“Thank you for making this a beautiful fucking day,” Phonte Coleman said from stage on Saturday, October 7, as a crowd gathered for Made in Durham: a Little Brother Block Party.

It’s been a week since the hip-hop duo blessed Durham with a once-in-a-lifetime music experience, and I am still on a high.

Despite being one of hip-hop’s best-kept secrets, Little Brother’s 2003 debut album, The Listening is nevertheless widely regarded as a classic. Since that release, during an era marked by a distinct shift away from hip-hop’s golden age, the Durham-based trio has offered a refreshing yet nostalgic soundscape heavily influenced by the likes of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest.

Last week, over two thousand Little Brother enthusiasts gathered in downtown Durham to experience The Listening and other fan favorites live in a communal setting. Concert fashion has always embodied hip-hop camaraderie and it’s one of the purest ways for fans to articulate their love to their favorite artists; at this event, attendees (myself among them) flocked to the event in their best Little Brother fits and the merch lines were long. Full Steam Brewery served custom beer made in partnership with Little Brother, alongside alcohol with names inspired by the duo.

The location coincided with the soft opening of Missy Lane’s Assembly Room, a new jazz and social hub. Activating the city in the specific way that only hip-hop can invoked new energy downtown—an energy that hasn’t been felt since the Art of Cool Festival—with downtown still feeling small and charming but with the feel of a larger urban area.

The event layout played into these dynamic vibes: There was a designated seating area for those who brought their own lawn chairs, and though this zone was a ways from the stage, a large HD screen allowed this mature crowd to engage with Little Brother comfortably. Standing and seating areas also allowed attendees the freedom to position themselves.

Little Brother was supported by an impressive lineup featuring Zo! X Tall Black Guy, DJ Hourglass, DJ Wally Sparks, The Cool Kids, and Big K.R.I.T. Representing North Carolina, DJ Hourglass curated a set that blended old-school R&B with house music and the latest trap hits. With each transition, the energy of the crowd continued to increase. The crowd was then blessed with a DJ set by Wally Sparks that took them on a nostalgic Southern hip-hop journey that inspired no small amount of ass-shaking and dancing among the crowd.

As soon as Big K.R.I.T. took the stage the crowd went wild. The Mississippi star’s energy was so high he and his DJ both came close to busting a speaker. The deep, evident love for K.R.I.T. among the audience made it clear that those who cherish Little Brother would also have a profound appreciation for Big K.R.I.T; during the 30-minute set, the audience was tapped in, passionately rapping along to every lyric.

Once Little Brother took the stage, downtown Durham morphed into a hip-hop family reunion. The moment was truly magical as we witnessed two iconic artists, long deserving of recognition, receive their flowers in real-time. Throughout the set, Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh continued to express their gratitude to their team, all of whom are entrepreneurs and creatives based in Durham—Sonic Pie Productions, So When Do I Clap, Virtue Events, Sol Kitchen, and Nakoma PR— who had executed the duo’s vision in just 60 days, no small feat in the live event music production world.

The event ran on time, the sound was crisp, and the vibes stayed positive the entire night. As Phonte and Pooh moved through their set, the audience couldn’t help but be drawn into their magnetic performance, feeling the genuine connection and passion that has fueled their music for decades. Like their music, their set incorporated a number of comedic elements that kept the crowd both laughing and happily reciting their favorite lyrics.

The party was an entirely different experience from just attending a regular concert: It was a full-on celebration of the group’s legacy, impact on hip-hop culture, and the devoted fan community that has been with them every step of the way. By the end of the night, it was clear that the group had set the bar high for artist-owned music festivals. 

There hasn’t been any word on whether or not the event will happen again next year, but fans have been keeping their fingers crossed. If a block party were to happen again, it would be good look for Durham and a good look for North Carolina hip-hop. 

Comment on this story at music@indyweek.com.

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