Baby Brothers

Dog the Bounty Hunter must not read the obituaries: Al Sharpton and the NAACP buried the n word months ago. Still, Dog might end up receiving some work from Sharpton if the permed one catches wind of the latest album from North Carolina-based hip-hop duo Little Brother.

"They talk about us not using the word nigga/I want to speak about a couple issues much bigger," Rapper Big Pooh flows on the opening lines of Little Brother's latest album for ABB Records, Getback. With the record, Pooh and partner Phonte carry on the tradition of golden-age hip-hop (as a duo — 9th Wonder is no longer in the group) but move it forward with their unique brand of personality and charisma. Fans have taken notice over the years and often speak highly about Little Brother as though they were personal friends. Despite being internationally respected rap stars, the group manages to tread a fine line of stepping into a bigger spotlight while remaining accessible (in fact, this interview was arranged after hitting up Phonte on MySpace).

"I think that's the way it has to be," Phonte muses from a Boulder, Colorado, hotel room. "It's all about being in touch with the fan base. That's your direct line to how you eat. It's a great time for artists to cut out the middle man." It was this thinking that led Phonte to actually leak the album himself, attaching personal messages to fans, asking them to buy it if they liked it or check out a tour stop.

Getback also signals a turning point for the group in the business realm. Its previous effort, The Minstrel Show, was the result of an experiment with a major, Atlantic Records. The pieces of the puzzle just didn't fit, and sales mirrored the awkward matching. Now that they've officially been dropped by Atlantic, Getback marks creative liberation for the group and also moves beyond Little Brother's exclusive use of 9th Wonder as producer. The title itself references a return to passion for music, beyond concerns for A&R critique or Internet messageboard sniping. "That's always going to be a part of who I am," Phonte explains. "Once you know that music is always going to be part of who you are, you owe it to yourself to just stick with it."

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Robert Sawyer