The Minstrel Show, Little Brother

The Minstrel Show, Little Brother

Atlantic, 2005

While The Listening released in 2003 propelled the group into the category of underground revelations, The Minstrel Show will confirm this status as a great underground rap group. The trio from North Carolina follows slightly the beginnings of KMD, a group whose leader was none other than MF Doom, Zev Luv X at the time. Why you will ask? Well, because like KMD in the early 90’s, Little Brother comes with a conscious and provocative side but ultimately very subtle, in the same way as Mr Hood. In fact, The Listening is an ode to 90’s rap that wants to give a glimpse of the beauty of Hip Hop, in the art of sampling but also in the promotion of the black culture and roots. Yet The Listening, like Mr. Hood, is soft enough that it goes over very well with the public.

The Minstrel Show will follow the same path as Black Bastard. The album had been banned in particular for the cover featuring a black Sambo being lynched, but also for its provocative content. We finally had the opportunity to listen to the album thanks to a re-release, which allowed us to realize that the album was not as provocative as it seemed, in all its lyrics and content. In fact, the album had a somewhat naive and candid side that helped to soften the message and make it seem a little lighter. However, the conservative government and public opinion did not seem to like the idea of tackling his controversial and sensitive story of racist America. And in 1993, it didn’t go over well for KMD, who was fired from his record label, Elektra.

The idea is much the same for Minstrel Show. The album wasn’t banned but where The Listening was more candid, The Minstrel Show becomes much more provocative, and in a slightly disguised way that makes it very subtle. In fact, the album is provocative but not so much a protest album, the aim here is rather to point out the stereotypes and caricatures of black Americans in society.

Basically, we suppose that Little Brother knows what he is doing, this kind of provocation gives visibility. It worked for KMD, Black Bastards was massively leaked with many versions, giving it the status of a grail. N.W.A. also had this visibility when they released the letter received by the FBI. The 2 Live Crew is another example of censorship, here because of highly sexual and sexist content, and they had played with this censorship on their album Banned In The USA.

 The concept of Minstrel Show is very well thought and allows the North Carolina trio to pass a message in a subtle way, and especially very ironic, allowing them not to say things directly. A nice way to create controversy without being attacked. The Minstrel Show is not going to directly attack racist America, but it is going to put itself on stage in a show that allows to caricature television shows aimed at an African-American audience, and thus parody the futility, even the absurdity, of this kind of show.

Welcome to the Ministrel Show! Show featuring the two minstrels Phonte and Big Pooh to host the public with a 9th Wonder in backstage behind the decks. Broadcast on UBN, U Black Niggas Network, a fictional television network, the show is directly inspired by African-American television shows à la Bamboozled, a comic and satirical film directed by Spike Lee that features a show with black actors wearing black makeup. And they’re going to fool us, since it’s a satire of stereotypical programs and commercials for African-Americans, among others. Love It attacks the Gangsta Rap sub-genre, especially in the video with a lot of humor and second degree. In contrast, Slow It Down and Cheatin, which features Percy Miracles an alterego of Phonte, parody R&B singers like R. Kelly for their cartoonishly dramatic performances. The two little brothers use a lot of humor, almost caricatured to animate their show, it works wonderfully.

9th Wonder, who produces a big part of the songs, use samples of Soul for a warm and captivating atmosphere, we don’t want to leave the show. The show oscillates on a jazzy and soulful symphony while recalling the rhythms of Boom Bap, a bit like Pete Rock but more joyful and extravagant. The songs give a stage atmosphere, very perceptible on Watch Me. This effect is even more reinforced by the Skits which contain ironic references to black-American pop culture. The sung choruses bring a touch of freshness cutting the remarkable performances at the microphone of the two troubadours. There is always that little bit of positive, upbeat energy, accompanied by humor, that makes this show a thrilling set.

In the end, the controversy did not allow the group to gain more visibility, the album only sold 18,000 copies in the first week, and yet the expectations of the public were quite high. BET’s refusal to play their Lovin It video may have prevented the group from getting any real promotion to a less knowledgeable audience. In any case, the underground scene cheered the performance offered by the trio. The three entertainers delivered an engaging show, they know how to animate their show and hold their audience with their sarcasm, irony, humor and good vibe. Buy your seat and wait for curtains up!

By Grégoire Zasa

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