(Originally published on WatchLOUD.com in 2015)
Saying that rappers from the south run NYC is a quick way to get your jaw rocked like Geno Smith, but for one night in 2005 three actually did. It was mid September at BB King’s Blues Club in the heart of Manhattan and the members of Little Brother—Phonte Coleman, Thomas “Big Pooh” Jones and Patrick “9th Wonder” Douthit —were preparing to give the capacity crowd a sampling of their highly anticipated—and controversial—sophomore album, The Minstrel Show.
Artists, fans and press who weren’t fortunate enough to secure a table stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the aisles and down the steps waiting for the show. VIPs from Atlantic Records, Lyor Cohen, Julie Greenwald and Kevin Liles were anxiously waiting to see how their newest release would be received by the crowd. Backstage Phonte tended to his then pregnant wife, while Khrysis and Sean Boog of The Away Team warmed up the crowd with selections from their debut.
“I remember we were outside by the bus and Lyor walked up and scared the shit out of all of us,” 9th Wonder recalls. “We hardly saw him and it was like damn, you’re here. He was like ‘Y’all are my guys!’ They were only at Atlantic six months before we got there. They had just come from the Def Jam machine so everything was brand new. I think they actually enjoyed our music and they thought this group might not do great big numbers but they loved the music. I saw it on their face. That’s what I remember about that show that night.”
“All these people were here for us,” adds Big Pooh. “We had sold out shows before but to have this amount of people and VIPs in BB Kings, it’s shoulder to shoulder, people trying to buy tickets outside. It was a whirlwind, like, this is really, really happening. I don’t remember anything about the show once we stepped on stage.”
Their former manager (and sometimes DJ) Big Dho definitely remembers, especially since it was a memory lapse that marked their first performance in New York just a few years prior to promote their debut The Listening.
“First time they came to NY to perform. We had an in-store at Fat Beats and they just threw on songs,” he remembers. “They threw on ‘Far Away From Me’ or one of those records and Pooh forgot his lyrics. It could have been in a movie. Pooh goes to the front window and starts staring out at the city. Later that night we had a show at SOB’s and they put on ‘Whatever You Say’ and Von Pea (from Tanya Morgan) and DJ Brainchild were in the front row singing the lyrics and he’d forgot again.” He pauses to chuckle before adding, “But Pooh came a LONG way since then. He can say his raps running on a treadmill now.”
Tonight there were no mistakes and every bar was delivered with their distinct mix of technical prowess and frivolity. As they two-stepped in the name of life to “Slow It Down” and regaled the audience with the musical stylings of ‘Te’s crooning alter ego Percy Miracles you knew this was not your average rap group. Little Brother had conquered the Big Apple.
“To this day I would pay good money to see Little Brother perform right now,” Doh adds. “I’ve watched some great people rock. De La Soul is killer, Redman and Meth can rock it but I’d put Little Brother on that bill.”
The B.B King’s show was a culmination of months of build up and at the time signaled an evolution in the hip-hop landscape. An indie rap trio formed at North Carolina Central with obvious leanings to 90s East Coast luminaries and championed by the Internet made the leap to a “major” label and were finally going to get the push and exposure they so desperately deserved. After their debut, the group extended their reach with 9th Wonder producing for Jay Z and Destiny’s Child and Te starting another group The Foreign Exchange with Dutch producer Nicolay. Not to mention they released a mixtape called “The Chitlin’ Circuit” to hold fans over until the new album. Now they would regroup and focus their collective energy and have it amplified in a new prism.
Or so they thought. The journey of The Minstrel Show was fraught with obstacles. From the naming of the album to perceptions of the group and their resistance to being placed in a box, the “greatest colored show on earth” was feeling more like Ringling Brothers with PETA picketing outside than Universoul. But with all of the distractions the quality of the music was undeniable. While the backdrop was a parody network called UBN their “show” was filled with heart and real life experiences that reflected hip-hop’s actual audience.
Much has happened with the group since the release of The Minstrel Show—most notably their disbandment in 2011—but on its 10th Anniversary watchLOUD spoke with Phonte, Big Pooh, 9th Wonder, Khrysis, Big Dho and their Atlantic Records product manager James Lopez to pay some retro-respect to a hip-hop classic.
THE ALBUM COVER
BIG POOH: Man, we were just sitting in one of the rooms of the studio and someone suggested doing the artwork like a TV Guide like we were the new show. I think Big Dho took those photos just sitting in the office. When it came out we said this shit look crazy.
BIG DHO: I went to NY and bought a big boy camera from B&H. It was the Rebel something. That was the camera to have at the time. It was $1000 and I charged the label $1000 for the pictures so I basically got the camera for free. I’m a hustler. I think I used my middle name Marcel or something on the invoice. I said “I already paid him so just pay me.” I love the art of photography so I was like fuck it. We did it right in the office.
9TH WONDER: We were big on trying to go against the grain in any way shape or form. We didn’t really give a damn. We’re coming off the heels of Rawkus records and that term backpack was really thrown around and it was us against the ones we thought were too commercial. I can honestly say us being on Atlantic we went in trying to be social misfits. We weren’t trying to fit in in anyway shape or form. We wanted them to know you are not dealing with your average dummies. Everything we did we wanted to say “we are different.”
NAMING IT “THE MINSTREL SHOW”
9TH WONDER: The album title was originally supposed to be “Nigga Music.” Yeah. We knew they weren’t gonna go for that. And we knew The Minstrel Show was gonna be a stretch. But everybody is still talking about what we named the album 10 years later. We were ahead of the curve with that. It can help but it can also hurt. We were speaking on things and we saw that rappers were becoming caricatures of themselves. Your region didn’t matter.
PHONTE: Looking back on it of course hindsight is always 20/20. I think that we made the best record that we knew how to at that time. I think that we could have played it a lot safer and not from the point of content, but from the packaging. If we had called it something real generic and had the same music we may not have rubbed as many people the wrong way, or caught as much flack. It would have been an easier pill to swallow. But I wouldn’t change anything. I wouldn’t backtrack on it. I just see now more that it was a gamble.
BIG POOH: This is something we said years ago, but I think it was a thing where people didn’t want to hear that message from us. Because Nas came out a little while after us saying hip-hop was dead. And on top of that they perceived it to be something that it wasn’t. Seeing the title people already had perceptions of it being this and that. And then when they actually heard the album we wasn’t really talking about none of that. We were just giving an example of what hip-hop could be or should be, as opposed to what it is. We just had to go through a bunch of explaining and I remember thinking that if you constantly have to explain things to people you didn’t do a good enough job of explaining what we were going for, so that brought people coming out asking “are you talking about me?”
JAMES LOPEZ, (PRODUCT MANAGER, ATLANTIC RECORDS): It was tough at times. Some people just didn’t get the irony and the message they were trying to put out. I once had another artist on the label ask me why I was pushing it so hard. I recall them saying “Man I ain’t with that minstrel shit. They setting us back.” I just laughed because it was obviously over their head. They did not see that LB was commenting on the current state of hip-hop business and the buffoonery that many artists were committing.
Of all the criticism the group received over the name, none stood out more than what came from one of hip-hop’s elder statesman, BUN B of UGK.
PHONTE: That was the one moment where— I didn’t have any regrets, I’m always going to stand by my art—but that was one of those moments when I felt we maybe overshot it a little bit. Maybe we could have been a bit more nuanced. Maybe instead of a sledgehammer we shoulda used a chisel. It was an interview on Allhiphop.com and Bun B was like “I love their music but who are they talking about? I like to wear chains, etc.” I just remember reading that shit and–first and foremost I had no idea he knew who we were–then to see him big it up and then ask if they were taking shots at me, my heart went right into my stomach. Shit, are we possibly alienating people who would otherwise ride for us? Later me and Bun talked and I said “Dude, I could never diss you, ever.” He was cool and said it’s all good, “I’m a fan.” So by the time it was time to do Get Back I did the song “Dreams” and I said “I still go to the crib and see my niggas on the corner/ Chillin with the pounds on they waist, gettin old/Gettin round in the face and when I hang with them/They ask me if “The Minstrel Show” means I’m ashamed of them.” That was that moment of me saying I didn’t mean to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
9TH WONDER: I got a text and phone call from Bun B myself and that’s one of those calls where you don’t do a lot of talking, you do a lot of listening. So I did a lot of listening. You know what I mean. I heard what he was saying about being mindful. That was the time in our lives when we understood what Andre was saying on “Aquemini,” “Not every nigga with gold is for the fall, not every nigga with dreads is for the cause…” If you listen to Phonte’s verse from “The Yo Yo” and look at the video we had [for “Lovin It”] too, we’re basically saying don’t put us in a box. With the Minstrel Show it was a tight rope we had to walk.
Despite the backlash then, it’s hard to deny that much of what Little Brother hinted at ten years ago has come to pass. Whether it’s Trinidad James or Bobby Shmurda, to the latest abomination Slim Jesus, rappers have blurred the line between art and caricature to the point where fans can’t tell the difference.
PHONTE: I’m glad people are now kind of seeing it, and it’s no diss to Trinidad James and those dudes. I fuck with “All Gold Everything.” Me and my kids be singing that shit. I like that song for what it was. I just think if anything we were trying to warn people, it’s not that those songs don’t have a place in hip-hop. The problem is when those songs become the norm and the measuring stick that you measure everything else up to. Let’s keep it a hunned. If you take “Cheatin” and put it next to “I’m In Love With the Coco” it sounds like a reasonable song! Which lyric is the most ridiculous: “I can’t find nothin to rhyme with 15” or “I’m gonna eat the booty like groceries” ?
BIG POOH: I think ultimately people didn’t want to hear that message from newcomers. Y’all just got here, why y’all trying to redecorate the crib and you just moved in?
9TH WONDER: A lot of things have happened in the last four or five years in hip-hop. There have been a lot of “I told you so’s.” It’s just the fact that we struggle with the filter system. You can’t even gauge what talent is anymore. Talent is not your sound anymore, it’s your visibility. Being visible is a talent. Having a brand is a talent. And a lot of us that are older are not used to that. Having a popping Instagram makes you famous. To this generation Instagram numbers are gold. But I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
RECORDING THE ALBUM
9TH WONDER: I was just off of going in the studio with Jay Z and Destiny’s Child so I was trying to expand or make my beats sound bigger, but still stay me. I was put into this place where I was new but I was considered a throwback producer. So making it sound bigger than stuff before and I was thinking how can I continue to make people feel good but producers can respect it. That was what I wanted to achieve for myself. I wanted producers to respect it without people needing a thesaurus to listen to it.
BIG DHO: Those mixing sessions were star studded. We mixed at Baseline and mastered at Sterling Sound I think. They recorded records during the shit. Method Man came through. Memphis Bleek was there for a lot of that shit. Mos Def was there to record for “Separate But Equal,” the DJ Drama shit. That shit shook shit up. Sean P recorded his verse “Shots,” the song from “Dream Merchant Vol. 2.” Jean Grae was there. Just Blaze. I’m missing mad people. Kanye came through with John Brion. He was like “Y’all dropping one single and coming right out? That’s unheard of.” His “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” had just dropped. We went to our first Summer Jam that June. So much shit happened in that two or three week period. We lived in that mother fucker. Pizza and sticky wings is all we ate for two weeks.
9th WONDER: Phonte wrote a letter to everybody that we sampled on the behalf of all of us. He explained what the song was about it and why we chose their song. And we got some great feedback from that. We actually cared about the music we used. I thought it was a brilliant idea.
BIG POOH: My thinking was that I wanted to do a record that showed improvement from the first record to the second. We started working on this record before we were even signed to Atlantic, so I wasnt’ trying to [step up] because I was on a major. I was out to prove that I could hold my own in this group.
PHONTE: The funny thing was after MS came out me and Pooh did Get Back and so many of our fans were like ‘man this is the record they should’ve made on Atlantic.’ But who is to say we’d still have that foundation if we had made the “safe” record the first time out? Not that I think Get Back was a safe record by any means. But coming from The Listening going directly to Get Back on a major label, we’d have been done. All our credibility would have been gone. “Aww these dudes done gone major and hooked up with Denaun Porter and Hi-Tek.” It would have been dead in the water before it got off the ground. Looking back do I see flaws in The Minstrel Show? Sure. But I think that was the best record we could have made at the time. More so than it being a great record I think it made a great statement. I appreciate it more for the statement it made than the music that’s on it. When I go back and revisit it all I hear is mistakes. It gets agonizing listening to your old shit. I was reading an interview with Joss Whedon and he was talking about how doing Avengers, all he’s seeing [are flaws] and to me that shit was lit like a motherfucker. That struck a chord with me. But the statement of three guys coming from an independent label and going to the majors and your first record on a major is an indictment of the system of hip-hop and major labels? I mean, shit. How many [people] can pull that hat trick off?
THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH ATLANTIC RECORDS
JAMES LOPEZ: I will say this about Atlantic. The group had several fans in the building. Unfortunately, it did not translate to commercial success and the push that they feel they deserved. People actually liked them and enjoyed being around them. At that time our hip-hop roster was dominated by Southern acts and they stuck out and were unique to what we already had. It made me gravitate towards them. Not only were they talented MC’s and 9th a great beat maker but they were funny. Especially Phonte. I genuinely liked hanging out with them because it was always comedy.
PHONTE: What it all boils down to is I don’t think they knew how to use all the tools in our toolbox. I don’t think they knew Pooh likes sports, let’s see if we can get him on ESPN. 9th likes Duke basketball and to lecture, let’s get him on MSNBC or something. Phonte is the wild card, get him a celebrity roast or some shit. Those are just examples I’m throwing out. I don’t think they knew how to use everything on the table. You look at someone like Sean P, RIP, as much as an incredible MC as he was, that n*gga was a star. He could sell himself to anybody. He could talk to anybody. In the early days of LB we kinda had that same quality. I just think there was a disconnect between our image and who we were as people. So when it came to videos we never really got that chance. This was pre-Rik Cordero era so they wasn’t trying to cut checks to let the personality shine through. That’s why I’d write blogs on MySpace and just do what I could just to show you that we just regular people. By the time it came for a second single we let them talk us into the jig and they said they were gonna re-service “Lovin It” to the djs. That wasn’t even supposed to be a single. That was supposed to be a B-side street record. So that was a crew, posse cut for the die-hards who knew Joe Scudda, etc. But the record I thought was the reach out record was “Slow It Down.” That’s the one where we can really cross a couple of bridges. But we never got it. But for all the fuck shit that happened I’ll never speak bad about Atlantic. This is not the evil record company story. I remember having the conversation with Julie (Greenwald) and she said we’re not into keeping hostages. Sometimes these things just don’t work out. You guys are artists and we’re not going to hold you and I respect her for that.
9th WONDER: I don’t think any label (at the time) knew how to push an artist whose main fan base was online. That was just unheard of. They were like “We know you have fans, but we don’t see them.” Going to a message board looking for fans in 2003 was unheard of. There was no way to quantify the number of fans you have until you had Myspace and Twitter and you could see followers grow in real time. But now you can see it. They didn’t have the staff for it either. We just had this unknown, untraceable fan base and nowadays it’s common knowledge.
JAMES LOPEZ: If Little Brother would have come out in the past four or five years they would have had more success. Digital marketing, touring and getting directly to their fan base would have been easier with advances in technology. Social media is much more of a discovery tool for consumers and more people would have done so on their own terms than us relying on the gatekeepers from 10 years ago. Phonte’s group Foreign Exchange has achieved quite a nice fan base utilizing the tools at their disposal. LB would have benefited from the same dynamic. I would have had everyone focus on breaking them slowly from the ground up and invested more of their budget on tour support and kept them out on the road longer. We should have quit trying to force airplay at video and radio and spent more by getting to the consumer directly.
One of the most talked about moments on The Minstrel Show was the elevation of a character named Percy Miracles created by Phonte. Donning a wig and bright suits with fake gold teeth, Percy was a direct descendant of Eddie Murphy’s character Randy Jackson from Coming To America with nods to R. Kelly and Oran Juice Jones. The song “Cheatin” paired the gold-toothed crooner Percy with a spot-on spoof of Ronald Isley–Mr. Diggs–and it was as brilliant as it was funny. There was discussion of releasing “Cheatin” as a single but the group decided against it.
BIG DHO: I remember doing a photo shoot with Percy Miracles. It ended up being on the sampler or EP. We recorded it at Atlantic in one of the side studios. I have that shit somewhere. One day we were at Atlantic and Phonte left, changed and went around the whole two floors as Percy Miracles. Motherfuckers fell in love with him. He could have sold millions and there would have been no way to reel that shit in. At the time I was like ‘fuck it, lets have fun with it.” But that woulda been the end of Little Brother. It was too funny. He put Rolo candy foil on his teeth to make his gold teeth.
PHONTE: Once you’re known for something you can’t really break out of that. It’s like the kid OG Maco saying on Twitter that he only did “You Guessed It” to fuck with y’all. Maybe you did, but you still did it. You may have a whole lot of valid points, the fact that you made a song called “Bitch You Guessed It” is going to be a straw man argument against you. Nobody is gonna take it seriously from the “Bitch You Guessed It” guy. That’s another song that I love for all the wrong reasons, I like my silly shit too, but I knew if we put out “Cheatin” that would have been the end of Little Brother as we knew it.
I love doing parody records. That’s why I loved doing “Black Dynamite.” Music and comedy when the marriage is great is fantastic. But with Black music the stakes are so much higher, so you almost need a cartoon to drive the point home. You know this is a joke right? Otherwise it can take on a life of its own.
9TH WONDER: It’s not far from what’s on the radio now but it would contradict everything our album was about. Percy Miracles was like “we know this is an easy thing to like but we’re not gonna give you that.” “Cheatin’” was almost a single and what do you think would have happened to us if that became a single? What do you think they’d want us to do next? It’s like the changing of the Black Eyed Peas. That first BEP album with “Joints and Jams,” then they made a record that took them to another place. I don’t think “Cheatin” would have taken us to that place, but I think “Cheatin” would have taken us to a place we didn’t want to be.
PHONTE: So many of those skits were jokes that started in the van and grew legs and went all the way out of hand. I remember us being on fashion ave and the joke being about how NY n*ggas always got numbered ass streets and you supposed to know where they at. I’m from NC I dunno what the fuck you talking about . Then we came back and said that was the name of our webstore where you could buy all the bootleg shit. Khrysis would always be getting lost in the city.
KHRYSIS: Fifth and fashion was a long running joke in the crew, too. Sometimes you cleaning up the crib and your left A-1 is missing and you gotta go to 5th and fashion to get it.
“Slow It Down”
Phonte: I loved “Slow It Down” and Darien was on the record. I thought that was the one. Even to this day I still get quoted. “I want a girl when I want a girl, and when I don’t want a girl I want a woman that understands that.” That shit gets tweeted to me at least twice a month 10 years after the fact. So imagine if it had been a single. “All for You’” was another good one and in a perfect world that would have been a good introspective (third single). We knew at the time we weren’t going to compete with Dem Franchize Boyz and D4L. But what we can do, if we can’t hit them in the head, we can hit them in the heart. That was the conversation me and 9th had a couple of times. We was like we come with “Lovin It,” then “Slow It Down” then we’d have our fathers in “All For You” video and touch people. That was the idea but it never went past “Lovin It.”
9th Wonder: “Slow It Down” was just…we were just into talking about real life. We had got put in the “conscious” box but we didn’t talk about anything different than Kanye West. He just had a larger fan base. When Te said “When I want a girl, I want a girl…” that says EVERYthing.
BIG DHO: The dance routine came about when we were on The Roots holiday tour one year. We did Philly, NY and maybe one other place. Me, Te and Pooh came up with that backstage one day. I put my choreography hat on. Little sprinkles in the sky. Scud would come out and Darien. It was like a 70s R&B group.
KHRYIS: “Slow It Down” would have been the perfect single. Especially around cuffing season.
BIG POOH: Elzhi was actually in NC and came through the studio and we knew we wanted to get Dilla on the song from the get-go. The whole Dilla thing got scrambled and lost in the mix, but we were still holding out hope to get him on the track. Te or 9th said if Dilla sends his verse we’ll have y’all go back to back and then Te and Elzhi could got back and forth. So I shouted him out just in case he ended up on the song. He didn’t end up on the song but we kept that ad-lib in there anyway. It was dope when we played it for him at Rock The Bells in Anaheim and when he heard his name he went “woooo.” It was my first time meeting Dilla and I got his approval on a joint before he wasn’t with us anymore. He did get to hear the song.
PHONTE: That record went through a couple of changes. We went through a list of people and finally we decided on Dilla and Elzhi. Dilla at the time was in L.A. and we were on a tight schedule and we didn’t want to do an email collar. Sometimes the vibe isn’t right. I spoke to him very briefly and he explained that he could only do it in L.A. Looking back now I understand why, we didn’t know he was sick at the time. We never gotta chance to make it happen and Elzhi was in town for one night and he did his verse. It was iron sharpening iron. It was one MC trying to make the other one better, went back and forth and we played it for him later and said it was dope. I just really look up to him and admire on a technical level. His flow is very precise and he’s a really good dude. The verses y’all hear that’s it.
BIG DHO: At first they left the third verse off to see if we could get Jay Z on it. Because 9th had done “Threats” they said play the beat for him, but that was the biggest shot in the dark with the smallest gun. Keeping it 100 I didn’t like Scudda’s verse because he was cussin’ too much. Keeping it a buck. They wanted T.I. for “Say It Again” but he was on house arrest so it was hard to get him. We shot for the stars.
BIG POOH: That wasn’t even the original idea for the video. We were going to do a TV show and Atlantic kept breaking down the idea until it became something basic. Now the more creative the video the more applauded it is. But back then it was “Naw, that’s too much.” It was a simple video with a message but it was really simple. They took it around and came back and somebody ended up telling us what they weren’t supposed to tell us. That BET said we were “too intelligent” for their audience. We decided to play good soldiers and not go crazy about the fact that BET said that. When in actuality they were offending their audience, not us. It was sad because we grew up watching BET and to get that response hurt. Then Atlantic didn’t even fight for it. They had T.I., Twista, etc. They could have forced their hand but they just took it. We didn’t even fight for the second video.
JAMES LOPEZ: I can’t recall the origin of the controversy and I can’t confirm that anyone at BET ever uttered anything of the like. What I can say is that the controversy itself probably effected their airplay on the network.
BIG DHO: I don’t remember anybody actually telling us that. I think somebody might have heard it but nobody actual came to me and said that. But I think because there are fans in places we don’t always know [it got out]. One of the guys in the mailroom at Atlantic was the reason our original A&R was hip to our shit. It’s sad that we didn’t get that look from [BET] but MTV and VH1 was playing it. Your own people saying that. I’m glad that didn’t stay that way for long because guys like J Cole and Kendrick and them can thrive. We fell on the sword.
PHONTE: I think at the time I had seen things from a different lens. When you’re a kid you see mom and dad as these superhuman beings that have all the answers. But at some point when you get older you look at them as people and that’s when a lot of things become clearer and how they made the decisions they made—both good and bad. I was going through stuff with my son’s mom at the time and me and my dad weren’t really talking, not beefing but not really talking. Writing that verse I still got brothers that come up to me and say it made me call my pop. Right now my son’s are 14 and 9 and they’re with me full-time. I’m a full-time single dad and seeing it now it’s just like, it is the most “life comes at you fast moment” you can imagine. I remember living with my grandparents as a kid and my granddad was a very respected man in the community and our house was the one to come to if you wanted a meal or just wanted some advice. The Coleman house was just that. So as a kid I would hear “Oh that’s Mr. Coleman’s grandson. You need to go talk to Mr. Coleman.” Now I’m the father of two so now their friends come to my house and now I’m “Mr. Coleman” in my neighborhood. At the time I was just thinking as a father to my kids. Now I think of fatherhood encompassing the community.
BIG POOH: When Te brought the idea to me I was definitely with it because I didn’t meet my father for the first time ’til I was 19 and talking with him there was still a lot of things I didn’t find out that he didn’t want to talk about. But you realize parents not being together isn’t always as black and white as you want it to be. He was hurting because he wasn’t part of his son’s life and I’m hurting because my father isn’t a part of mine. I had to really dig into some emotions that I probably didn’t want to tap into to write it and I remember my father hearing the record and calling me and asking ‘we still need to talk?” and I told him I just had to tap into some old stuff to get this out. The thing that meant a lot to me was people coming up to you that you don’t know and they start talking about a specific song that helped them explain to someone else what they were going through because they didn’t have the words to express it. That’s what this song did. That’s the greatest feeling in the world.
BIG POOH: You know the album is about to be done and you want to leave a lasting message and image in people’s minds. That’s why I started “imagine if this was the last rhyme I ever wrote..”
I put a lot of things in perspective. In my mind that was one of our strongest records. We always put thought into the messages and that one set a tone for the record even coming at the end.
9th WONDER: “Still Lives Through” is a favorite because we personally asked Q-Tip to name it after “God Lives Through.” SLT is track 14 and so is “God Lives Through” on Midnight Marauders.
KHRYSIS: Actually, the version y’all hear is the second version of the song that was done. Originally it was recorded to another beat 9th had. My “Watch Me” beat I had for a year before. It was one of those I made when I had “beat block.” So I just dropped the needle on something and chopped up the first thing that touched the needle and it ended up being that beat. I kind of sat on it for a year and didn’t think about it. A couple months after they recorded the original version my name came up and I was already running a lot of the sessions. So I just said pull up that Michael Jackson chop and the rest is what you know.
Phonte called me in the studio and said Jazzy Jeff is putting some scratches on this beat. Te popped up with him. When I heard it I was like “Wow, I’m the only other producer on this album and I got Jazzy Jeff scratching on my shit?” I was young trying to figure out what I’m doing with my life and here is Jazzy Jeff cutting on my record.
9th Wonder: The Minstrel Show was an album by one of the last true great groups of hip-hop. That’s what that album was and they were before their time.
KHRYSIS: I’m just amazed that it’s a part of history the way it is. Not only did it change our lives but it kind of changed the way a lot of people looked at hip-hop at the time. If you wasn’t kicking that gangsta shit you were called a backpacker dude, and that’s not what we were. We were just real life music without that extra weird shit. It created a conversation in hip-hop that was needed at that time. It’s just an honor to be a part of it.
BIG POOH: I still think the album is a phenomenal album that stands the test of time. You could put that record out today and it sounds like we recorded it recently. I believe I’m a much better writer now than I was then. I listen to my old stuff and I cringe thinking “Man, I coulda said that better.” But for me that was also the first time I approached doing an album with complete confidence. I knew that I was good then. As far as the influence, it’s evident. Anywhere from cats like Drake to Kendrick and J. Cole, a lot of cats people listen to now were influenced by that record. The point of the album a lot of them got was that you can be yourself. You can be who you are and still make it in the music business. I don’t have to be the flossy rapper, the jiggy rapper or the drug dealer rapper. I don’t have to be any of that but I’m still dope and can make records on a big time level.
PHONTE: At the end of the day they let us put out the record as is the way we saw it. Ain’t too many artists can say they took a record fresh out my goddamn computer from Durham NC and walked that shit straight up to Atlantic Records and it made it out as is without not one fucking note changed. They let us come in on our own terms and let us leave on our own terms. Can’t be mad at that.