Little Brother's third album, Getback, opens with a typically lush beat that combines ecstatic strings and glistening piano, before a jarring burst of static ushers in a much harder groove and an incendiary Big Pooh lyric that suggests the plus-sized MC has traded in his Pete Rock albums for classic Public Enemy. It's a concise way of conveying that the vibe has changed, even though the group's first CD without longtime producer 9th Wonder largely sticks with the group's usual hyper-soul sound. The Golden Age/Native Tongues nostalgia that permeated the group's debut, The Listening, is long gone: Rappers Phonte Coleman and Big Pooh are too concerned with surviving the uncertain present to bask in the glory of the past.
Lyrically, Coleman continues to elevate cynicism to hard-won wisdom. His tough love for a hip-hop world that never stops breaking his heart can look an awful lot like hate, as when he derides the lifestyle porn on BET and MTV as "psychological warfare" masquerading as entertainment. Even the songs about girls and partying are informed by adult world-weariness. Yet for all of its cynicism, the refreshingly grown-up Getback ends on a hopeful, optimistic note with "When Everything Is New." Getback might not do any better commercially than The Minstrel Show, the flop that got Little Brother dropped from Atlantic, but if it fails, it'll do so on the group's uncompromising terms. That represents a moral victory in itself.