[Interview] Rapper Big Pooh talks “Fat Boy Fresh: Vol. 2,” working with TDE, and Little Brother’s legacy

Interview by: Martin Bauman

Rapper Big Pooh occupies a unique place in hip-hop. As a member of the critically-praised North Carolina group Little Brother for 10 years, Pooh’s legacy will forever be cemented in hip-hop history. Despite his contribution to hip-hop, much of the story of Pooh’s career can be summed up by one word: under-appreciated. Since The Listening was released in 2003, Pooh has continued to face doubters who believe he didn’t belong in the group. Through it all, Pooh has only become more determined, continuing his solo career after the disbanding of Little Brother and proving he deserves respect. Now, he’s back with Fat Boy Fresh: Volume 2, a project on which he speaks candidly about the disbanding of Little Brother and the criticism he’s faced from fans. The Come Up Show caught up with Rapper Big Pooh to discuss his latest album, working with Kendrick Lamar and TDE, and how Little Brother will be remembered, among other things. Read the full interview below.

TCUS: Fat Boy Fresh: Volume 2 came out not too long ago, and you’ve also got a couple projects in the works for this year. Before we get into any of that, though, I want to get some insight into your rap origin. How old were you when you first started rapping?

Rapper Big Pooh: Man… I was young, I think I was like eleven, twelve maybe. Just hearing songs on the radio, and wanting to do what I was hearing.

TCUS: Did you mess around with any other names before Rapper Big Pooh?

Rapper Big Pooh: I think I did, I really just can’t remember. I had a group, it was me and my homeboy, and we were called the Ill Funk Freakers – this was when I was like twelve [laughs]. I just can’t remember what my rap name was. But even before I decided to use Pooh, [it] was actually my nickname that I was given when I got to school. I sat down and tried to think of other names to use, and none of them seemed to be me, so I just decided to go with my nickname – what people already called me.

TCUS: Everybody has that one album that sticks out to them above all the rest. What album influenced you the most in your lifetime?

Rapper Big Pooh: I think it was probably between Nas’ Illmatic and Nas’ It Was Written. I had been listening to rap before then – I listened to Biggie, Jay-Z, EMPD, Geto Boys, all types of music before that – but I think it was [those two albums] that really stood out to me because of the storytelling. It wasn’t much braggadocio rap; it was more storytelling, and I think that’s what stood out to me the most.

TCUS: When you started rapping, what kind of artists were you looking at to model yourself after?

Rapper Big Pooh: A little bit of Nas, a little bit of EMPD, a little bit of Ice Cube… Those are the artists [that] I was really trying to create, like, one super-emcee out of and take all of their best qualities, and make them mine.

TCUS: One thing people may not know about you is that you’re a big sports fan, especially basketball and the Washington Wizards. How did you become a Wizards fan?

Rapper Big Pooh: [Laughs] You know, a lot of people ask me that. I’m originally from Northern Virginia, so even though I’ve been in North Carolina for what’s going on twelve years now, all of the D.C. area teams are the teams that I support: Wizards, Redskins, Capitals, Orioles – because there wasn’t [sic] Nationals when I was coming up – even Maryland basketball, Georgetown basketball… the only [other team I support] that’s different is Notre Dame football, and that’s because Notre Dame was the only team I got to see every Saturday, because of their deal with NBC.

TCUS: It must have been a tough year for you then.

Rapper Big Pooh: It was a good year, all the way up until January 7th [laughs].

TCUS: You’ve mentioned before that you feel you don’t really fit in with the older generation – people like Mos Def and Talib Kweli – but you’re not young enough to be put in the same generation as somebody like Kendrick or Wale. Who do you identify with?

Rapper Big Pooh: That’s a good question. I really don’t identify with anyone. Maybe like Outkast almost, because they were kinda in the middle as well, but I don’t know, man. It’s just crazy. On one hand, the Mos Defs and the Kwelis are the people I look up to, and then the Kendricks and [so on] look up to me. The timing of when Little Brother came out, like you said, we were caught in the middle. We kinda ended up staying in the middle, for the most part.

TCUS: Speaking of Kendrick, you’ve done a few collaborations with him and Top Dawg. How did you initially connect with them?

Rapper Big Pooh: MySpace. This was right before people stopped using MySpace – the first time. Dave Free, the general manager over there, ended up hitting me – this was when all they had was Jay Rock and Kendrick – and he hit me up about doing a possible collaboration. So I went, and that was the first time I had heard of Jay Rock; I listened to some of his music, and I was like “yeah, I’m down!” I did some stuff, [Phonte] did some separate stuff, and I just kept the relationship going. I was going out to the West Coast a lot, so one time I went out there, and I just went over to their studio, and that’s when I ended up meeting Kendrick, and then Ab-Soul, and ScHoolboy Q came a little bit later. But we just always had a working relationship, since like ’06-’07.

TCUS: On your song “Thanksgiving” with Kendrick, one of your lines goes: “UPS, I deliver.” I think a lot of people miss out on half of the meaning of that line, because you actually used to work at UPS. At what point in your life was that?

Rapper Big Pooh: I did! [Laughs] That was after my second year in college. I went back to Virginia for the summer – and that was actually the last summer that I went back to Virginia – and I just needed a summer job, just to pass time until school. I had to make some money, so UPS was one of the jobs I had. I was working from 3 until like 8 in the morning, sorting boxes – that was a crazy job. For me, what I did, it wasn’t really hard work, but it was just the hours. When I was coming home, everybody else was on their way to work. So that was a little bit different.

TCUS: At what point in your life did you realize that rapping is what you wanted to do for your career?

Rapper Big Pooh: It wasn’t until maybe sophomore or junior year of college. That’s when I ended up meeting Phonte, 9th [Wonder], Big Doh, Chaundon, Joe Scudda… you know, everybody that we ended up clicking up with. I saw how serious some of them were about music being their career, and that made me serious about it. But even then, it was [just] something I was doing; I was like “yeahhh, this is fun,” but it wasn’t until probably like ’01 when it became “I really see something in this.”

TCUS: You’ve described yourself before as someone who likes to read autobiographies. Whose life story has interested you the most?

Rapper Big Pooh: I take a little something from all of [them]. I’ve read Russell Simmons, I gotta re-read the Miles Davis one… I’m actually reading a book about how Hitler came into power now. So I read a little bit of everything.

TCUS: If your life story was turned into a movie, who would play you?

Rapper Big Pooh: Let’s see… I don’t know man, people would probably say Keenan Thompson [laughs].

TCUS: Let’s get into your latest project. Fat Boy Fresh: Volume 2 has been out for nearly two months now. What did you want to accomplish with this project?

Rapper Big Pooh: I just wanted to make good music, man – like I do with all my projects – and show my growth as an artist, and for the people that actually listen to the lyrics, my growth as a man. That project was about embracing struggle and overcoming it, and I hope that’s what people are getting out of the project as they listen to it.

TCUS: In your song “HGH”, you say: “I dropped out of school but I finished college/ Young man with a lot of mileage.” Can you elaborate on this?

Rapper Big Pooh: Yeah, you know, people ask me about that line all the time. “Dropped out of high school but finished college” is actually, technically, the opposite: I graduated from high school, but I dropped out of college. But I say it the other way, because in high school, I didn’t really actively participate. I did enough to get the diploma, whereas in college I participated, I took certain classes that interested me, and [although] I didn’t get the diploma, I still got more out of college than I did out of high school because I actively participated.

TCUS: One of the other songs off Volume 2 is “Friends”, which touches on the disbanding of Little Brother from a fan’s perspective, and also on the criticism you’ve received from fans. There’s one line in particular that stuck out to me: “Scars on the ego/ Tend to be wounds that never heal and if they do slow.” How has this related to you on a personal level?

Rapper Big Pooh: You never forget some things. You can forgive a lot, but you never forget how people treated you, if they treated you a certain way – those things never leave the memory. It’s funny, my man Chaundon, as he was listening to the song, he pointed out something interesting. He was like, “it’s crazy how when Little Brother first came out, people were saying how I didn’t belong in the group, and I should be replaced, and I wasn’t any good, but ten years later, everyday people are like ‘yooo, when are y’all gonna get Little Brother back together? Come on, man, we need that! We miss it!’” So it’s kinda funny thinking about it in that sense, but that’s [basically] what that quote meant.

TCUS: Now that you mention that, it reminds me of something I read on your Twitter page. You had a quote that said “people have been calling me wack since ’03… it’s 2013.”

Rapper Big Pooh: From time to time, I’ll search my name on Twitter – you know, because some people will be talking about the album or whatever but they won’t necessarily @ me, they’ll just put my name – so I go through and see what people are talking about, and obviously, sometimes I come across people saying “Big Pooh’s wack, he’s this, he’s that.” People are really strong in their opinions, and I have no problem with that, but it’s when they want to argue with me about how they feel I am as an artist. People have been saying I was wack since 2003, but it’s 2013 and people are still checking for me [laughs]. I’m wack to you, but I’m not wack to everybody. That [tweet] by me is basically stating that people believe their personal opinions to be the say all end all, and that their opinions should be everybody’s opinions. Today, everybody is afraid to have their own opinions of something, so it’s like “if I say he’s wack, he’s gotta be wack to everybody.” [Really], if I’m wack to you, then I’m wack to you – and that’s fine – but that doesn’t go for everybody else.

TCUS: Inevitably, Little Brother remains in the conversation because of how influential you were as a group. Those days might be over now, but looking back, what will you cherish the most?

Rapper Big Pooh: The beginnings, man. How we recorded albums in the beginning, the first tours, being able to not only meet, but [also] record with some of the artists that I grew up listening to… All that stuff is definitely still fresh on my mind. And I say it all the time, Little Brother will forever be the foundation to my career – without Little Brother, people probably never would have heard of me. So that will always mean something to me.

TCUS: Speaking of the beginnings, I remember reading 9th Wonder talking about recording that first album on Cool Edit Pro, with the microphone right next to the computer and all that.

Rapper Big Pooh: Oh yeah, definitely [laughs]. We were in the room, and there would be seven [or] eight people – if not more – in the room at all times, and the microphone was right next to the computer, which was right next to some old speakers. We’d have to tell people to be quiet when it was time to record. If you had the acapellas, you could hear people in the back giggling, sneezing, laughing, and breathing. Like I said, I will always remember those times – us piled up in the room and just doing something that we love to do.

TCUS: It’s amazing that a classic album like The Listening was recorded with such basic tools. It just goes to show that quality music, no matter what technology you’re recording it with, will always resonate.

Rapper Big Pooh: Definitely, man. I always say it’s not the equipment, it’s who’s using the equipment.

TCUS: Ten or twenty years from now, what do you think Little Brother will be remembered for?

Rapper Big Pooh: We’ll probably be remembered for a group that didn’t get the credit we deserved, and didn’t get the accolades we probably deserved, or could have gotten. It’s kinda what people see us as now, and I think that’s why there’s such a clamouring for us to return. They see what type of music is being made now, and the lane we rode in is now wide open. That’s probably why people really want to hear us now, and I think that’s what people will remember about us ten, twenty years from now.

TCUS: I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but do you still maintain a relationship with Phonte and 9th Wonder?

Rapper Big Pooh: Nah, I haven’t spoken to either one of them in over two years.

TCUS: Do you regret that at all?

Rapper Big Pooh: From a personal standpoint, there’s definitely some regret there, but there’s things that need to be mended on a personal level. I think that’s what people don’t understand. This has nothing to do [with] creativeness, this is personal, so you always regret that. When you consider somebody family, and you’re estranged from them for any duration of time, you regret that. But at the end of the day, I still wish both of them the best. I don’t wish no [sic] harm on them, I wish them much success in their careers and everything that they’re striving to do.

TCUS: One word with particular significance to you is “loyalty”. Why is that?

Rapper Big Pooh: That means a lot, man – just knowing that somebody will always be there for you, unconditionally. And the industry isn’t built on loyalty. That’s something that I’ve always tried to have for people that I’ve dealt with. If I say I’mma do something, I’mma do it. If I say I’mma be somewhere, I’mma be there. If I say I’m ridin’ with you, then I’m ridin’ with you. No matter how I feel about the choices you make, I’m still there for you, so it definitely means a lot to me.

TCUS: Looking ahead, you’re preparing to release an EP on your birthday, February 12th. What more can you say about the EP?

Rapper Big Pooh: The EP is just me having fun. I got with my producer, a good friend of mine who I’ve actually known since before the beginning of Little Brother, The Mighty DR – he actually produced “Zone Out” off of Fat Boy Fresh: Volume 1. We’ve been trying to get together and really go at some work for awhile now, and it finally happened. In anticipation of us doing this other project, and in the style of The Purple Tape that I did a few years back, he was just throwing out beats and I was taking them and having fun with it. And I [thought] it’d be real dope to release something on my birthday, just to give people a little taste of the direction I’m heading in now.

TCUS: You’re also getting ready to release Trouble in the Neighbourhood. What can you tell me about that project?

Rapper Big Pooh: [Smiles wide] Aww man, that’s me and my man Roc C. It’s a couple years in the making; we had to slow down due to some legal business, but we went back and revamped the project we were originally working on. We’ve got some of the old stuff, and then we put a couple new tracks on there, just to finally get people that project that we’ve been promising for awhile. I’m excited for people to really hear what me and Roc C have been working on.

TCUS: Being that it’s January and the beginning of another new year, do you have any resolutions for yourself this year?

Rapper Big Pooh: I only have one resolution, and I try to make it a daily one, and that’s to be better than I was the day before. I’m trying to learn how to work smarter and harder at the same time. That’s my New Years and daily resolution.

TCUS: That’s all from me, is there anything else you’d like to say to the people out there?

Rapper Big Pooh: Thank you for listening, and I hope you keep listening. I’ve got a lot of music that I’m trying to get out to y’all this year, and hopefully I can get up to Canada sometime and get in front of y’all.

TCUS: Definitely. Thank you very much for your time today, I really appreciate it, and all the best to you in the future.

Rapper Big Pooh: Thank you for having me, man. I appreciate it.