In the summer of 2010 I made my way to New York City to attend the Rock the Bells festival. It was arguably the most stacked Rock the Bells lineup that had ever been put together. Snoop Dogg, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, Lauryn Hill, Slick Rick, Rakim, KRS-One, and DJ Premier performed on the main stage. On the other stage artists like Immortal Technique, Clipse, Brother Ali, Big Sean, and Wiz Khalifa performed.
I admittedly camped out at the main stage most of the day because nearly everybody that performed acted as the soundtrack for my formative years. It was literally Hip-Hop heaven.
I had one bit of real work that day and that was to head over to the smaller stage to interview producer 9th Wonder who was performing with MURS. I was ecstatic. 9th Wonder was a guy I saw come from the message boards of Okayplayer with his group Little Brother to producing for the likes of Jay-Z, De La Soul, Sean Price, and EPMD.
When I met 9th he was classy and cordial. He informed me that he had to take off and get his stuff because his trailer had been confiscated and handed over to a newly arriving Jay-Z and Beyonce. We laughed and 9th gave me his cell number so that we could reschedule the interview, and we did. Ladies and gentlemen, 9th Wonder…
TRHH: How was it performing with MURS at Rock the Bells?
9th Wonder: Incredible stuff, man. MURS and I have been friends since 2003. We’re talking about becoming an official group now – unofficial official, whatever. It was fun. A lot of our influences were there. Probably one of our biggest influences if not the biggest influences was there, A Tribe Called Quest. Our next album is going to be like an ode to Midnight Marauders. Rock the Bells was crazy. Everybody was there, Snoop, DJ Premier, Lady of Rage, Dave from De La Soul, Nas, Lauryn Hill, everybody was out there. It was a Hip-Hoppers heaven, really.
TRHH: My favorite song that you and MURS did was Yesterday & Today. That song got me through some hard times and I never get tired of hearing it. Take me back and talk about how you and MURS made that song.
9th Wonder: Yesterday & Today is a sample by William Bell. He’s an old Stax musician that did the song “I Forgot to Be Your Lover” which was remade by Jaheim. The soul of Stax Records from the 60s and 70s used to get people through. That’s why I try to sample the works that I sample because it’s got that feeling in it, man. It’s just life music pretty much. I made the beat and let MURS hear it and he knew exactly what to write about. If you ever listen to MURS & 9th Wonder you know we make music that drives people’s emotions and deal with real life situations instead of your normal average “we over here partying.” Nobody parties 24/7. You gotta be doing something else during this time period [laughs]. That’s where that inspiration came from. We got in and knocked it out. We made it during Murray’s Revenge, it was a good time.
TRHH: I heard MURS and David Banner both say that they end up arguing with you when you’re working on records. What sparks those disagreements and how do you come to a resolution to finish the projects?
9th Wonder: They say argue, well, they really mean argue [laughs]. With MURS, any time you got two strong individuals trying to come to one common goal it can get tough sometimes. Not to say that we’re mad to the point where we don’t like each other. It’s just a point where he has an opinion and he feels strongly about influencing me on his and vice versa with me. The same with David Banner, a song that I begged him for five straight hours to do a record over and he was like, “Man, I don’t know,” ended up being the best song on the album – the song we got with Ludacris. Sometimes it just takes a while and it’s just a part of the creative process. We’re men and when you’re men you know how to handle stuff. You handle it, get it over with, and keep it moving. That’s why MURS and I are great friends and David Banner and I are great friends.
TRHH: Talking about David Banner, Death of a Pop Star is coming in November. What was it like working with him and what can fans expect to hear on that album?
9th Wonder: Oh man, that was one of the most bizarre experiences that I’ve had. A lot of people don’t expect to see us together anyway when it comes to making music because of the music that he’s made in his past and the music that I’ve made in my past. Everybody likes to put people in boxes, “You only make this type of music and David only makes this type of music,” but people forget that he was in Crooked Lettaz before, which was kind of a precursor for a new artist Big K.R.I.T. that’s coming out of Meridian, Mississippi. That’s the thing, we just decided to make good music.
We’re both black, we’re both grown men over 30, we’re both southern, and that’s what we have in common together. We decided to get together and make some music for our generation. Kids can feel it as well, but I don’t think when Cameo and Earth, Wind, & Fire were making records they were thinking about my 11 year old. They were thinking more about my brother or kids his age. He’s ten years older than me. I think we’re trying to make music for our peers that they can enjoy and love Hip-Hop on a mainstream level. That’s where we got the idea to do Death of a Pop Star and it comes out November the 9th.
TRHH: You got another project coming out soon, tell me about Entrapment.
9th Wonder: Oh man, Entrapment comes from my label It’s a Wonderful World Music/Jamla Records. It comes from an artist of mine by the name of Big Remo. Big Remo is from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, just like myself. Big Remo is a storyteller. He’s a street storyteller, but he’s a storyteller nonetheless. The album comes out September 28th. I didn’t produce the whole thing. Producing whole albums takes a lot out of me. This time I have a production team called The Soul Council. Soul Council members on the record are E. Jones, Fatin, Khrysis, AMP, Ka$h, and myself. Young Guru made a beat on there, who worked with Jay-Z for years and engineered for Jay-Z. The J.U.S.T.I.C.E League, the beat makers from Rick Ross’ camp did records. Eric G, M-Phazes from Australia did the first single, “Go.” David Banner has a song on there with him called “Wonderbread.” It’s time for me to start putting out my own artists. I’ve been lucky to work with Jay, Destiny’s Child, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, in that order. I’ve been very luck to do that. Now it’s time for me to take everything that I’ve learned from them and all the accolades that I got from them and kind of pass it on to somebody else. Big Remo is the start of that on September 28th on Jamla/IWWMG.
TRHH: You just rattled off a bunch of big names. I remember reading that you wanted to work with Ghostface. Has that even been discussed and who else is on that list of people you want to work with?
9th Wonder: The crazy thing about Rock the Bells is when you try to reach out to people you always run into management, people around them, they got homeboys who got beats. The chance of getting a beat on there is very low. The one thing about Rock the Bells is that you meet the people face up and straight up. I’ve known Ghostface for years now and every time we see each other we exchange numbers because everybody always change their number all the time. I saw him and said, “We have to do something. What are we doing? Come on.”
It’s not that many people, Ghostface, Raekwon of course, I had a conversation with Nas over the past weekend, I’m a huge T.I. fan — I would love to do a record with him. The list is not that big. As far as cats on the come up I mentioned Big K.R.I.T’s name, Wiz Khalifa, the new generation of artists that’s coming out now that are kind of carrying the torch of what was started by us and we got the torch passed to us from the golden era. That’s how it goes. Those are the people that I would love to work with and hopefully Ghostface and I will be working together in the future.
TRHH: Another one of my favorite records you did was the Ludacris song with Common and Spike Lee, Do the Right Thang. That must have been big for you, too. How did that one come together?
9th Wonder: I tell artists all the time, even the ones that’s on, sometimes I think we get to a point and a certain level where we don’t have to do things for free or do certain things just to be doing them. DTP reached out to me to work with a group called North Clique, I’d never heard of them but they’re from North Carolina and they reached out, I went to the studio to work with them. North Clique disbanded and Small World went solo. I worked with Small World for a while. I did a couple records for him and his album never came out. He’s a dope artist and a talented guy. Ludacris heard the beats that I did for Small World and he was like, “Man, I need him for my next album.”
Next thing you know I just so happened to be in Toronto doing a True School party and Luda was up there shooting Max Payne. It was like ten feet of snow on the ground so they arranged it where we’d get in the studio together and that’s where Do the Right Thang came from. He called Common on the spot and Common jumped on it. Spike Lee spoke at the beginning of it, which kind of brings things full circle because of what I believe when it comes to True School and that generation – A Different World, School Daze generation I like to call it. That’s the second time Spike Lee has talked on a track of mine. The first time was De La Soul and “Church.” I think everything happens for a reason and that whole thing came together and that’s one of my favorite Luda albums. Me being on it or not, that’s one of my favorite Ludacris albums, Theater of the Mind.
TRHH: It’s the best one to me.
9th Wonder: [Laughs] It’s dope and it got the Preemo joint on there. It’s crazy.
TRHH: Without getting into the negative side, this year saw the end of Little Brother with the final album. Talk about the legacy that that group is going to leave on Hip-Hop.
9th Wonder: Man, I had a conversation with Drake recently, Big K.R.I.T, Wiz, Big Sean, the list goes on and on of these new artists that say that we influenced them. I had no idea. You never know who is listening but when you think about it we started our journey in 2001 as Little Brother. I knew Phonte since 1998 but we started our journey in 2001. When you think about it if I’m a 14 year old kid starting off listening to LB and now I’m 23, you’ve been following us for 9 years. It’s kind of hard to think about it. Once a kid said, “I’ve been listening to you a long time,” I said, “How old are you?” and he said, “I’m 23. I’ve been listening to you since I was 14,” and I’m like, “Wow!”
When I think about it I started listening to Tribe when I was 14 years old. I listened to Tribe Called Quest all the way through high school and college and that’s been the case for some of these kids that I’m running up on. Some of these kids are some of these artists that are coming out now, including Drake. So that’s the legacy that we left. It was a great run. I learned a lot about them. I learned a lot about myself. Any experience you go through it needs to teach you about yourself before it teaches you about other people. That’s what happened. The music will live on forever regardless of all the entities we choose to put music in. The music will live on forever and we’ll always have those albums that everyone can enjoy.
TRHH: Talk about your position as a professor at Duke.
9th Wonder: I’m not teaching this semester, I’m teaching next semester and the semester after that. I taught last semester, spring 2010. I was brought over to Duke by Dr. Mark Anthony Neal. A great person who taught me a lot about teaching a class on that academic level – things that you should say, things that you shouldn’t say as far as being a professor. It’s crazy for me to even say that. I don’t have a degree, bro. To teach a class at an institution such as Duke… passed that, to teach a class at any institution whether it be Duke or a historically black college! People like to put those colleges over historically black colleges, but to be teaching a class at any university, and not only to be teaching a class, but to be teaching what I’m teaching, the history of Hip-Hop. Some people come to class and think they’re gonna get a record deal, no. This is the history of the music that has shaped your whole life whether people like to admit it or not.
You need to understand why when somebody says, “What’s up, man, what’s going on?” you say, “I’m chilling.” Chilling comes from somewhere! “What’s up man, where you at?” “Yo, I’m at the crib.” Crib comes from somewhere. All those are Hip-Hop terms. You need to understand how much it really influences your life and that’s what I teach in these classes. It’s an amazing experience. I would never trade it for the world. I saw Michael Eric Dyson this weekend at Rock the Bells. I heard he was there and I told my man to go get him. I want to meet him. I talked to him once on the phone and I wanted to talk to him again. He came up to me and said, “Aw man, professor!” For him to look at me and say that is outta here. It’s crazy. It’s just another road I can go down to meet new people and experiences and things
TRHH: What else is coming up for 9th Wonder? We heard you rhyme on the Fornever album are we going to hear a full album of you emceeing?
9th Wonder: [Laughs] No! MURS wants me to rhyme a lot on his next album. He said, “Phife and Q-Tip can do it, me and you can do it!” I don’t know. First and foremost what’s coming up is September 17th in D.C. I’m a part of the Congressional Black Caucus’ panel on Hip-Hop on Politics. I love to do panels. I love to do Q&A’s to see what people think about what’s going on around them. NBA Elite 2011 on EA Sports. Myself and my production partner E. Jones scored the entire game. That comes out in October. All the music in the video game we did and that means a lot. They also made me an ambassador for that game. They didn’t know I knew that much about basketball. I visited EA Sports, it was a great facility and I had a good time with them.
I’m a new member of the Universal Zulu Nation. I was inducted at Rock the Bells in Los Angeles by DJ Mark Luv who is the West Coast Zulu King. If you know the history of the Zulu Nation and Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force going all the way up to Tribe, going all the way up to present day, it means a lot to me to be a part of something like that. And my label, which is very important to me. We got projects coming out of everywhere. I’m just doing that and keeping it Hip-Hop, just keeping it Hip-Hop.