As part of a yearlong celebration of North Carolina’s rich musical history, we are thrilled to unveil The Listening, a Holland Randolph Gallagher-directed documentary about the first golden age of North Carolina hip-hop at the turn of the millennium.
Started in a college dorm room by a group of North Carolina Central students in 2001, the Justus League collective and offshoot trio Little Brother defined the sound of Durham hip-hop for years to come, constructing a style altogether distinct from everything to the north and south. This level of innovation turned heads with some of hip-hop’s biggest names, and the members of Little Brother (9th Wonder, Big Pooh, and Phonte) have gone on to work with superstars like Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Jay-Z, Dr. Dre and Questlove, who appears in the documentary. The group will reunite for a rare performance at this year’s Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, N.C. (September 5-7).
Watch the story of this remarkable rise from Durham dorm room to hip-hop royalty in The Listening premiered Friday, July 12 on Okayplayer.
“For this project to be selected as a Come Hear NC commission was really poetic for me. I couldn't think of a better, more fitting outlet to tell our story as musicians who continue to live and work in North Carolina,” says Phonte Coleman, a founding member of Little Brother.
“I wanted to work with Holland on this story because I was really impressed with his web series, ‘Hype.’ He understands how to tell a story using minimal resources, which was always a part of the Little Brother ethos – making the most out of what you have. There were a lot of similarities between the making of ‘Hype’ and the making of our debut album, The Listening. Also, he's much younger than Pooh and I. His age gives him enough distance from the Little Brother story to truly be objective in telling it.”
Like the members of Little Brother, director Holland Randolph Gallagher is a North Carolina artist and active member of its thriving hip-hop community.“Being able to tell a story about Little Brother, a group so central to North Carolina rap history and the hip-hop world was obviously meaningful to me as a Durham filmmaker,” Gallagher said. “Their resonance is obvious in the community, their influence permeates today, and the details of their story speak to the endurance of a relationship between artists that refuse to compromise on reflecting the unfiltered, street-level truth of their lives.”
Watch The Listening: The Story Behind Little Brother's Debut Album
A behind the scenes look at the Little Brother and Holland Gallagher Come Hear North Carolina collaboration.
Like the members of Little Brother, director Holland Randolph Gallagher is a North Carolina artist and active member of its thriving hip-hop community. “Being able to tell a story about Little Brother, a group so central to North Carolina rap history and the hip-hop world was obviously meaningful to me as a Durham filmmaker,” Gallagher said. “Their resonance is obvious in the community, their influence permeates today, and the details of their story speak to the endurance of a relationship between artists that refuse to compromise on reflecting the unfiltered, street-level truth of their lives.”
Holland and Little Brother founder Phonte previously worked together on the web series “Hype,”which tracks the intersection of rap culture and startups in the Durham scene. Season two of “Hype” begins filming this fall, and the duo plans to release a feature-length documentary about Little Brother in 2020.
The Listening is the latest in a long line of projects commissioned by the North Carolina Arts Council as part of their Come Hear NC initiative with the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Last month, Come Hear NC announced a Nina Simone Weekend at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh (August 16-18) in partnership with the National Trust and the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission. Funds raised from the weekend’s programming, which will include a performance by Lisa Simone, daughter of Nina Simone, will be used to restore the childhood home of Nina Simone in Tryon, N.C.
Later this summer, In The Water, a Come Hear NC produced video series of intimate performances by N.C. musicians filmed in iconic North Carolina locations, is scheduled for release.
This year the First Lady of North Carolina Kristin Cooper and Come Hear NC also launched Music at the Mansion, an unprecedented concert series filmed at the North Carolina Executive Mansion. Throughout 2019 Come Hear NC is sponsoring programming with Americana Music Association, Yep Roc Records, Merge Records, MerleFest, Hopscotch Music Festival, the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Wide Open Bluegrass Festival and more.