The Listening is the debut album of North Carolina trio Little Brother. It was released in early 2003 on ABB Records. The album became a surprise word-of-mouth sensation among underground rap fans, despite its lack of promotion, guest appearances, or extensive distribution.
As the main producer for the group, 9th Wonder's instrumentals consist of chopped and manipulated samples of old soul records, reminiscent of Pete Rock and DJ Premier. Complimenting the backdrops are MC's Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh with their tag-team wordplay and raps. On "Speed", they rap about the pressures of working a regular job while trying to survive in the rat race, while on "Make Me Hot", they make fun of people who hassle them for beats and studio time. They also do some uncanny impressions of old school era MC's on "So Fabulous".
The underlying theme of The Listening concerns the group's effort to engage their listeners on a deeper level, and their frustration at casual listeners who pay little attention to lyrics and content and simply want to hear a "hot song". The interludes are performed by the members of a fictional radio station called WJLR (Justus League Radio). On the last song, "The Listening", the group addresses the album's main theme directly: they abruptly stop the song, exchange dialogue, then restart.
As word of "The Listening" spread amongst the Hip Hop community, Little Brother became quietly heralded as one of a handful of heirs to a lineage of multifaceted, intellectual-but-accessible rap groups like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, The Fugees or even OutKast. Later, in a 2007 interview, Big Pooh recalled meeting a then-virtually unknown Kanye West who was aware of the group's unique aesthetic.
We met Kanye back in 2004 before College Dropout came out. He was down (South) for a music conference and that's when we did the song with Consequence. [Ed. note- "I See Now"]. It was just one of those things where we hung out while he was there. He pretty much said since we had the same style, he had to beat us to the punch [to be successful first].
Little Brother received approval from notable hip hop figures.
I'm so friggin' jealous of Little Brother. Hip Hop the way I love it -- tight beats, on point lyrics? What!!! I made 4,887,234 people listen to 'Whatever You Say' at gunpoint, and I don't even own a gun!
"The Listening" kinda brings me back to the days of when the 90's was poppin'. It's more realistic than what I'm hearing today and sounds like these guys put a lot of work into it. I love this album. Classic.