The Listening: Little Brother

The Listening: Little Brother

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Album: Little Brother
Label: ABB

At its best, hip-hop sampling represents a fusion of the past and present, but creates something larger than the sum of its parts. Sampling continues to be intermittently disparaged, mostly by older musicians and live-music purists, but in a pop-music world with a famously short attention span and a narrow sense of history, it's one of the only places where the dead intermingle musically with the living and the long-forgotten are brought back for another taste of the limelight. Producers like Prince Paul, Marley Marl, The Dust Brothers, The Bomb Squad, DJ Premier, and Pete Rock elevated sampling to an art form long ago, and they're just some of the musical giants upon whose sturdy shoulders North Carolina's Little Brother and its brilliant producer 9th Wonder stand. Officially endorsed by the likes of ?uestlove and Pete Rock, Little Brother's lush, jazzy, subterranean grooves, casually clever lyrics, and coffeehouse vibe don't conform to anyone's idea of what constitutes Southern hip-hop, but that's part of what makes the trio so exciting. At once unabashedly retro and minty fresh, The Listening seems destined to trigger ecstatic flashbacks for anyone who first fell for hip-hop around the time of People's Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm and 3 Feet High And Rising. Little Brother seems happily aware of its place on the hip-hop continuum, and it sprinkles its debut with reverent nods to Public Enemy, Eric B. and Rakim, Audio Two, Pete Rock, and Slick Rick. When the similarly retro People Under The Stairs promised to "take it back to '92," this is what it was talking about: a blissed-out instant classic that builds on the best elements of Native Tongues' legends and the movement's artistic progeny.