As hip-hop bona fides go, Rapper Big Pooh has little left to prove. His past as a co-founder and one-third of legendary North Carolina group Little Brother should make that much clear. And if it doesn’t, songs alongside Kanye West, Drake and Kendrick Lamar before their names became household items should help.

Still, Pooh remains an emcee’s emcee, a behind-the-scenes connector in the hip-hop world. He is respected enough to crack open the door at Aftermath last summer in order for Raleigh rapper King Mez to slip into Dr. Dre’s inner circle. But like many other classic acts or background connectors, he is most frequently talked about in the past tense. He’s not able to do an interview without a question about his relationship with Phonte, not able to have a new album reviewed without an introductory Little Brother mention. (See above.)

Though it’s not an easy shadow from which to emerge, Pooh remains persistent. Earlier this year, he issued a strong set with producer Apollo Brown. Now, with the release of his collaborative LP Home Sweet Home alongside Virginia beatmaker Nottz, he has put his name on two projects within eight months that should vie for year-end attention. Nearly two years have passed since this collaboration was first announced; it was worth the wait.

Home Sweet Home brims with energy from the first track, an introduction that’s fittingly cinematic for a hero’s reintroduction. “I’m tryin’ to reach new heights, so fuck fear,” Pooh spouts over a head-knocking beat before transitioning to “Welcome Home,” the first of three “home”-related interludes.

Parallels to West’s masterpiece “Family Business” run through the entire album. The middle interlude, “Homemade,” feels specifically like a soulful redux of the classic from The College Dropout. Conveying the same feeling of being at peace with life as West does, Pooh places us in the midst of a raucous gathering of relatives: “Kids playin’ in the front yard/niggas standin’ on the corner/I don’t know ’em but they lookin’ hard.”

Home Sweet Home charts a clever narrative, too, jumping between themes of arriving home, going to church, indulging bad friends, recalling fond memories and courting old partners. Even when Pooh approaches darker material, and even when Nottz’ snapping drums and granular samples get abrasive, Home Sweet Home manages to feel like, well, home. The pervasive warmth here moves beyond simple boom-bap nostalgia. The saxophone on the tail end of “Prom Season,” the looped piano riff in “Homemade,” the soothing glow of the organ on “Alone”: Home Sweet Home feels good.

As a soundtrack to time spent back home with family, old friends and some unsavory characters, Home Sweet Home is the rare album that is exactly what it purports to be. Its conceptual focus gets a boost from the shared Virginia roots of Pooh and Nottz, both of whom left the comforts of the place to pursue their respective careers. Years later, Home Sweet Home represents a wondrous rendezvous.

Label: Mellow Music Group