9th Wonder: Black Music Month’s Champion

In the year 2007, it’s safe to say that the South has risen again, but just north of the dirty dirty still lies the South’s best kept secret.  Little did the world know that when 9th Wonder emerged on the scene four years ago, with a remix of Nas’ God’s Son album, he would spark […]

In the year 2007, it’s safe to say that the South has risen again, but just north of the dirty dirty still lies the South’s best kept secret.  Little did the world know that when 9th Wonder emerged on the scene four years ago, with a remix of Nas’ God’s Son album, he would spark a trend and change the Hip-Hop production game forever.  Consistently staying true to his roots in old school Hip-Hop and R&B, 9th Wonder has mastered the perfect blend of producer and DJ, which has garnered him respect from everyone, from Erykah Badu to Jay-Z. We caught up with the low-key producer at his home in North Carolina and got the scoop on some of his silent activities, including his split from Little Brother and his emerging career as a college professor. It’s Black Music Month in America and at AllHipHop.com, and 9th Wonder is one championing the cause.AllHipHop.com: What was the first song or artist that inspired you to produce?9th Wonder: “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” by Pete Rock & CL Smooth.  I saw the video first before I heard the song, and it’s just the whole atmosphere of the video.  Then the classic horn break in the beginning.  And Pete Rock’s whole vibe in the video.  It made me think, “I’d like to produce for those dudes.” I thought I was going to go to law school since I was a history major, live a normal American life, but it just didn’t turn out that way. Now, here I am.AllHipHop.com: It’s obvious that you’re an ’80s cat.  So, hypothetically speaking, if you could make the soundtrack to any ’80s cartoon being made into a major motion picture, what would it be?9th Wonder: Because Transformers is out now, I can’t say that. But then I heard Pharrell is making the soundtrack to Voltron, so that cancels that out. G.I. Joe, there we go. If they make that into a major motion picture, please call me up.  Those were my top three favorite ’80s cartoons.AllHipHop.com: The South has really risen since you first stepped on the scene with God’s Stepson.  Are you proud of the recognition that the South has been getting lately?9th Wonder: I’m happy that Black people are making money, legally.  I’m happy for that.  Any Black man getting money, and as crooked as this industry is, and they ain’t out hurting nobody, I’m all for that; but the quality and the sound of it, I ain’t with none of that. I mean, I’m from the South, but I don’t get into that whole territory thing. I like good music, no matter where it comes from. I will champion good music before I champion a region any day.  And I try to look at it like this music isn’t made for me and my generation, it’s for these high school kids. But then I get concerned when 35 year-olds listen to the same stuff. And I’m analytical, so I start to look at that man’s life.  My dad didn’t come sit down and listen to N.W.A. with me. He made me sit down and listen to his music, which helped my music and enriched my soul. That’s what’s missing today.Now everything has slowed down, drastically, and everything is two and three syllables.  [Lil’ Boosie’s] “Wipe Me Down,” [Hurricane Chris’] “Aye Baby,” [MIMS’] “This Is Why I’m Hot”… everything is just so simple.  I ain’t got no problem with it, it just ain’t me.  And I’ve come to realize, as I grow older, that there’s more followers than leaders in this world. And I also feel like…you know how you feel like you’re alone? You’re in a party and all your peers are going crazy, and you’re standing around like “I don’t get it.” And you know they don’t really deep down like it, but that they just want to jump on the bandwagon?  I want to be one of those people that stands up and says, “I don’t like it.” I also don’t think it’s carrying the tradition of Black music and teaching the kids.  And not everyone is meant to teach, but just don’t ask me to play it in a party. I just can’t do it.AllHipHop.com: People know you’re laid back, but they don’t know you’re really a family man, which I think is dope.  How do you balance family life in an industry that seems to thrive on deteriorating households?9th Wonder:  I don’t get into the Hollywood stuff. For instance, me doing this interview…most times you have to go through five people to get to the person.  I think that’s ridiculous.  People do that to seem elite.  I’m no into that.  I’m from the South and that’s one thing I can say about the South, we grow up, go to college, get married, support our families, and we die.  I still live that lifestyle; I just make beats for a living. But with my family, I leave 9th Wonder at the door.  It’s funny. People seem surprised that you aren’t an a**hole. Like, people always say I’m so cool when they meet me, and I’m thinking, “How am I supposed to be?”  But my family comes first, and I just can’t see myself being Hollywood. I’d rather be like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis than like Kanye [West], no offense to Kanye or anything.  And I feel like if I can do that, I can still go into Wal-Mart and Best Buy, and have one or two people come up to me and say they like my music, instead of having people screaming anytime they see me. I don’t want that.AllHipHop.com: The game right now is really bleak.  It seems that everyone is struggling to stay afloat, and attaching themselves to anything that sounds hot to do so.  If you could pick one artists who really needs your help right now, who would it be?9th Wonder: Man, I don’t know. Umm, I’d have to say Lauryn Hill. We need Lauryn. Women need Lauryn.  Umm, Heavy D.  And yes, I said Heavy D.  I really want old LL Cool J back.  AllHipHop.com: Yeah, he’s with G-Unit now.9th Wonder: Yeah, he needs some guidance. AllHipHop.com: [Laughs] You’ve been in the game for a minute, and have accomplished things that other producers strive for. Still, you seem to fly below the radar, while someone like Nitty makes one hot track and people are all over it. Do you ever feel pressure to adapt or conform to stay afloat?9th Wonder: No, I don’t feel pressure because for some people, music is all that they have.  For some people, its like “If I don’t do music, what the hell am I going to do?” Or like this imaginary building that people say they’re in; they will do whatever it takes to be in the building. Like “I’m in the building!” What is that? Me, I deejay. I spin, so I will always have a job. I teach college, that’s another avenue, so I will always have a job.I started below the radar in this “underground” era, and use that term loosely. I did music just because, and I just started to get paid for it and that led to other things. So I think that there’s a difference between staying current and doing what’s hot.  Like if you have dial up and you get a modem, that’s staying current.  But having a [Dodge] Roadrunner and then going out and getting chromed out spinners, that’s doing what’s hot. Pharrell told me a while ago to always think six months ahead of the game, so when people are doing whatever they’re doing, you’re always working on something new, on a different level.  I just try to do that.AllHipHop.com: I feel like that’s a big issue right now-people trying to do what they think is hot.  Like have you heard R. Kelly’s album?9th Wonder: I think the R. Kelly album is an abomination of Black people. The zoo song- if that’s not the most ridiculous s**t.  It really hurts me that Black people are going around playing that mess. Like one, you know the n***a is going around peeing on little girls, and past that, he is talking about monkeys and trees.  If you support that you don’t even deserve to be Black no more. He wants to jump on records with all these young cats, damn T-Pain. He is supposed to lead not follow, and I think that only happens with Black music.  That doesn’t happen with White music.  Bon Jovi and U2 are going to play their jams that everybody knows, and everyone is going to go home and be happy.I just think it’s a problem when you’re 36 years-old and sitting on the 106 & Park couch.  I mean, I know that is the only medium sometimes, but look at the audience. Those kids are 14 and 15, screaming “I love you.” Something is wrong with that.  I’d just rather appeal to my peers. If a 17 year-old likes me, it’s because they like my music.  I’m not going to pander my music to suit them. Big ups to Omarion, he’s trying to do it. He’s trying to bring real music back for the younger generation. It’s hard getting a 33 year-old dude to buy Omarion’s album. But the album is hot.AllHipHop.com: I wanted to talk to you about your new teaching career. You started teaching a Hip-Hop course at North Carolina Central, how is that going?  What have the students been teaching you?9th Wonder: The class is “Hip-Hop in Context” and it covers Hip-Hop from 1973 to 1997. We do that because we know the age bracket we’re dealing with doesn’t really know anything about those years.  They may know up to ’84 because of their parents.  I bring turntables to class everyday so I can play the song that I’m talking about. Last year we had Dana Dane, Doug E. Fresh, Monie Love, DMC, Buckshot, Kurtis Blow and a few other people come by the class to talk or come to a panel.  It’s cool.  We are trying to bridge the gap and get to the youth before some White school gets their hands on it, and begins to take it away from us.What I’ve learned from students is that they don’t view Hip-Hop the way we used to. [KRS-One’s] “Black Cop” was a party song with a message. [Public Enemy’s] “911 is A Joke” was a party song with a message. [Boogie Down Productions’] “Jimmy” was a party song but also taught you about safe sex.  But now, if it’s a message, I got to be still and burn incense to listen to it.  They think they can’t party to Common. They figure, “I need something I can party to, so I’m going to listen to something ignorant.”  And I also learned that its mainstream effects are different. I had to wait a week for Yo! MTV Raps to come on. Like, we starved for it.  But now, Hip-Hop is everywhere, on the McDonald’s commercials, on the cell phones, everywhere.AllHipHop.com: It’s been said that you are no longer associated with the group Little Brother, is that true?9th Wonder: Yes, it’s true, but that’s all I’m going to say about that.AllHipHop.com: Okay. But you are still a part of the Justus League, right? Do you guys have anything on the platform right now?9th Wonder: Yeah, we’re always working on something, whether it’s on the surface or not.  The Little Brother album, Get Back, is coming out soon. I don’t know when. Within the next year, I have five albums coming out. The Dream Merchant 2, it’s going to be a lot of cursing, umm, a lot of rap joints more so than R&B joints. But I’m doing another album called The Wonder Years that will probably be half and half. And that’s going to be an album where there’s no cursing. I do that because I’m 32 and I know there’s a lot of parents that have kids my kids’ age, and the recurring statement I get is, “Man I love to listen to your music, but I can’t listen to it around my kids.” So that’s what I’m aiming for. It ain’t gonna be a Christian album, but Tribe Called Quest’s first two albums didn’t have a lot of cursing on it, so I figure it can be done.  Then Buckshot and I just finished The Formula and then Jean Grae’s Jeanius is coming out, that we did like three years ago.  And then I’m doing an album with Murs entitled Sweet Lord, which has no cursing either. Then outside of that, I have an Erykah Badu single coming out, and people will hear that soon.  And I hope that song really pushes me into the category I want to be in R&B, but with a bottom to it. Umm, I did a joint for Small World, an artist on DTP; Teedra Moses.AllHipHop.com: In a previous interview with AllHipHop, you talked about how the mixtape game was getting old.  How do you feel when talented cats like Kanye are jumping on the mixtape bandwagon?9th Wonder: I think it goes back to trying to stay current.  There’s power in mixtapes.  I have a friend that owns a mixtape store, but he also sells vinyl.  So I’m in there recording on wax sometimes, and it was just so many people who came in and said, “Do you have that T-Pain?” You think they want the album, but they want a mix cd of just random T-Pain songs. It’s crazy.  It used to be the DJ Clue mixtape and The Doo Wop, those are the ones I remember, but now its like you can barely hear the song because there is so much yelling.  So it’s just staying current.  Everyone’s so big on hood love, and the only thing that circulates in the hood is mixtapes. Whatever is recognized in the hood somehow trickles down to White people, which they often times hate to admit.  Black people created everything, and people want our swag.  So with that hood recognition, you’re hot. Although I must admit, I love Lil’ Wayne.AllHipHop.com: I like Lil’ Wayne too, but he’s getting reckless with these mix tapes.9th Wonder: I know, but he’s clever. He has incredible flow.  His voice is dope, and he makes you laugh. So until Jay comes back, he’s the best rapper alive. I’m on his side.  I’m not a fan of the “Fireman” and “Go DJ” [from DJ Khaled’s album]; I’m just a fan of his style. AllHipHop.com: So what’s up with a Lil’ Wayne album?9th Wonder: It’s funny you say that. I’ve been sending him beats and I’m like “Just do a whole mixtape with these beats. I don’t want no money.  Just put it out how you put it out, n***a. Just give me production credit.” So that would be hot if he did that.AllHipHop.com: Before I go, what’s up with Amy Winehouse?  People say she thinks she’s Lauryn Hill. Do you like her?9th Wonder: I love her. I love her album.  Black people kill me. When a n***a does it, they don’t pay it no attention, but let a White person do it, everyone has a problem. Like, Robin Thicke had one of the best R&B albums out last year and people are hatin’ because he’s White.  People think that I’m going to suffer because they ain’t making no good music, not gonna happen.  I will bump the White people.  So big ups to Amy Winehouse. [Laughs]