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Little Brother 

Chitlin Circuit 1.5 (Fast Life)

If hip-hop is dead, somebody forgot to tell Little Brother. The North Carolina-based affiliates of the Justus League crew have gone from regional up-and-comers to nationally recognized stars, aided by the well-deserved critical acclaim for their 2003 ABB records debut, The Listening, and producer 9th Wonder's work on Jay-Z's Black Album. They probably won't repeat Hovah's platinum sales on this new collection of unreleased songs, B-sides, and remixes, but its 18 tracks still allow true believers to keep the faith with an extended family vibe impossible to fake.

Among multiple MCs and producers, there's no letdown when the baton is passed, yet the show belongs to the core of Big Pooh and Phonte, who flow so hard, they don't have to act like they're hard. Punch lines rain down like actual punches, and on "Nobody Like Me," Phonte breaks it down: "Fuck the masquerade/Just let me have a say/I'll still be spittin' regardless of the accolades." This is engaging stuff, new-school rap with an old-school "doin' it for the love" flavor. If Chitlin Circuit isn't a classic, it doesn't miss by much.

More by Eric K. Arnold

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