Photo by Jati Lindsay

Phonte of Little Brother on the Lyrics and Concepts of Getback

When Little Brother introduced themselves to the hip-hop world in 2003 with The Listening they were met by an audience desperate for something that felt real. As cliché as the saying has become in rap terms, it couldn’t be more true. Hip-hop heads were searching for fresh young minds to bring light in the new millennium, and Phonte, Rapper Big Pooh and producer 9th Wonder fit the criteria with a Golden Era vibe void of the modern bullshit. The chopped samples pumped with soul, and lyrically Phonte and Pooh brought fourth a level of creativity that was bonded by an honest humor and dedicated spirit. They arrived right on time, and over the past five years have established themselves as the premier purveyors of dope hip-hop.

In that time the group has taken their knocks, from being put through the major label ringer and back, but they refuse to stay down. Through four albums they have stayed committed to their original objective of delivering music with substance, and gotten stronger with each release. Their latest offering, appropriately titled Getback, is full of insight and conceptual gems, giving listeners something to think about as they’re bobbin their head. At press time the group was overseas touring in Europe, and only reachable by email, so instead of the typical interview we had Phonte explain the words and ideas that made Getback so poignantly powerful.

“Sirens” starts the album off, and sets the tone. It’s an amazing song, and you end saying, “Them ain’t videos/Nigga that’s psychological warfare/20 different variations of the same face/Designed to keep ya broke ass in the same place/Something else more it’s got to be/But I’m gonna end transmission cause they’re watching me.“ The concept isn’t something new, but I wanted to get you to elaborate on the idea.
Phonte: Whenever your mind is being exposed to the same shit over and over again, that’s a form of programming. Programming can either be a positive or negative thing. In the case of much of the entertainment that kids watch in the mainstream media, I personally find much of it to be negative. I’ve never been big on the phrase, ‘its just entertainment.’ Expose your mind to anything long enough, and eventually that’s what you’ll become.

The chorus on “Sirens” fits the mood perfectly, with Carlitta Durand singing, “They’re coming closer for you/And they wont stop until you believe/Watch out/Don’t sleep, beware.” How does that fit in with the above mentioned concepts?
Phonte: For the chorus, I just wanted it to sound like some super-paranoid; “Minority Report” style shit. The underlying theme is that all the bullshit we see in the mass media from videos to reality TV is just a diversion to keep you away from things that are really important. I’m not sayin to not watch reality TV, and not indulge in some mindless fun every once in a while, just realize that everything you see, read, and hear has some sort of agenda. Don’t sleep…and beware of what you feed your mind

One of my favorite verses on the album comes from “Can’t Win For Losing.” It’s the most honest verse I’ve heard in a minute. Can you expand on the lines, “Then I said I’d do it for the props/Til I realized that the props always seem to stop/When niggas can’t keep you all to they self/Take you home, and put you in they little box.
Phonte: Over the years, I had come to the realization that many of our fans were fans of us because we were their own little personal secret, and that they like you for really selfish reasons. As long as you’re their best kept secret that no one else knows about, then all is well. The minute you try to achieve some sort of outside acclaim (i.e. a Lil’ Wayne collab), they’re ready to cry foul. That’s what that verse represented. Fuck ’em…I gotta keep doin me…

I don’t know if it’s an original or a piece of game passed on to you but can you further explain the line on “Breaking My Heart” where you say, “A woman’s life is love, a mans love is life.
Phonte: Man, that’s actually some shit I got from talking with one of my old adviser type cats. It’s summa the realest shit he ever wrote (c) Pac…lol. Basically, I was just describing the fundamental difference between men and women.A woman will relocate and pack her whole life up for a man, and a man will pack up and leave his whole family behind for a better paying job. It’s just how life is.

Can you talk about the internal battles you have with your conscious, which you addressed on the introduction to “After The Party,” with the line, “Maybe I should tell what a famous rapper I am. Yeah, that will get her on my side…I am your conscious.
Phonte: Every rapper is a star in his own mind, yet we still have our insecurities. We could sell a million records, have crazy money in the bank, and still be mad at the bitch who called us ugly in 2nd grade. That’s what the little monologue at the beginning of “After the Party” was about.

Last one, on “Dreams” you say, “Every now and then you gotta ask yourself/Do you really want to win or just look good losing.” What did you have in mind when you penned those lines?
Phonte: A lot of times people fight ‘the good fight’ without the intention of really winning. They just wanna lose, and look good in the process, and then afterwards say ‘well, we tried’. I guess John Kerry’s Presidential campaign could be a good example. It’s like, ‘nigga, please stand for SOMETHING!’ In life you either gotta go hard, or sit the fuck down. There’s really no in-betweens.