing at all.
"Battle 'Te, that's the dumbest shit I ever heard/since, ex hoes claimin' they born-again virgins"
^^^ Line of the album so far... I am enjoying the presentation on the whole so far.
This is, as is noted on the song by Phonte himself, reminds me of BACK THEN Little Brother material.
Sadly, Pooh is not missed in this song.

04. Revenge f. Truck North & Median
Damn, another Khrysis beat?
Opens with no intro bars, I like that. Truck North comes over from The Roots' stable to play this time, and like how he spits his verse, very much I do, word to Yoda.
James Brown sample? Nice...
Pooh gets another middle verse, I see... I guess he should be happy to be on the song with 3 lyricists better than himself. I guess it would be a bit like what I could expect if I were on a song with him, no?
[Phlip note - that was kinda cold... Damn]
Median turns in a Median verse, which is nothing bad, then--...
OOH!!! 4 bars, then cribbed and trading bars with Phonte. This song SHOULD be just these two if they're gonna do that.
A good song turned great at the end.

05. So Cold f. Chaundon
[Phlip note - Let the record show that as I type this, this is the song on the album that most has my attention so far, but I'm a bit of a Stan for Chaundon]
Produced by Kid Karnov, and I want Khrysis back... Intro bars is Percy Miracles Phonte singing, followed by a decent verse from Pooh.
Phonte on the hook, which makes perfect sense following a grammy nomination singing and all. Phonte rhymes the second verse, which means I am expecting to be floored on the last verse. As I type this listening in live action, I am moreso thinking that. This beat is growing on me too, it fits the flows employed in this song. I apologize to Kid Karnov, whomever that may be.
Okay, Chaundon turns in a Chaundon verse, arrogant and funny as ever. I think it may have been prejudgment about this song speaking down on the beat, this was actually a good song.
4 of 5 songs worth listening to so far, not bad.

06. Second Chances f. Bilal & Darien Brockington
Aren't Bilal and D-Brock the same person?!!?
[Phlip note - no, they aren't, I'm just joking]
God, I hate what "love rap" has become... That is one thing that 80s/90s rap did that the current crop will NEVER be able to do. This shit is kinda sappy already.
NEO SOUL BREAK!!!
The lyrics are okay, I guess. Don't get me wrong. I am just not terribly impressed with this one. Question, since Phonte is singing background on this one with Bilal and D-Brock, does this technically mean that this song is Little Brother featuring Bilal, Darien Brockington and Phonte? This is my blog, and they're just talking over this song, R&B style, so I need something to do until the next song starts.

07. Go Off Go On
Welcome back, Khrysis!
Okay, where was THIS Big Pooh earlier in the album? I would have SURELY had less-mean words for him.
[Phlip note - the bells in Khrisis' beat has the dogs going nuts, they think it is the doorbell]
Was that a hook, or did Phonte just go into his verse? Put pin in that, I will be back to it...
Wait, that was the hook, he took a couple bars off and comes with a lazy-for-him verse, which is still quite a better than many we have to choose from, considering this is the only hip hop my tastes have allowed me to download this week.

08. What We Are f. Quiana
Now we have a guest and (another) producer I have never heard of.
This beat is very nice, though.
Shit, is this another R&B/Love Rap song? Wait, this sounds like a breakup love song. I am not a fan of her voice, even with the voice correction employed.
Okay, the synth (not the sample, blink and you'll miss it) is MAKING this beat. Pooh's spitting is not half bad, but again, the hook is kinda taking from it, making what could be a pretty damned good song, on a DAMN good beat, only passable at best.
Wait, was Phonte in this song?
[Phlip note - no]

09. After The Party f. Carlitta Durand (S1 & Caleb’s Who Shot JR Ewing Remix)
Okay, "subsequent album remix features" exist under a certain set of rules with me... If you need to revive a song from your last album for your current in the form of a remix... You had DAMN well better make it worth the price of admission, no excuses no exceptions. Not even the exception that might be created by the soft spot I happen to have for Carlitta Durand.
No need to discuss the lyrics, as we've been listening to them for a couple years now...
This beat has a piano that doesn't really do it for me, but a swingy and jazzy beat when we finally get to it.
This beat is better than the original, as the beat is HUGE, as it should be when it comes appended to a song that we have already heard. On the whole, I like this, but is not so exceptional that I can excuse the fact that I already know every word of the song -- adlibs, intros, outros and such -- and have for like 2 years now.
Not a full-on strike, though... They could have done worse, they already have twice, with one possible, so far.

10. Two Step Blues f. Darien Brockington (Zo’s Purple Suit With The Matching Gators Remix)
Another remix?
See the lead-in paragraph to the last song.
Okay, I LIKE Zo! and his work, a lot. This is jazzy as fuck, whereas the initial version of this song was REALLY busy which drew attention away from the song itself, once even drowning out the bridge.
This one is better than the original and better application of what I earned against in the last song.
Thumbs up.

11. Get Enough pt.2 f. Khrysis
I don't remember pt. 1 of this song, so I will excuse that this is pt. 2.
Khrysis is featured, so naturally an assumption of who made the beat is more an inference than an assumption.
Another beat reminding me of Life of the Party. Judging by the lyrics, this had to have come from around the same time.
Well, no, he just mentioned Twitter... I am so confused.
Shit, that is what Khrysis sounds like?
Fuck, I have met and conversed with the dude in person a few times, and I would not have EVER imagined his rapping voice sounded like that. I am actually impressed, here.
Why is Pooh rapping last in this song?
Wait, I take that back, this isn't bad after all, same applies to the song in general.

12. Before The Night Is Over
J. Bizness... Another producer I have never heard of.
I am not mad at this one, though... I know this sample, but damn if I can name it right off the top of my head, I will have to wade through 180 gigs of music to find that tonight. Phonte featuring Percy Miracles Phonte again... Must be cool to be able to do that.
Second verse is a hybrid of I Need Love LL and Blackthought, which MIGHT seem like an odd combination before you realize what is happening.
Pooh sounds a bit too excited for a song that was as mellow as this one was just 68 seconds ago.

13. 24 f. Torae
Krs-ONE sample...
Hmm... Torae jumps right in with no intro bars. Again, I like that about a song.
Khrysis' beat is fucking ENORMOUS too (no homeaux).
This song has a concept, and you REALLY understand how to write and listen to a song (and listen to what is said at least once) it is very easy to grasp.
Me? I like songs with concepts and I was put into mind of what to be looking for quickly enough to restart the song during the first verse.
In fact, if you would rather listen to Torae or Phonte's verse twice and skip Pooh's, I would not call you any bad names. I am not saying it is bad, I am just saying that it was not good enough to be the last in the song. Great in that middle spot, but the last verse is supposed to make you yeall "OOOOOHHH!!!!" and hit the back button on your HP multimedia keyboard.
[Phlip note - what, everyone doesn't have one of those? 'da fuck?!!?]

14.* Star -
I neglected to try listening to this when it was initially leaked a couple weeks ago because I was fully ensconced in a ton of bullshit and didn't have time for music that could not be listened to on my way to and from work...
Oh and I fucking refuse to sign up for Twitter.
As it were, I have added this file to the folder and ID3'd it as track 14, so as to maintain order on the album and in my library on the computer/iPod... Now I can listen to it.
[Phlip note - if you cannot find this song, even if you have found the album, then your Google is broken]
Oh God... This beat is fucking BANANAS!
It dictates that Pooh spits it as lazily as he is spitting right now, and these samples will haunt me all fucking weekend (somehow that is a good thing). Phonte spits some cool shit too. Man, I LIKE this shit right here. It makes my heart hurt that not only is 9th Wonder not coming back to this Little Brother in addition to Pooh and Phonte pursuing separate career paths.
This is not "bonus material" music, this could replace any one of three songs on the album and my heart would not be broken...


At the end of this all, I did not dislike this album... I will place it in a slot just below Getback in their releases, which is not a bad place to be, I promise. Unfortunately, that is also to say that this, as their last album, places it in the same place in the quality of their releases.
One might think that I dislike Pooh as a rapper, but that really could not be further from the truth honestly. I don't like him as much as Phonte, or any of the guests on the album who rapped rather than sang, but that is neither here nor there.
That being said, I will be buying this album, and given that I already have downloaded it and the song that WOULD be the iTunes bonus track, will likely not be taking it out of the plastic when I do. It was not so egregiously bad that I would hold back on buying any subsequent releases considering the pending split, provided it sticks...
However
I could understand if any of you were to listen and not like it enough to buy it. Again this is a good, and possibly a very good album, but it is not great and surely is not classic. That coming from a group with one classic and one near-classic (in my opinion) album in their catalog.
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