When Little Brother popped up last fall at the Art of Cool Festival in Durham — with barely any advance notice — and performed for the first time together in nearly a decade, fans were stunned. And ecstatic. And they wanted more.
With what appeared to be a permanent hiatus, fans — and Little Brother — didn’t expect the Art of Cool performance to be a catalyst for a reunion.
“We didn’t think that we would get back together after that show last September,” Coleman says while calling from his North Raleigh home. “That show got the energy going. Me and Big Pooh reconnected, and it’s been different for us in so many ways.”
Little Brother is set to headline the Hopscotch Music Festival’s City Plaza stage Sept. 7, capping off a bill the group curated, which includes Indigo De Souza, Kooley High, Lute and Raphael Saadiq. Little Brother is set to take the stage at 7:15 p.m.
The group’s roots in the Triangle run deep. The group, featuring Phonte Coleman, Thomas “Big Pooh” Jones and producer 9th Wonder (real name Patrick Douthit), met while students at NC Central and began recording in the early 2000s. Each have gone on to successful solo careers and other projects, with Wonder and Coleman nominated for Grammy Awards. But the Little Brother name is legendary.
Two weeks after Little Brother’s Art of Cool reunion, Coleman and Big Pooh began recording in a covert manner. Their writing and recording sessions were kept close to the vest. Nothing was posted on social media.
“So many people are all about making noise with their projects but that’s not us,” Coleman says. “How do you differentiate between the noise and what’s significant? With us, it’s about the work.”
Fans were taken aback when Phonte and Big Pooh revealed in May that they created “May the Lord Watch,” their first album in nine years. The album, which does not include producer 9th Wonder, is full of big beats and deep lyrics that draws from their lives. The chemistry between the tandem is more palpable than ever.
“I think that has to do with the fact that we really got to know each other this time around,” Phonte says. “In the past it was all about business. We were in this pressure cooker. We made an album and toured and we were in this cycle churning and burning. We never had the conversations we needed to have.”
Poor communication contributed to the group’s breakup, Coleman said. Big Pooh hoped to reconnect with a major label, but Coleman recalled the experience Little Brother had with Atlantic Records and preferred to go the independent route.
“We had very different ideas about where to take our music,” Phonte recalls. “After (2005’s) ‘The Minstrel Show,’ Pooh wanted to go with a major. We had offers from majors. He was all for doing it again with a major but I didn’t want to do it. There was a lot of resentment between us. However, we failed to really talk about our issues. The resentment festered.”
A reunion appeared highly improbable. “It didn’t look good, but that all changed after the Art of Cool,” Coleman says. “We decided to get together to make the most dope album possible.”
Coleman stresses that “May the Lord Watch” was simply created from an artistic vantage point.
“This was not a cash grab,” he says. “In the past we had the pressure of making music to pay the bills. We’re in a different place now.”
Phonte and Big Pooh are looking forward to headlining at Hopscotch.
“It’s big,” Phonte says. “It’s a hometown show and I love my hometown.”
Midlife maturity is huge for Little Brother. “Now that we’re at this point in our life we talk,” Phonte said.
But a future as Little Brother is uncertain after the act tours behind “May the Lord Watch.”
“I don’t know if we’ll make another album together,” he says. “Who knows what we’ll do? We’re enjoying the moment. I don’t know what we’ll do next.”
When: Sept. 5-7, downtown Raleigh
Cost: Single show tickets for main stage shows ($37.50 to $47.50); single-day passes ($89 to $99) and multi-day wristband tickets available.
Friday, Sept. 6
Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
5:50 p.m. Tyler Ramsey
7 p.m. Orville Peck
8:40 p.m. Jenny Lewis
Red Hat Amphitheater
Doors open at 5:45 p.m.
6:30 p.m. Faye Webster
8 p.m. Dirty Projectors
9:45 p.m. James Blake
Saturday, Sept. 7
Doors open at 2 p.m.
2:30 p.m. Indigo de Souza
3:30 p.m. Kooley High
4:30 p.m. Lute
6 p.m. Raphael Saadiq
7:15 p.m. Little Brother
Red Hat Amphitheater
6:15 p.m. !!! (CHK CHK CHK)
8 p.m. Phantogram
9:45 p.m. Chvrches