[21 August 2005]
Chitlins are an African-American delicacy that dates back to slavery, when white oppressors hoarded the best parts of the pig, tossing Negroes (slaves then) the pig’s intestines, which were slow-cooked and spiced to perfection. The chitlin circuit is also the name given to a string of venues where black musicians, barred from white-only clubs, made their living above and below the Mason-Dixon Line. Before capitalism swallowed hip-hop, hip-hop too lived off the white man’s scraps, siphoning its very energy from street lights, concocting a schizophrenic culture from the inner cities whites vacated and left to rot.
Chitlins, for the purpose of this review, are a manifestation of the black experience in America, a metaphor for making do in the face of Jim Crow, fire hoses, and rap itself. It’s no coincidence Little Brother named their collection of unreleased tracks, b-sides, and remixes The Chittlin Circuit 1.5. The underground is a chitlin circuit. Has been ever since capitalism enslaved gangsta rap, stripped it bare, and sold it to the masses. For years it fed off the violent, hyper-sexualized males of the culture, tossing those who didn’t fit the paradigm to the underground and the other black market.
But the underground is where the diversity of black voices cries out—from the sweltering shacks where bluesman Robert Johnson first conjured the blues to the mix tape circuit where emcees now hone their craft. To date, Little Brother have delivered The Listening, an underground classic of unparalleled quality (think of the jazzy-soul of Hi-Tek or A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory). Now, for our listening pleasure, they’ve released the leftovers (chittlins anyone?), spiced up by a slew of guest producers. It’ll move you in ways you forgot rap could.
Phonte, Rapper Big Pooh, and 9th Wonder are Little Brother, three Negroes whose raps expose the beauty of their charcoal-black souls. African-American music tells a tale of the American dream, of survival and oppression, of happiness and pain. LB is a gang of socially conscious hip-hoppers. That’s not to say the album is an hour-long paean to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”, but it does expands upon the myopic view of blackness mirrored by mainstream hip-hop.
The Chittlin Circuit combines the organic, soaring beats of A Tribe Called Quest with Pete Rock’s jazz-inspired sampling of the black soul. 9th Wonder claims responsibility for that. As one of the most sought-after underground producers, he—and maybe Madlib—owns the underground. Though, on this album, Young Guru, Khrysis, Nicolay, and Ill Mind contribute tracks, remixing songs, never altering LB’s warm, uplifting moods. Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh lead listeners through this exercise in electric relaxation, deftly weaving your imagination through more realistic narratives than multi-platinum-selling 50 Cent could ever conceive.