Day 163: "Breakin' My Heart" feat. Lil Wayne – Little Brother, The Getback , 2007
Growing up in North Carolina, rap boiled down to one simple lyric: "North Carolina, come on and raise up / take your shirt off, wave it 'round your head like a helicopter." It was literally the only cool thing my home state had contributed to modern popular music. Petey Pablo is still a legend for that, forever. But it's not a lot to hang your hat on as an entire state.
Then, around the time I was finishing high school, there was suddenly a new hope, a group called Little Brother, who were not only dope rappers making the exact kind of boom-bap lyrical hip-hop I was into at the time but also happened to be getting some attention outside of North Carolina. This was good because, even living ten miles away from their home city of Durham, I never came across their first album, The Listening. Their debut with Atlantic Records, The Minstrel Show, meanwhile, was a big deal. It's still a wildly underrated album, clever and funny and rapped to precision.
It didn't sell very well, though, and the group was dropped from the label before their third album, Getback. Then, the group's producer and most famous member, 9th Wonder, announced he was leaving to pursue his solo production career. Nonetheless, MCs Phonte and Big Pooh had a couple of 9th tracks, a budding Durham hip-hop production scene to draw from, and a bunch of good ideas, and Getback came out that fall, perfectly aligning with my aesthetic at the time of "college student who likes real hip-hop." Even better, my favorite rapper, Lil Wayne, was on one of the songs! How?! What a collision of worlds! Wayne, the hitmaker behind such pop-rap classics as "Make It Rain" and "We Takin' Over," was also paying attention to the independent rap underground? It was one thing for Kanye to get a Wayne guest verse that fall—that seemed like savvy curation on 'Ye's part—but it was a completely different thing for a relatively unknown duo of backpack rappers to land Wayne—this seemed like savvy gesturing on Wayne's part.
At the time, despite literally half a decade of trying to prove his bona fides as a successor to Jay Z, Wayne was written off most of all by the type of heads who might bump a Little Brother album. Pop-oriented rappers trotting out hood stereotypes were quite literally the target of The Minstrel Show. So Wayne doing the track was a bridging of worlds, and perhaps it was targeted to change a few minds. Speaking to The Smoking Section before it came out, Phonte said, "We reached out to him, and he turned it around in two days, on tour nahmean. Like he was much more professional than a lot of 'real hip hop niggas' straight up and down."
It didn't hurt that his verse arrived with just as much wit as Phonte's and Big Pooh's, or that it ran circles around that one on the Kanye album (at the time, the biggest rap album in the country). Wayne's verse is basically all metaphorical punchlines (considering that "metaphors and punchlines" is rap shorthand for "nerdy lyrical shit," a good choice) about love. Maybe downplays the substance of the song (which is basically: love is complicated, and a lot of dudes cheat), but also it is dope. There are two lines in particular that gave me (if you can picture a young college sophomore obsessed with Nas) whiplash: "I gets all in your head just like shampoo" and then "I play fair like roller coasters and clowns." Fair like roller coasters and clowns? I'd been to the fair. I'd seen roller coasters and clowns there. I knew a mindblowing double entendre when I heard one. And the shampoo line? I had definitely bathed, also, despite being 19. Anyway, the whole verse goes off:
Word up, I say I don't have nothin If I don't have you
Like Sade, you got the sweetest taboo
And my game is skin deep like the first tattoo
I gets all in your head just like shampoo
I just wanna fuck with you like rude polices
I don't want a broken heart because I lose the pieces
Hey, girl, don't play with my gangsta
And have the boy blue like the Texas Ranger
And I know cheaters never get crowned
So I play fair like roller coasters and clowns
Yeah, you gotta hold your soldier down
Even when the war is lookin like it is right around the corner
And you don't wanna leave me believe me
Cause I can turn you on like a personal TV
It's Young Weezy, I know what you thought
But I'm just here to play my part so: Don't go breakin' my heart
Wayne could not have come through with a more tailored verse for the occasion, and the occasion was not just The Little Brother Album but also Blowing Minds. I imagine I was not the only one. Both 9th Wonder and Phonte have addressed the surprise their fans must have felt to see Weezy pop up on a track. In a video on Little Brother's YouTube channel from 2007, 9th explains:
I found out through 'Te while they were on tour that Lil Wayne was a fan of us, which kind of shocked a lot of cats—Okayplayer, different websites. I like the joint. I really want to do more joints with him. He's a versatile MC, no matter what people think about him. And hopefully we can do some more joints in the future.
Yeah, he really said "no matter what people think about him": 9th knew that their fans were skeptical of Wayne, which might seem insane, but, remember, he was coming out of a Southern rap scene that represented basically everything Little Brother stood against, talent notwithstanding. A few years later, Phonte compared his and 9th Wonder's collaboration with Lil B—an even more polarizing figure among rap traditionalists—to the Lil Wayne song in an interview with HipHopDX:
For me, "Base For Your Face" was giving my fans a curve-ball. It was very similar to what [Little Brother] did in 2007 when we did the track ["Breakin' My Heart" ] with Lil Wayne for Getback. I just always believe, as an artist, that you always have to keep fans on their toes because the minute that they think they have you figured out, then it's over. The minute they know what you're gonna do [next], they lose interest. You always have to be two or three steps ahead of 'em.
Imagine being a Little Brother fan skeptical of Lil Wayne! Especially when Lil Wayne himself was a fan of the group! Hip-hop still has its culture wars, but fortunately it has mostly moved beyond this one. And part of that was directly due to collaborations like this "Breakin' My Heart." So shouts out to Little Brother, who remain the best North Carolina rap group and who will forever rule for getting Lil Wayne on a song.
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