One year after The Minstrel Show, what's next for the Hall of Justus?
For our Oct. 5, 2005 issue, Grayson Currin joined Little Brother and their Hall of Justus entourage--L.E.G.A.C.Y., The Away Team, Chaundon, Darien Brockington, DJ Flash, Joe Scudda, DJ Paradime and Hall of Justus owner Mischa "Big Dho" Burgess--for three shows in New York, Philadelphia and Boston on their Commercial Free Tour.
Each night for two months, 13 men would climb into bunks in one massive tour bus, all working to support not just Little Brother's major-label debut The Minstrel Show but to support what they called "The Movement." This movement was centered around The Justus League, a hip-hop collective N.C. State beatmaker 9th Wonder started with Raleigh emcee Cesar Comanche in 1998.
Over time, membership grew, alliances were formed and a formidable underground hip-hop buzz indicated that something big was about to happen for this cache of North Carolina artists. That energy culminated in The Minstrel Show, which--despite magazine covers and critical support--failed to meet financial expectations.
Still, the movement has continued. In the year since our "Little Brother mans up" cover story, the Justus League and its corporate wing, Hall of Justus, have experienced major changes. New members have come, some veterans have diverted their Justus interactions, and albums long promised through Hall of Justus have yet to appear. Still, Justus League continues to persevere, its members releasing almost a dozen mixtapes in the past year and two proper albums--Darien Brockington's Somebody to Love and the compilation Soldiers of Fortune--together on Oct. 17. Here, we take a look at Justus League post-The Minstrel Show, including their newest addition, longtime Durham favorite Jozeemo.
"The record industry is so fucked up right now you just have to be glad that somebody put your record out, you know," says Phonte Coleman, one of two emcees in Durham's Little Brother.
Last year, New York-based major Atlantic Records released Little Brother's The Minstrel Show, the follow-up to the group's acclaimed debut, The Listening. Critical buzz on the heels of The Listening had pushed Little Brother into the major-label radar, and they signed a seven-album contract. But some of that din decreased with The Minstrel Show, an album largely construed as snide commentary against more commercially viable hip hop. The album sold a meager 80,000 copies. Coleman says that if the Atlantic follow-up--tentatively titled Getback and scheduled for release in the spring of 2007--doesn't surpass those numbers, Little Brother will likely seek a home apart from Atlantic.
Meahwhile, they're busy prepping Getback, recording some nights until 7 a.m. in their Durham-based Chop Shop Studios. Big Pooh, Little Brother's other emcee, says this record should challenge notions of the group.
"Just as far as the whole sound we're going for, it's going to sound different because producers besides 9th Wonder are involved," says Pooh, adding that, so far, the album works with beats from Nottz--who just supplied a beat for the new collaboration between Snoop Dogg and R. Kelly, "That's That"--and recent G-Unit addition Illmind. "It's hard to describe the sound we're going for, but all the beats are lively and colorful and almost vibrant."
Coleman says the beats they've received from longtime Little Brother member and Justus League co-founder 9th Wonder haven't worked on that level. So far, he has landed only one beat on the album's first eight tracks.
"I don't know if he has them or not, but it just didn't grab us. We never had that feeling from the beats he gave us, and, for this album, we're not going to settle, whether you're 9th Wonder or Just Blaze. We have to be able to fit it into what we're doing," says Coleman.
It's an interesting position for Little Brother: Many critics championed 9th's simplistic, unadorned production as fervently as Little Brother itself. But while Coleman and Pooh completed a 24-date national tour last year in support of Little Brother, 9th spent the time away from the group, making beats for other groups. 9th has landed an impressive load of collaborative work outside of the Triangle, producing two full albums with Murs, one with Buckshot, the unreleased Jeanius with Jean Grae and tracks for stars from Jay-Z and Destiny's Child to Mary J. Blige and Memphis Bleek.
"9th decided to record beats for multiple albums with people. The uniqueness of what we had was gone, you know," says Pooh, at home in Cary. "We opened it up and made it a free ballgame and told him, 'You can get as many tracks as you want on this album, but you have to do it the way we want it done.' So far, he hasn't done that."
The Hall of Justus crew tours with Method Man from Oct. 24 until Nov. 8. See the tour at the Cat's Cradle on Oct. 29. L.E.G.A.C.Y. plays The Marvell Events Center on Thursday, Nov. 2 at 9 p.m.