Little Brother Credit: Antoine Lyers

On August 19, rapper Phonte Coleman posted album art for May the Lord Watch (Imagine Nation Music/Members Only/Empire), a previously unannounced full-length by his North Carolina hip-hop duo, Little Brother on Instagram. It’d been nine years since the last Little Brother album, 2010’s Leftback, but Phonte and fellow MC Big Pooh didn’t try to heighten the suspense with a long lead-up: they dropped May the Lord Watch at midnight that same night. So beloved is Little Brother that even those few hours were enough for intense hype to grow up around the suddenly anticipated album—and the music moves with the kind of resplendent grace that’s worthy of such fervent fandom. Phonte (age 40) and Pooh (39) have come up with their own charming way of navigating hip-hop as they near middle age, and their vision has plenty of room for self-reflection, euphoria, and hope. I keep coming back to “Picture This,” where Phonte and Pooh trade verses about their past, present, and future over a smooth and sophisticated instrumental by underground hip-hop hero Black Milk. Their invigorating but unsentimental enthusiasm makes this one of the liveliest hip-hop songs I’ve heard this year.   v