Rapper Big Pooh is a veteran MC and one-third of the legendary North Carolina rap group Little Brother. Over the past 20 years, Pooh has constantly reinvented himself, from managing artists such as Dreamville's Lute to DJing to running his new distribution company, Common Cents Media Group. On November 2, Pooh and producer Focus... released their new album, RPM.
Reinvention is something that you hear about often in the music business. It’s something that you see happening around you every day if you pay enough attention. But what do you do when it’s time for you to reinvent you?
I arrived in Durham, North Carolina to attend a college I had never visited, applied for, or even heard about a week after classes officially started in the summer of 1998. I had no intentions of being there. Old Dominion University in Hampton, Virginia was my first choice, but when my mentor, a deacon at the church I attended, learned I didn't have housing set up, he helped me obtain a scholarship.
"Would you change your school selection for a scholarship?" he asked.
My answer was yes, of course.
Being a late arrival meant being housed at one of the local hotels downtown while construction was completed on two new dorms during that fall semester. After high school, I initially had no want for more academia, but here I was, going to general studies classes trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
Reinvention: Act I
After a month and a half of hotel living, I was finally moved into one of the old dorms and thrust into a scene with mostly upperclassmen. I was mature for my age so I had no problem fitting in with the older heads; this is when my musical education and journey began. Through a mutual friend on my hall, I met Phonte. I then met 9th Wonder through other mutual friends and those familiar with Little Brother know how the story goes. A larger collective eventually dissipated which made way for another collective, The Justus League. Recording a random song in the summer of 2001 turned into us forming a group and eventually releasing our debut album, The Listening, at the beginning of 2003.
For me, Little Brother was an unexpected blast. I had no expectations. This time around, I had no mentor to help guide me as I navigated this unpaved lane. I was surviving off of instinct and people skills. At the time Little Brother began to take off, I was still trying to figure out if teaching was the right career path for me.
For six years straight, I was on one hell of a ride. I was putting out critically acclaimed albums, touring the world, in and out of record deals, and making and spending money like it was coming forever. I thought we had another six to seven years of Little Brother in us. We didn’t. When Little Brother came to a halt, I chose to dive headfirst into building my career as a solo artist. Yeah, I dropped a solo album in the midst of the Little Brother run, but I never took the time to explore what it was like to be a solo artist until 2010. I’m not going to lie, that change was jarring. I always looked at myself as a member of a group and then one day, it was just me.
Reinvention: Act II
It took me almost two years to finally put together my first true solo album post-LB. I had to find myself again. I had to figure out who I was as an artist and who I wanted to be. I worked with different producers and different artists. I had to stretch myself as an artist to find out what my limitations were. I was extremely focused on proving that I could survive on my own. I was proud of the music I was making and the direction I was headed in but I wasn’t garnering the same type of success that I had with Little Brother.
Since the release of The Listening in 2003, I never thought about being anything other than an artist. Low album sales and a lack of touring opportunities finally had me facing that reality. So I decided to fight back. I released a slew of material between 2012 and 2015. Determined to change my outcome, I put blinders on. I didn’t want to hear about anything if it wasn’t about me putting out a project or doing a show. The funny thing is, the seeds had already been planted for my next move, and I was just fighting the inevitable.
It’s like that guy that starts to bald and instead of embracing what his head is telling him, he tries all types of hair rejuvenation techniques. I was becoming “that guy.” After putting out Home Sweet Home with Nottz, I decided it was time to take a break and figure out what my next move was going to be. No more running from my reality—a change was needed.
Reinvention: Act III
Around 2012, my business partner and manager Big Dho told me that he could see me stepping into artist management when I was ready to slide being an artist down my priority list. I was listening to him but wasn’t really ready to receive the knowledge he was giving me. In late 2013, I ended up meeting a guy named Rich. Rich had been emailing me for months, trying to "connect," but I repeatedly blew him off—until we ran into each other at a beat battle. Rich told me veteran producer Nottz was coming through his studio later that day and extended me an invite. That session ended up kick-starting what would become our joint project, Home Sweet Home, but it also sparked a working relationship between me and Rich.
When I wasn’t recording, Rich and I would just have conversations about the business of music. Rich had been in the game since the ’90s as a writer and producer. One of the things he always brought to my attention was the importance of reinventing yourself. I had no idea what he was talking about in the beginning—at the time I was only focused on my solo recording career. Fast forward a year and a half, Rich has now become a mentor. Just like Dho had noticed a few years earlier, Rich recognized how young cats would seek me out for advice and mentorship. That’s when I finally began to see what he and Dho had seen in me way before I saw it myself. After helping fellow North Carolina native King Mez get in with Dr. Dre, I finally decided to step into the management world.
My first client was another NC native, Lute, who would soon sign a record deal with Dreamville/Interscope. Soon thereafter, Big Dho and I formed Brothers Grand LLC to house the clients we managed under one roof. Dho brought over producer Praise and I added singer-songwriter and engineer Blakk Soul. Helping these young guys chase their dreams rejuvenated me. It brought new life to my relationship with music and the music business.
While I was still helping other non-clients here and there, I wanted to do something that could really help those creatives who didn’t necessarily need management but still valued my expertise. So I got with a few friends and started Common Cents Media Group as a distribution hub. We help budding labels and artists get their footing in the business by providing advice and access to resources.
2018 ended up being the year everything came full circle. With both of my artists working diligently to reach new heights, I got the urge to finally complete a project that had been on my whiteboard for two long years. In the midst of finishing up RPM with two-time GRAMMY Award-winning producer Focus…, Little Brother reunited on the stage for the first time since 2005. Although my story and journey is far from over, I have learned over the years to never be afraid to start again. Sometimes that fresh start can be just the thing you need to finally get you over the proverbial hump.