9th Wonder tells a great story about how he met Jigga in New York City and how he power-walked 20 blocks on a natural adrenaline high after they worked together for the first time.
“Threat” was the record that came out of that especially unique bond. Heck, I was transcribing Elliott Wilson’s interview with Common the other night, and it struck me how Common attributes the bridging of Hip-Hop’s two separate worlds, the ?uestlove’s and the Swizz Beatz, to Kanye West, and his show at SOB’s. I mean, shit, didn’t Jigga do the same thing on “The Black Album”? He’s the dude, or rather it was his engineer, who lured the young punk from North Carolina to have a seat in the producer’s chair, play his beats for Jay and B… all because of one LP Young Guru, Jay’s engineer, thought it was bomb.
Since “The Listening,” 9th has become a staple in the Hip-Hop industry, and most recently he dropped his premiere solo project, “The Wonder Years,” to near-universal acclaim. 9th still tickles the MPC drumbox better than anybody, to the point he makes a soul sample sound like a bird call.
But anyways, not to sidetrack, I believe I felt the same adrenaline rush as 9th, upon meeting Jay-Z, after completing our interview. I went straight out and taught the best tennis lesson of my life, keeping sharp for 9th, so when he comes through Toronto I can coach him to whoop Drake’s ass, once and for all.
Congratulations on “The Wonder Years.” It’s been playing real nice in my car.
Thank you very much. I’m about to release the instrumentals soon.
Is the Raekwon record still your favorite?
Yeah, man, it depends on who I ask and who I talk to. It’s either the Raekwon record, the “One Night” record, the Marsha Ambrosius record, the “20 Feet Tall” record. “Loyalty” is a big favorite.
I really like the “Hearing The Melody” beat. It’s unreal. I’ve never heard an MPC beat so unique. What is that sound? It reminds me of a bird almost.
It’s a sample, man. It’s not the machine, it’s the sounds you put in it. That’s what it’s all about, manipulating what you have.
Do you ever have trouble listening to some of your older records, like a writer might with his or her books? I don’t know how it works with music.
No, not at all. I actually go back and listen to my older beats because that’s when everything wasn’t tainted. You know, you’re listening to critics and they say to do this, and then to do that, try to experiment some, and it messes your whole formula up. Without making a natural progression on your own, you’re listening to other people telling you what you need to do, and that’s probably one of the biggest mistakes artists make. You have to progress, and you have to change, but you have to do it in your own time. I like going back to my old beats because that’s when I wasn’t listening to anyone.
That’s interesting, because writers claim they go back and read their old books, and find so much they wish they could change. But I guess it’s not the same with music.
Naw, not really, man.
I was watching a video where you recount the Jay-Z story from 2003. You’re a really good storyteller. Did you get that from compiling albums, or producing entire albums?
You mean the way I told the story?
Yeah, how’d you become such a good storyteller?
Man, my mom and dad and my aunts and uncles. They were so vivid when they told stories about the old days and whatnot. They were very vivid in that, and that’s where I get it from. My mom is so animated when she tells a story, and so is my dad. My uncles were like that, and my aunties are like that. I only have one auntie left on both sides of my family. They are like that, and that’s where I get it from, very animated and fun loving when telling a story. Because you want people to feel it, and you want people to act like they were there too.
Exactly. In the video you were talking about seeing a Roc-A-Fella chain in person, as opposed to on TV, and how it made you feel. I think I experienced the same feeling when I saw Method Man perform for the first time. It’s an entirely different sensation, experiencing it live. Can you recall any other moments you felt that way?
A lot of times, man. Every Hip-Hop icon that I meet I feel that way. You know, I live in North Carolina. People come here to perform, but I’m meeting them now in a different state. I’m still meeting them as a fan. Let’s not get it confused. I’m always a fan, I’m still a fan of the music. I’m still a fan of all the people I meet. But I’m also meeting them as an artist, so when you meet someone you’ve been listening to forever, and then in return they say they respect your work too, it’s surreal almost. You spend the next five minutes with that person, they’re trying to tell you how great you are, and you’re trying to tell them how great they’ve always been. It’s kind of weird. It’s a weird interaction.
But a good interaction nonetheless.
It’s great. It’s great. And a lot of people don’t know what I look like, so when I meet them, they’re like, “What you doing?” And I say, “I’m 9th Wonder, I’m a producer,” and they go, “Oh man, I know who you are. I didn’t know what you looked like.” That’s kind of what you get a lot of times, from producers to actors and actresses, a lot of people in the entertainment industry I meet, rappers, everybody.
You mentioned that you met Gucci Mane recently. How was that? Did it compare at all to your first meeting with Jay, relatively-speaking, because I’ve heard how crazy Gucci is? Even his camp tells me that.
When I met him we were actually staying in the same hotel in Atlanta. I was coming in and he was standing outside talking to somebody, and I saw him. I was like, “Wow, that’s Gucci. I’m going to speak to him.” Because at the end of the day he’s a man, in my eyes. So I’m going to speak to him on the respect level, no matter what people might think, that our types of music don’t mix, I’m not going to disrespect that man. So I’m going to speak. I told him my name like, “Oh, yeah, man, I really dig your stuff.” People forget that no matter what type of music you make, it doesn’t dictate what you listen to. It’s something totally different. People think I sit around and listen to underground all day. They would think that. It’s like, “Naw, I listen to everything that I think is dope.” And I believe Gucci does too, but he chooses to make a certain thing and I choose to make a certain thing. That’s the dichotomy of it all.
That’s what makes it interesting.
Yeah, it’s cool to me. Never judge a book, brotha. Never judge a book.
I’m really enjoying the record you did with Phonte, “The Good Fight.” It’s a great track. He’s almost got like a Clarence Carter-esque intro on there, a little updated with the language of course, but what do you think of Phonte’s lyrics on that record? What do you take away from them?
I mean, we live those lyrics. I can honestly say, through our career, that the lyrics Phonte and Pooh spit, we live those lyrics. It’s not a lie and any lyric that we ever release, as a group, as Little Brother, as separate entities, whatever, we live what we talk about. That’s the beauty of it all, and about “The Good Fight,” because it is the good fight. We’re fighting the good fight every day. Phonte has a great way of translating. Some people listen to Hip-Hop and this is like a fantasy world for them. It’s like they see how much money cats got, but that’s only a small percentage of the population in the United States. They’re selling a fantasy to people, and that’s cool, because some people want to escape from their regular life.
Like a Hollywood movie.
Right. Phonte does a great job of keeping it Hip-Hop and at the same time understanding what a regular 9 to 5 person is going through, and making it relate. Sometimes that’s a hard truth. Some people don’t want to be reminded of what they’re going through everyday, but it’s also therapeutic. Some people need to hear it.
I thought “The Wonder Years,” it had the ideal balance of progression, but also authenticity, remaining true to your roots as a producer. Hip-Hop enthusiasts are always talking about progression, but I think it would be incredible if someone like Jay went back and did an 8 record EP with Ski Beatz. What do you think?
I think so. I think that Hip-Hop is old enough now, that it’s made a full circle. I don’t think it has anywhere else to go. I think it’s to the point now, if you go to the left so long, you only end up back at right anyways, you understand? It’s a circle. You’re going to have to go back around. History repeats itself, and I think we saw that in Amy Winehouse. Like, we’ve done 60’s music, we’ve done 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 2000 R&B or soul, let’s take it all the way back to the 1950’s, and introduce it to a new crowd. I think it’s happening now with Kendrick Lamar. They’re bringing back the essence of emceeing.
They’re introducing it to a new audience of kids, who may not be so receptive of saying Kool G Rap is the greatest rapper ever, or Big Daddy Kane is the greatest rapper ever, now they’re so young Nas is the greatest rapper ever, or Jay-Z, or KRS-One. Because it doesn’t relate to them, they’re young, right? But what happens when a young guy like Kendrick Lamar comes along, or a J. Cole comes along, Wale comes along, every rapper that comes along to this new generation and introduces them to the art of emceeing? That’s what we need to do. I think that’s what Hip-Hop always needs to do, to keep what we do alive. We spend too much time trying to do what everybody else is doing.
Like going into dubstep beats, and dance beats. I think that’s exhausted itself.
It has, and that’s to sell records. That is to sell records. That is the fear of living in a world where you have to depend on selling records. You’ll do things to sell records, to keep that going, and it’s not necessarily helping the progression of the music, or the preservation of Hip-Hop at all.
Well, like you said, some of the young guys are taking it in the right direction.
Right. They are.
Switching topics a bit. You did the course at Duke, and at North Carolina Central. I don’t know if you’re doing it again.
Yeah, I had a lecture yesterday at Duke.
After doing the first year, or two years, what do you look to improve now, as a professor?
I try to improve the connection I have with the younger audience. I understand the fact now that we spend too much time preaching to a younger audience, instead of engaging the younger audiences. It’s something totally different. I had to understand that. Most older cats are like, “I’m going to go in and tell these kids what real Hip-Hop is and da da da da.” I mean, that’s all well and fine, but the best thing you can do is engage them first, to get them to understand what’s going on around them first, and let them see for themselves. We kind of have to hold a mirror up around them so they can see it, because those kids are young. And then expose them to what we listened to. The topic of my lecture yesterday was, “Does the Internet, as we know it, hurt the meaning of nostalgia?”
That’s a heavy question.
I asked the class, name the Top 10 ways you can get music now, YouTube, Pandora, TV, radio, Twitter, Facebook, CDs, iPods, iPads, iTunes. I had to explain to them, I’m going to go back to when I was 13, and I had to cross stuff off the list. No YouTube, no texting, no nothing. It was a telephone that you had, call-waiting, VCRs. I had to explain to them how scarce Hip-Hop was, and the means we took to get it. We jumped through hoops to get what we wanted to hear.
Explaining that, explaining experiences with friends, like I listen to a song and I can think of a friend. I had to ask the class, do they do the same thing? I had a student who said her nostalgia is, “If I hear a song, everybody’s talking about it on Twitter.” I was like, “Does that kill the personal connection that you have with music, and you have with the person through music? Does that kill nostalgia?” That’s what we talked about yesterday.
What did she say? Did she think it killed it, or what?
At first she didn’t. She figured it was just different. I had to say, “Okay, let’s take it to another level. eHarmony, does eHarmony kill the nostalgia of when you meet your boyfriend or you husband?” There’s no walking in a restaurant, and I was with my girls, and I saw him, and he saw me, and sparks flew, the music was on, and a song was on.
Definitely kills it. Butchers it, slaughters it.
It slaughters it, exactly. And that’s what I explained. Once I put it that way, with Facebook and Twitter, every college party should be packed, but they’re not. Only thing we had were beepers, and every college party was slamming packed. Again, it’s, “Does the internet kill personal contact with music, or with just life?” She understood then. She was talking about dialogue with men on the phone, when she gets on the phone with men, they have nothing to talk about. I’m like, “Because they spent all day texting and tweeting you.” Conversation has ended for you.
I was telling my friend that the other day. He was chatting with a girl on Facebook for three hours. I’m like, “What are you going to talk to her about when you see her?”
It’s crazy. It’s the creation of robots. It’s scary. It’s scary. But that’s what we talked about yesterday in class.
In one video of your lecture, I noticed the lecture hall was only about a quarter full at Duke. I wondered, how’s that possible? I would have killed to be in that class.
I don’t know. You only saw half of the class. There’s a half of the class, and there’s like an atrium-type seating, like amphitheater-type seating. There’s half, and then it goes up those steps to the back. We have about 150 students.
I’m waiting for Drake to start teaching classes in Toronto.
Yeah, I assume that he would. It depends what he wants to teach it on. There’s only a few of us who can teach the history of it, because we’re old enough. We’ve seen the many progressions of Hip-Hop.
They just had this event in New York City, where you go and you visit the different boroughs, the same neighborhoods that influenced albums like “The Infamous,” “Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),” and “Enta Da Stage,” and all the artists were actually there to give talks. If you were to do something similar around North Carolina, what exactly would the tour consist of?
I don’t know. You know, I talked about this with somebody yesterday. North Carolina is not an entertainment, a bustling entertainment kind of place. Phonte does it well by saying names of streets and things like that, but it’s just not the entertainment hub. I can take you to a lot of college basketball arenas. I can take you there, or I can take you where a war was fought, Civil War. North Carolina’s not that place. It’s just not. It’s a very family-oriented place, no matter how somebody tries to paint differently. It’s a family-oriented place, and it’s a very laid-back, traditional place. The leaves turn the same color every year at the same time. It’s not what we do here, ya dig? Entertainment doesn’t live here. We have a hockey team here that won the Stanley Cup three or four years ago, and nobody cares.
They cared up in Canada.
Yeah, of course, exactly. It’s like trying to go to Canada and really trying to drive home the fact that college basketball is more important in Canada than hockey is. That’s a damn lie.
Or even NBA.
Or even NBA, or any sport. NHL is number one, and I don’t think that’ll ever change, not in my lifetime. Because the tradition of Canada doesn’t allow it. The tradition of North Carolina does not allow a Hollywood-esque type of tourism. When you come here to tour, you see settlements, where Blackbeard came on the coast.
That’s just as cool though.
Yeah, I love it that way. I don’t like the fact that there’s an entertainment hustle and bustle here. I have no normalcy, no place to go.
Yeah, I’ve been to NC State and Wake Forest. I like it down there.
Yeah, I went to NC State for 2 years, and I was at a college prep program at Wake Forest when I was in high school. Yeah, that’s king here, dude.
Yeah, I played NCAA sports for Wisconsin, and we came down to Wake Forest and those schools. It was cool.
What did you play?
You played what? Oh, tennis. Cool, so I know exactly where you played at Wake Forest. Yeah, I know exactly the courts you played on. That’s dope.
Yeah, it was inside, a big place. They were good. Wake Forest is good at every sport almost.
Okay, so last thing here, I was a big fan of “Death Of A Pop Star.” Kind of an unexpected collaboration.
Yeah, for me too.
I wondered if you were working with anyone new, maybe unexpected, on future projects?
Anytime you see me work with anybody unexpected, it is people who seek me out, like David Banner. He sought me out. Chris Brown sought me out. Well, I can say it was a mutual decision between Chris Brown and I. I saw him do a song called, Real Hip Hop, and it sparked me to say, “Wow, dude can rhyme a little bit, man. What’s going on with this?”
He’s pretty good in the BET Cypher.
Right, and I reached out to him and said, “Man, anytime you want to do something real, hit me,” and he did. We did two joints. It doesn’t make any different to me, man. People know when they come to work with me that I’m not going to change what I do, and I love it that way.