Review Summary: backpackers? amirite?
It's easy to look at The Minstrel Show
and merely see one of the mid 2000s' underground classics that has been cruelly ignored over the years, but the album was actually the subject of a fair amount of controversy when it was released. BET infamously refused to play the "Lovin It" video because it allegedly was deemed "too intelligent" for the channel's audience, which speaks volumes on who BET cater to apparently. But more light was shone on how Little Brother condescended hip-hop as a genre by comparing it to a minstrel show. Considering how hip-hop was more popular than ever with artists like Kanye West, Eminem, and Outkast winning multiple Grammys and chart-topping hits being primarily rap, this criticism was fairly valid.
But hey! The music's pretty good, right? Phonte and Big Pooh bring their best rhymes to every track, while 9th Wonder's well-versed appreciation for boom-bap production doesn't get old. His beats really come into own with excellent sampling, the soul and R&B vibes perfectly complementing the chill atmosphere that permeates Little Brother's songs. The Minstrel Show
is also deceptively funny. On "Lovin It", Joe Scudda, a white rapper, features. Phonte then introduces him by remarking "Performing in blackface tonight, is my nigga, Joe Scudda." The skits highlighting rap's state in popular music, despite how heavy-handed they may be, still induce some laughs here and there. It all compounds into a smooth, lively package that has a great deal of replay value, whether you've driving to work or just simply offhandedly looking for something to listen to.
Much of Little Brother's qualms with hip-hop probably stemmed from how they weren't popular in the mainstream, and how they considered what was being played on the radio and on MTV was just generic trash. Whether or not this is actually true and radio fodder is really inferior quality to underground content is up to the listener, but one thing's for sure; Little Brother definitely did not deserve the tepid reception The Minstrel Show
originally received in 2005. It isn't a classic by any means, but if you're looking for an underappreciated record that provides a good ol' time, look no further than Phonte, Big Pooh, and 9th Wonder.