When word started circulating in early 2007 that 9th Wonder would not be producing the next Little Brother album, the underground hand-wringing began. Panicky blog notices were tapped out by shaking hands. Frantic text messages rang out from Tulsa to Tokyo.
People, please. 9th simply chose to take a chill from his pals Big Pooh and Phonte. Or maybe they have broken up for good. So what? You never wanted to just take some time off from your boys?
And so, after all the drama, Pooh and Phonte (and, in one instance, 9th — who produces the excellent “Don't Go Breakin'My Heart”) return with their third full-length as Little Brother, GetBack. And it's damn good.
The pros: at only eleven tracks, it's lean and focused, with loads of relaxed, confident, honest rhymes about the struggles they face as rappers and as men with some self-effacing humor thrown in for good measure. Despite an almost complete absence of their former music maestro, the new crew — including Illmind (who lays down four of eleven), Khrysis, Rashid Hadee and Hi-Tek — doesn't even make you miss 9th that much. A soulful, warm glow permeates the proceedings and the talented MCs fall into the groove, on “Don't Go Breakin'My Heart,” “Dreams” and “When Everything Is New.” Could the music be better? Yes. But most every cut here is at least head-noddingly good, which can't be said about 90% of hip-hop albums these days.
The cons: there's too much whining, too much “I'm not as famous or rich as you think I am” heard too many times. OK, Phonte and Pooh, we get it. You guys have both stepped your game up lyrically here on cuts like “Sirens” and “Can't Win for Losing,” so please keep moving onwards, upwards. (They also take some bitter swipes, apparently at 9th, for deserting them, on “That Ain't Love.” But it's a free country, so he can respond to their accusations anytime.)
Quibbling aside, the pros win, by a mile. And GetBack should be considered by any thinking music fan to be ranked as one of the most thorough and dopest hip-hop records of 2007. Because Phonte and Pooh continue to speak their minds and to impress likeminded fans who relate to and embrace their everyman status — with 9th Wonder or without.