Independent: What's your favorite part of Sleepers?
Big Pooh: It's probably the first song, "I Don't Care." It summed up a whole lot of feelings for me, from the time we finished The Listening until I wrote that song. Making that was like exhaling. I had been going through a lot, hearing people saying I was replaceable and that Phonte and 9th were hot. When you're in a group and you grinding and grinding with somebody and you're doing your best and their best just happens to be better than your best and people are like "That nigga Pooh is sorry" and not knowing the inner-workings of the group, that'll break a lot of people down. It made me stronger, made me work harder and harder. That song gets it all out. Take it.
Is that why you made the record?
I didn't intend to make an album, but after months of recording, I ended up doing it. Sleepers has been a long process. But it felt right. I didn't really like what I was doing, but then I got into this groove, this pocket.
What felt different when you hit that point?
The album sounds confident, and your lyrics are a bit bolder. Is that something you learned once you started rhyming?
I started out, you know, writing short stories and poems. But once I built up that confidence, it was like I aim to be the best. And I may not be the best, but I'm damn good, you know.
The Justus League sticks together. Now that Little Brother is on Atlantic, is there pressure to work with outsiders?
Not a lot, but people always want you to use some of their artists and they put their two cents in, but we stuck to our guns and we kept in-house. We did this record the same way we did the last record.... The thing with albums nowadays is that everything is like a compilation. I mean, look at the back, and it's like "featuring, featuring, featuring." We didn't want our work to get overshadowed by other people.
Is it scary to be on a major and to be sort of at the threshold of fame?
It's not scary, but it's something you gotta deal with. We keep preaching to 'em not to expect us to do 500,000 the first week. Don't put that pressure on us. We're trying to build a career. We're constantly preaching that, and hopefully they get the point that if we only do 75,000 the first week, that's cool. It might steadily sell 30,000 or 40,000 for a full year. But it's a fight, and you gotta go in it ready to swing.
You're all so young, but that's such a mature attitude. Where does it come from?
Study, man. Everything revolves back to school. We studied the game of music and watched other people's mistakes. If you watch other's mistakes, you can sidestep some. You've gotta watch and study and know how not to go wrong that way. I mean, we've made a couple of mistakes, but they're just learning experiences. Making music is the easiest part of the music business. That's why it's called the music business.
People want to call you underground, but Atlantic isn't underground. What do you call LB?
A hip-hop group. A rap group. Whatever.
So there's no underground/mainstream thing for you?
Nah, just dope music and whack music, know what I'm sayin'? There's bad music, period. Either I like it or I don't like it. It's whack or it sucks. When you put people in boxes, it kind of limits them. People saying we're underground, consciousness group or whatever, but if they hear me with The Neptunes, they're like, "Yo, he ain't supposed to be doing that." Talib and Mos Def still trying to fight themselves out of the consciousness MC box.
So you're going to follow your head, not other peoples'?
Whatever we feel like doing, that's where we gonna go. The Foreign Exchange fucked a lot of people up because it's different. They couldn't handle it. But it was dope. We don't want people to be surprised if we do anything. If it ain't dope, it ain't dope. Then you can complain. x
Little Brother plays the Cat's Cradle on Saturday, April 23, with The Away Team, L.E.G.A.C.Y. and more.