Little Brother: Nothing Is What It Seems

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Flying through London en-route to performing at the Montreaux Jazz Festival, Little Brother are performing in London on Wednesday night at the Jazz Cafe. I get on the phone to Big Pooh who, sounding relaxed, talks to me about the status of Little Brother, why they really split with 9th Wonder – and the fickle nature of the music industry…

What’s the situation with Little Brother?

“We’re just not really making music. Little Brother albums, I’ll say at this time. Kinda focusing on our individual solo careers – we’ve both got things that we wanna do. We haven’t really taken the time to express ourselves individually in a while so we’re just taking the time to explore other musical avenues that we can’t necessarily do with Little Brother. But we’re still doing shows together.”

When you guys split with 9th Wonder you said in interviews that part of the reason was time to focus working without him and on your own stuff. In retrospect, has it panned out how you wanted it to when you made that decision?

“That was part of the reason but there were other reasons for the split. I think he’s definitely been able to focus on a lot of things that he wanted to accomplish and we still made the Get Back album and toured off that album and now it’s just come to the point in time where we wanna take a break from Little Brother music and focus on some individual things.”

What were the other reasons?

“Some of the reasons…We got a DVD coming out where myself and Phonte talk about the split for the first time in depth. Hopefully at the end of the Fall. We’re putting the EP out called Left Back and to accompany that EP we have the DVD as well. But in brief summary, it just came a point in time where we weren’t operating as a three-man group, we were operating as a two-man group but there were three men attached to the group. When that starts to happen it starts to change the dynamics of what’s going on. And that had been going on a long time behind the scenes but when we finally decided to make it official to the public it had already been going on for like a year or more. But we just was trying to hold it together. It just got to the point where we couldn’t do it anymore.”

The reunion rumours that floated around a few months ago – was there any truth in them?

“Nah, I think that was just a fan that wanted it. Every day at least one time a day a fan hits one of us on Twitter or Facebook or MySpace or whatever, and even if they see us, they ask for us to do a record together. And I doubt as long as any of us are music, I doubt that will ever stop… But I think a fan just took that to a next level and decided to create his own rumour. Play out the dream that he might have dreamt last night. But there was no truth to any of that.”

Did you and 9th talk about the rumour?

“No, not at all. Not at all.”

That’s not something you’d consider revisiting?

“Not at all.”

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You’ve been in the industry for eight years. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt about working in the industry?

“Nothing is what it seems. The one thing I definitely learned and I learn every day is you can’t… it’s kinda hard to take things at face value in the industry and you definitely have to be very very conscious of that when you make decisions or you expect certain things. You have to remind yourself that until something actually happens, it isn’t happening. That’s what I have to tell myself every day. Until it actually happens, it’s never happening. I think that’s the main lesson that I definitely had to learn and sometimes learn the hard way in this industry.

“Because it’s a business at the end of the day and making music is only 5% of what this business actually is. A lot of youngsters don’t realise that until they’re knee deep in the business and it can take away all your creative juices, all your creative flow. And you wonder why. That’s because of the business part of it, because that’s all there really is.”

Did that situation personally affect you? Did you experience that?

“I think it affected me for a part of time. Just trying to learn how to deal with it and how to navigate around it and once I did… to this day, I know how to separate the two, I know how to take care of my business portion but not get so engulfed and trapped into that that I let it take away from me creatively.”

Were you happy with the response and results of your solo album earlier this year?

“Very happy with the response. The results, never happy with the results. My whole goal at this point it just to keep putting out music and keep putting out visions and hope the people respond well to them. One day I hope that I’ll do the kind of numbers that will satisfy me but it is what it is. My buzz isn’t to the point that I would love it to be, so expecting to do any type of numbers is kind of difficult.

“Plus over here we kinda lost a lot of the modern pop retailers. We only got like one retailer for CDs now, and that’s Best Buy. And iTunes. That kinda affected a lot of artists such as myself as well because now you have to fight for shelf space in one store. Whereas five years ago you had a lot of modern pop stores. I realise the average fear of what I’m dealing with and just take it day by day.”

Am I right in saying you’re seriously into sports?

“You definitely right about that. I’m a sports fanatic. Just growing up, I think that’s all I really did. My mother liked music a little bit but she wasn’t the type to always have music playing so I just turned to sports. Since I was a little kid growing up, that’s just been my thing. I love football, I love basketball, I had a friend who, him and his father ended up taking me to baseball games; and I started to like that more and more. I even played baseball for like a year when I was younger. Over time just being competitive in nature growing to love almost anything that was competitive. And sport was a major thing with the competition so I grew to love it more and more as I grew. It was kind of like my escape. I can’t play sport professionally, so that’s my escape now. When I want to escape from what’s going on in my life, what’s going on in my day, what’s going on in my work – I can always turn on sport and that has nothing to do with that. It’s just competition. No matter the politics that’s going on behind-the-scenes, all I see is the competition. So it just intensifies it more. Before I started going into the music business.”

Has music lost it’s ability to transport you away from life?

“For a lot of people music is a form of escapism. Music is supposed to be emotional, it’s supposed to evoke some type of emotion in a person when they hear it, whether that’s good or makes you remember something that happened in your life. It takes you back to that experience. But at some point music’s supposed to take you away or feel good, you know people make feel-good music. It did that for me at one point, and it still does that for me from time to time. But because I make music, I don’t listen to a lot of music anymore – because I make it – and it became my job to a point. So once something becomes your job it kind of takes, not all of it, but it takes a little bit of that love away that you used to have for it when you were just a fan. And with sports I’m just a fan. I can’t play it. I can play it re-recreationally, but I can’t play it professionally therefore I still have al that love that I had when I was younger, I still have it if not a lot more, for sports as opposed to music.”

Which performers have influenced your stage presence?

“Definitely watching old James Brown clips, old Michael Jackson clips… not that we be up there dancing, doing the moonwalk or anything like that. Just real performers. If I pay to go to a show I wanna see a performance, I don’t wanna see you stand in one spot and rap over your actual track and then leave. I don’t wanna see that, that’s not a performance. We infuse comedy and music and try not to do it as if you hear it on record. A lot of crowd participation, just try to connect with the audience. All of the artists that are master performers, we try to borrow a little bit from what they do and hopefully the crowd appreciate the professionalism we put into the show, the showmanship you put into the show.”

Do you remember the moment you found out Michael Jackson died?

“Hell yeah. I was in the movie theatre watching Transformers 2. My homeboy Montage1 out in LA, he hit me up, he text me. Normally I don’t really look at my phone when I’m in the movie theatre but something told me look at it and I looked at my phone. It was very short, it just said ‘MJ died.’ Then he sent me another text that said ‘Play some MJ for Michael Jackson tonight when you get home.’ I hardly remember whatever else was going on in the movie theatre from that point in; I think we were halfway through. It was a wrap after that. I will always remember where I was when I heard that.

“We all grew up on Michael. I don’t care what walk of life you’re from, we all grew up on Michael. The one thing I always say, and I always believed, is Michael Jackson showed us all how to be a star, especially those of us in the music industry. But he always shined the brightest. Even if you don’t make music, in his eyes we are all stars but he was always the brightest star. You didn’t really, even me for instance, I didn’t realise how much his music really means to me until he was gone. Then I started playing all his jams that I love and I ended up sitting in my office playing Michael Jackson’s music for damn near half the day – and the only reason why I stopped is because I had some things to do. But you don’t realise how much he really touched you until he’s not here, now, for you to recognise how much he really touched you. It’s tough, man. It’s tough. We all grew up on him.”

Little Brother perform at London’s Jazz Cafe on July 1st.