In Little Brother's music, the North Carolina group makes a specific point to highlight the more refined aspects of mid-'90s hip-hop. Basing its 2002 sound upon the foundation previously established by the likes of Pete Rock, A Tribe Called Quest, Jay Dee, and Black Star, Little Brother makes somewhat of a political statement by applying such standards to this modern age. The Listening does an exceptional job of proving that soulful meditations have indeed retained their traditional relevancy within the contemporary realms of rap. 9th Wonder's production leads the charge with distinct drum kicks pacing larger-than-life melodic samples, which are often enhanced with sultry female voice-overs. Meanwhile, Phonte and Big Pooh dig even deeper within the hip-hop vaults as they draw upon classic routines by the likes of Rakim, Slick Rick, and Audio 2 for their lyrical inspiration.
Whether engaged in storytelling, braggadocio, or simple reassurance, the rhyming duo complements 9th Wonder's varying shades of mood music with a consistent degree of skill and sincerity. The album both starts and finishes strongly, with "For You," "Speed," "Nighttime Maneuvers," and the title track serving as its most stellar moments. Despite its unavoidably derivative orientation, The Listening is a finely crafted musical document, composed by artists who want nothing more than to provide even just a glimpse of hip-hop purity within an ever-expanding maze of cultural deterioration.”
- Robert Gabriel, Allmusic.com