The mid-2000s were an interesting time for hip-hop. It was no longer the niche, underground genre it once was, but not quite yet the driving musical force around the world. Mainstream rap was stuck in the bling era mire, with seemingly no way out. Rappers like Kanye West, Common and others eventually helped hip-hop break out of its corner and into a new era, but there were still those carrying the torch for where rap began. Groups like North Carolina’s Little Brother were some of the first in that time period to call out their contemporaries for forgetting their roots. Rappers Phonte and Big Pooh, along with, at the time, producer 9th Wonder, offered an alternative type of hip-hop to what was in the mainstream. At the end of the decade, the group broke up, but more recently got back together without 9th and played their first show in Baltimore in over 10 years at Ram’s Head Live on March 7, 2020.
The six listed openers translated into four performances and a DJ. Each set was unique and interesting and mostly Baltimore based. The show opened with Ashley Sierra and Jai Ivy performing together as rapper and singer. As they pointed out, they were the only female performers on the bill. The two tore up the stage, and the still scant crowd seemed to vibe with it. Next up was The Nasa 8, a group that consists of many members, but the three performing this time were Bito Sureiya, Jiro Sama and Tislam the Great. The group’s mix of nerdy rhymes with classic beats is a great combination, and made for an electric performance from the three, who played off of each other beautifully. Next was Ace Cannons, another Baltimore native, whose high vocal energy and great flows managed to impress the now filling out audience. The last opener, other than a DJ set, was rapper Xavier James, who had the crowd’s energy the highest it had been all night, perhaps due to the now mostly full venue.
After a DJ set, Little Brother finally took the stage, and thanked the crowd for coming out to their first Baltimore show in over a decade, and risking catching “the black plague” as Phonte called the recent COVID-19 hysteria. The duo then rocked the stage. The chemistry between the two rappers feels like they haven’t missed a beat, like their long hiatus never existed. Of course, each of the rappers has been working on their own, but when they come together, that old school feeling is brought back.
Little Brother may have never hit the big time, but their incredible music and attitude toward hip-hop have garnered them fans that are loyal across decades. By the end of the night, Ram’s Head was nearly full despite the virus making its way through the world. Each member of the crowd was treated to a rare experience of seeing Little Brother perform together again in their city for the first time in over 10 years.