Which one’s the Big Pooh? Depends on who you ask.
Tonight, Big Pooh and Little Brother headline Southpaw, 125 Fifth Ave, Bklyn, 718-230-0236. 8:30pm, $15-$17. [Tickets]
Interview by Ben Westhoff
Thomas Jones, a/k/a Rapper Big Pooh, is one half of the Durham, North Carolina hip hop duo Little Brother. Earlier this year Pooh and his partner Phonte announced that their elder brother DJ 9th Wonder was leaving the group–and the DJ gets production credits on only one song on Little Brother’s new album Getback. The most recent disc was released on Bay Area indie ABB Records, after Little Brother severed ties with Atlantic due to poor sales of 2005’s The Minstrel Show. (That album was critical of modern rap, and somehow proved eerily prescient of Soulja Boy.) In this recent interview, the 27-year-old impeccably named Pooh discusses these splits, Southern rap, career goals, and why he doesn’t care if fans steal his music.
What’s the main theme of Getback?
Just getting back to why we started making music in the first place, to enjoy making music again. After a while, you start getting distracted by everything, the politics of the business, who is and who isn’t in your group, what label you’re on, how many records you sold. You get away from why you started making music in the first place.
Why did you start making it in the first place?
Because I love it. When we made that first album [The Listening], we didn’t make it with the intentions of being famous or getting rich. We just made it because we wanted to make some dope music. If you listen to the record, it’s all over the place, but, we’re having fun. The Minstrel Show wasn’t a fun record. This is a fun record.
How would Getback sound if it was released on Atlantic?
I couldn’t tell you, to be honest, because there wasn’t a real difference between how [our first two sounded]. I can’t deal in ‘What ifs.’
How much of it had been completed when you split from the label?
About 90 percent. The first and the last tracks on the record were the ones we ended up adding after we totally dissolved the relationship with Atlantic. That happened in January, February, something like that.
Would you say it’s been a tumultuous year?
Nah! It’s been a year of liberation. To most people it looked like a lot of things was collapsing in our careers, but that’s not the case. The whole Atlantic situation, we could see that coming for a while. The whole 9th situation, that was happening for a while too–it just looked like it happened abruptly. But that’s part of life. We just deal with the changes and keep it crackin’.
What happened with 9th?
It’s just part of growing up, part of growing older–people taking different paths in life. 9th is in his early ’30s, we’re in our late ’20s. We might have started off with some of the same goals, but over time that started to change, and I think we went as far as we could go together as a three-man team. It just came to that point in time where it made better sense businesswise to stop while we were ahead.
What are his goals right now?
That’s a question you have to ask him.
Do you still talk with him?
Not really, no.
How have your goals changed over the years?
I just became better aware of the aspects of the business. When I started out, I wanted the whole fame thing, all that glitz and glamour. But as I started making more and more records–and being in this business more and more –none of that means anything to me anymore. I just want to put out good music and be able to support myself and my family doing that. And I’ve been able to do that since 2003. Putting out dope music, that means the world to me, and I’ve been able to do that.
Big Pooh on Little Brother’s Atlantic split: “We asked to be released.” Uh-huh.
Were you guys dropped from Atlantic, or did you ask to be dropped?
It was a mutual separation. We asked to be released and they released us.
Would it have happened anyway?
Maybe, maybe not. Who knows. I don’t have to worry about that now.
Why do you think The Minstrel Show didn’t sell like you wanted it to?
First of all, it was due to the lack of promotion and support we got from our label. And at the end of the day I just don’t think people was ready to hear that message from Little Brother. Because, not even six months later Nas came out with Hip Hop Is Dead, and everybody started talking about how rap was a minstrel show.
Why were people ready to hear it from Nas, but not you?
Because Nas is a more established artist. Little Brother isn’t, or wasn’t. That was only our second album. People probably thought that we should conform, just be happy we was on a major and know our place. I don’t know.
Did anyone at Atlantic say you should be doing things differently?
When we told ’em what the name of the record was, they were like, “Ahhhh, okay.” But they showed us how they weren’t feeling it by not supporting it. And if they did [try to tell us to do things differently] it would have been a ‘Fuck you.’ Nobody will ever tell me how to make music. You could be Barry Gordy. You could give me some pointers, but if I choose to change, it’s not because you’re making me change. I’ve never had to deal with that, and I don’t plan on dealing with it.
How’s promotion for Getback going? Better?
Nope. It sucks, we still on somebody else’s label, still have to depend on somebody else. If you’re depending on somebody else, shit ain’t gonna get done the way we want it done. That’s why we on no labels right now.
You’ll release your next album yourselves?
Of course, on our own label. We done built up the Little Brother brand enough to be able to secure our own distribution deal and put out records like we want to put out records. If I wanted to, I could put a record out every week. Ain’t no red tape. And, if my record fucks up, I know it fucked up because I fucked up. Not because somebody else didn’t care and they fucked it up. I can’t deal with that anymore. That’s probably one of the most frustrating things on this earth. What you have to understand is, we’re not concerned about being famous. That don’t mean shit to us. We want to put out dope music. If I put out a record and only 15,000 people get it, I know that those 15,000 people are fucking with my music. They’re not buying it because they see me on TV or they think I’m rich. They’re really digging my music, my movement. And I’m cool with that. I can make money off of that. As long as we can continue doing that, I really don’t give a fuck. Nobody will ever fully understand my trials and tribulations. This is more than just music to me, it is my livelihood, and that [was] in somebody else’s hands. They’ll never understand how you’re feeling. They’re sitting in the office, getting paid [regardless]. I’m not.
What are your thoughts on the way music distribution is changing?
We doing what we been doing all along. We were probably the first group that was really discovered via internet, back in ’01, ’02. We’ve always been firm believers that you got to go with the times, and right now people can go download your whole catalog for free. And you can’t fight that, it’s hard to fight technology. So, I don’t care how you get my music, whether you paid for it or whether you get it from somebody, so long as you get to hear it and you come out and support by coming to a show, buying a t-shirt, getting a picture, or getting an autograph. That’s what means the most to me. Not how you got my music. I’d rather have 20,000 people get my music for free, bring a friend and have 40,000 people coming to see me on tour, than only 10,000 people paying for my music.
Would you consider putting out an album the Radiohead way?
Maybe, maybe not. We’ve got a couple different options, a couple different things we could do. When the next [album] comes, we’ll approach it then.
Is there a burgeoning hip hop scene in North Carolina?
There’s a lot of talented artists down there. It’s just gonna be hard for them to get really get noticed on a national level, though, until North Carolina starts supporting North Carolina.
Do you relate to Southern rap, or do you consider yourself more of an East Coast rapper?
The first thing people always look to is a sound – but the South is more than just a sound. The South is a whole different culture. If you’re from the south, you understand that culture. Just because we don’t rap in a southern twang and don’t have those southern style beats, that doesn’t mean we’re any less southern than Trick Daddy. It’s just a different aspect. North Carolina, even though it’s the South, it’s not really the South. It’s more middle-eastern than anything. Where we formed was a college town, you got people from the South, the West, North, Midwest, coming from all over, so there’s a whole bunch of different styles and sounds going on in North Carolina. I’m [influenced by] a little bit of everything. I’ve been influenced by NWA, UGK, EPMD, Geto Boys, Outkast. I’ve not one more than I am the other. I mix all my influences together.