9th Wonder: What A Wonderful World
It would be highly unlikely to see this producer flaunt his wealth on MTV, just as it would be to see him strutting his stuff on red carpets. 9th Wonder may have only been prominent in the game for a little over four years, but damn has he made his presence felt. As a college lecturer at North Carolinas Central University, Ninth has found another avenue that has just as much appeal as the studio and that is the classroom. Talking to HipHopDX you get the distinct impression that the man who brought soul back to Hip-Hop might be happy throwing down the MPC and picking up the chalk. Industry talk, family life, advice from El President and just what awards show he would go all out for, HipHopDX gives you the heart, and soul, of North Carolina 9th Wonder
DX: Seeing as you are a notorious producer when it comes to your own projects do you prefer to just stick with yourself production wise?
9th Wonder: I come from a generation where one producer handles all the production on a record and that is the way I stick to it.
DX: When you see so many albums being leaked, I mean you went through that with Jean Grae's Jeanius, which was possibly one of the greatest losses to real Hip Hop, is that still a concern?
9th Wonder: No, because there is still a lot of people out there that do go out and buy the music; they dont listen to the album leaks. Just because an album leaks doesnt mean it is the be all and end all. People do still believe in going to the store and getting music. There are people out there who dont sit on the net all day searching for music. When you get married and have kids, your time for sitting on the net all day is limited. There are a lot of people who just dont have the time.
DX: How long have you been working on Dream Merchant Volume 2?
9th Wonder: I am going to say about another year and a half now.
DX: Do you find it hard concentrating on your own projects when you are working with so many different artists and stuff?
9th Wonder: No, the Justus League has kind of taught me how to do that. You know I was working on two or three albums on one time. I am drug free and alcohol free [too], so that helps me concentrate. I have a clear frame of mind and not saying that someone who does that dont, I just think it definitely helps to concentrate on more than one thing at one time.
DX: You have worked with some of the games most notorious celebrities. I mean working with Mary J Blige that had to be a serious career move right there.
9th Wonder: Man, I am a big Mary fan, just as I am Jay-Z. But Mary J Blige, man she is my favorite; she is my number one R&B artist for all time. I am hoping to work with her again. It was through Jay Z that that came about, you know they were on tour together and Jay-Z was talking about me and talking about my sound and Mary said she was a fan of my tracks. The next thing you know I get a call from someone at Geffen, from a guy called Jah Ha and he said he needed a beat for the Mary album and that was that. The only thing was in this situation I never got to work with her in the studio at all due to scheduling situations. I was in the studio with Jay and I have been in the studio with Destinys Child. There is just always that problem of scheduling.
DX: You prefer the studio session approach to producing?
9th Wonder: Yeah, I would rather (go) that way, as I am a personable person who enjoys talking to people. I have been told a lot by many of the artists I have worked with, that they feel they can lay back and chill around me as I dont really get into all that image thing. You know you dont need to put on no front for me man. We just hang out, make music and go home and be happy. I dont like a lot of stress.
DX: Do you have to believe in an artist before you start working with them? You know would you still work with someone who you werent feeling lyrically?
9th Wonder: I think everybody has the capability of being a lyricist. Now whether they choose to do that, or if they think it sells records, is another thing. I think if you put me in the studio with someone who you think I wouldnt be in the studio with, I think that person could come out with something good.
DX: So you would say you are competent in providing a backdrop for people to better their lyrics?
9th Wonder: There are certain beats where you dont have to do much, but then there are beats that you really have to come off, You have to give it. Working with me, a lot of rappers know they have to come with it.
DX: You are not up in the limelight like some of your contemporaries are. Do you think that gives people a misconception of you?
9th Wonder: Yeah, they might think I am not a hard worker.
DX: Wow I would have never said about you.
9th Wonder: [Laughs] I try to keep busy. But one of the biggest misconceptions about me is that I dont work as hard as I say and that I dont like to travel, when I do like to travel.
DX: But when people say these things, isnt it just because they dont know much about you as a person?
9th Wonder: Yeah. I mean I just had a conversation with someone who said I need to put myself in more situations so people will know me. But then I ask myself, being that I have a family, I have kids, and do I really want that? You would get to the point where you cant do the things that you want. You know you cant walk about like I would want. There are some people that cant go places without being bothered; and even though that is part of the game, I am trying to create a space for myself. I feel like I do music, music, music that touches peoples lives, but I am still on my own.
DX: Salaam Remi is very similar really, not making comparisons or anything. But yall are both known literally for your music and not for what car you drive, what kind of house you have, what the blogs say about you and that makes you all the more magical.
9th Wonder: Yeah I feel you. I listen to Salaam Remi a lot and have listened to him over the years and I only just recently found out what he looked like. It is kind of crazy, but I think a lot of this depends on what you want out of this game.
DX: So what do you want out of the game?
9th Wonder: First and foremost we all want to make a living, my living is music. I would rather have people see me, talk to me and respect me.
DX: But isnt that what a lot of todays new stars about, the fame as opposed to the talent?
9th Wonder: Right, it is about being known and seen; they are at every celebrity party or award show that is happening. I mean I am not saying I dont go to parties, but the only award shows I would go to would be The Grammys. I would go if I was to collect an award where I had to say something and people would know at home I was talking about them. But if there was another I would go to it would be The Academy Awards. Man I was talking to someone and they were saying that that kind of thing would bore them and I couldnt believe it. That is a totally different league; that is prestigious. It is a show off kind of thing but they do it in such a cool, slick way. Yeah, you can put me in that.
DX: How is it balancing family life with the music career?
9th Wonder: I mean it's good, but it does get tough sometimes. There is some serious understanding going on in my house. When I want family time, where I shut off my phone and just be with my family, I do so. Then I will end up with a full voice mailbox and 50 missed calls. It gets crazy. I can never vanish for 30 minutes without someone knowing where I am.
DX: Does that bother you?
9th Wonder: Sometimes, but not at much as you would think. I had a thing where the only time when I am really alone is when I am sleeping or when I am in the car. That is the only time I get to be myself. But this is part of the world that I do accept: that you are never going to be alone.
DX: When it comes to your kids, do you censor what they listen to?
9th Wonder: Yes I do. With my 12 year-old, he wants to be like his dad. He knows the KRS-Ones and all of that. We dont do the BET in our house, as my wife and I are pretty much first generation BET-ers. Now this first generation is having children and knows how it used to be. So no, my babies, they dont watch BET, they hardly watch MTV either. They are at that age where it is all about Dora the Explorer. If they are riding in the car with me, they listen to the music I am listening to and they like (Common's) "The People". My six year-old, she loves "The People". They say good music is good for the mind.
DX: Yeah with kids, it is all about what we teach them.
9th Wonder: Yeah it is up to us but there are a lot of kids out there that are not teaching their kids the right way.
DX: So you are lecturing at North Carolinas Central University, what exactly does the course Hip-Hop in Context you are teaching consist of?
9th Wonder: This is a chronological history of Hip-Hop from 1973-1997. From the day Kool Herc walked into the Bronx up to the day that Biggie died. There are a lot of 18-20 year olds out there that dont know about that. Not because they dont want to know, but because nobody showed them. There is a way to use this platform to show them, why you walk the way you walk and why you talk the way you talk, you know the way you wear your clothes and that is why we do it.
DX: How did they approach you to do this?
9th Wonder: I was approached by a guy called Kawachi Clemons. He is working on his PhD right now, using Hip Hop as a discourse, how they use it to teach the next generation of children. He approached me about being an artist and representing the university. He reached out to Play of Kid N Play, and we teach the course together. Play is like a legendary story-teller. The class is an hour and fifteen minutes long, I had 160 students last semester, but I have no idea how many I am going to have this time.
DX: Going into the second year, will you keep doing this?
9th Wonder: I can see my career going two ways. Scoring movies or I want to be 100% full time college professor of Hip Hop music. If I can reside that way, I really would.
DX: Is this your way of paying it forward?
9th Wonder: Yeah, this is my way. Jay-Z taught me one thing. If he didnt teach me anything else, he taught me, 9th, I will put you on if you put your people on. That is the thing. If I can do that for the rest of my days I will. I dont think my personality is built for this game called the industry.
DX: Why not?
9th Wonder: In this industry you have to wear a mask that is really not you. People do that, nobody likes their feelings hurt and I noticed too that a lot of these cats when they get into the game, they get in very young. I got into the game when I was 28.
DX: You came in at 28, crazy when you see what you have done.
9th Wonder: Here is a situation where when I got into the game I fell on my face a number of times. But I was able to learn as a man as I knew who I was before I got into this game. Now that can be a gift or a curse, but I knew what I was going to put up with and what I was not going to put up with. I know who my friends are; you know a lot of people collect a lot of friends when they get into the industry. I have a wonderful supporting cast that if the music industry decides not to like me anymore, my friends arent leaving me. The things you have to do to stay alive in this game, the people whose butts you have to kiss and the people whose music you have to cosign when you know their music sucks, I just cant do it. I know that it is going to come a point in this game where there will be a serious decision that I have to make; either you go this way or that way. You may call me proud, you may call me stubborn but my attitude is just not a fit for this game.
DX: Do you think that when it comes to that time to make that decision, will you make it easily?
9th Wonder: I am not going to lose myself. If the decision requires me losing myself, then I am not going to do it. I feel that what I have built, so much is going against the grain already. Not against the grain to be different, the music I make is just so anti-mainstream America right now. I dont set out trying to step on anyones toes; I just have a wonderful time doing me. I am not going to make a decision where I will lose myself.