At this point in their career, Little Brother’s members have ample reason to be bitter, and just as much cause to be grateful. Creatively, they’ve triumphed, releasing critically acclaimed albums and mix-tapes and winning the hearts of peers, hip-hop purists, and tastemakers alike. But commercially, they’ve never lived up to expectations. On their fourth and final album, Leftback, Phonte and Big Pooh have clearly reached the “acceptance” stage of the grief that accompanies death. In the disc’s key line, Phonte raps, “Not mad at the game because it is what it is / and not mad at the radio because I don’t know what’s on it.” So even though Leftback marks an ending, the overall tone is celebratory; Leftback isn’t as dark or deep as The Minstrel Show or Getback.
Whether he’s dismissing “cartoon-ass” rappers as “Hanna-Barbarians,” not quite rhyming “Kidz Bop” with “Berkowitz,” or littering his verses with high-dollar words like “denouement,” Phonte remains a lyricist with few peers. Leftback isn’t a manifesto or magnum opus, just 11 new tracks (and pointless remixes of Getback’s “After The Party” and “Two Step Blues”) that dissect romantic relationships, the process of growing up, and the music industry with sensitivity and insight. Little Brother isn’t making a statement, just good music. If Leftback really is Little Brother’s last album, its members leave the recording game the way they entered it: with heads held high.