Meet the other side of The Minstrel Show. An objective look at aspects of the album this critic feels are overlooked.
In an industry riddled with violence, tragedies and shady dealings, it's great to finally witness a success story like Little Brothers. Three years ago, Phonte, Big Pooh and 9th Wonder were a relatively unknown trio from North Carolina and now they are the saviors of underground Hip-Hop. Their classic debut album, The Listening, propelled the group out of the unknown and introduced the world to producer extraordinaire 9th Wonder. We all know the story from here out, as 9th would go on to produce for the likes of Jay-z, Destiny's Child and Memphis Bleek, while Pooh and Phonte would hone their skills with various side projects. Now with their sophomore album, The Minstrel Show, Little Brother is here to make you believe in real Hip-Hop once again.
By sticking to their guns, LB once again delivers a noteworthy album rooted firmly in organic Hip-Hop. Phonte and Big Pooh continue to give the world the everyday struggles of an "average" emcee, leaving alone the gimmicks and glorification of violence. On "The Becoming," Phone delves into his humble beginnings in the rap game, stating, "I went from, niggas telling me I shouldn't really rhyme/To dropping a classic LP motherfuckers couldn't find." "Not Enough" finds the duo asking, "Dope beats/Dope Rhymes/What else do you want?". Even guest Elzhi of Slum Village gets in the action with his album stealing verse on "Hiding Place."
While The Minstrel Show delivers the expected from LB, one could argue that is the album's downfall as well. With no surprises or tricks up the sleeve, Little Brother sticks to the formula that has worked for them the past three years. This is evident with 9th Wonder's production throughout, which fails to show us the growth fans expected. As always, its either love or hate with 9th's beats. Some fans love the fact that 9th offers a simplistic approach to beat making, with his snare driven drum patterns and vintage vocal samples. Others however, feel 9th needs to incorporate more than the norm in his production, as his formula is quickly becoming stale and stagnant. As is the case with efforts like "Lovin' It" and "Still Lives Through," 9th relies on nothing more than a drum pattern and a looped up vocal sample. With only two layers to his production, his beats - at times- lack the necessary depth and creativity many look for. This could be solved by adding more layers, such as some live instrumentation - keys, horns, violins, saxophones, etc. While some may complain that this is nitpicking, one cannot deny the monotonous feel 9th's beats have on The Minstrel Show. At times, it feels as if Pooh and Phonte rhyme over beats that are too stripped down, almost to the bear minimum. There is no denying that 9th is an extremely talented producer with a keen ear for samples, but this critic personally believes he is capable of greatness and won't settle for the same old. It's evident that 9th has taken two steps back with The Minstrel Show, especially in comparison to The Listening and Murs' 3:16.
The other quarrel found within the album is the lack of standout tracks. The Minstrel Show's best songs simply cannot compete with the highlights of The Listening - such as "Speed," the title track and "Whatever You Say." Yes - The Minstrel Show is a collection of good songs - not even debatable - but there are none one would ultimately call a "classic."
While not better than The Listening, The Minstrel Show is a damn good album that stands tall as a perfect representation of what real Hip-Hop should be about. Is it a classic? This critic strongly argues - no. Then again, this is just one man's opinion - everyone should listen to the album and form their own.