A-LIST PRODUCER 9TH WONDER PREPS HIS SOLO JUMP-OFF
By Khalid Strickland a.k.a. Dirty Angel
9th on the 9th.
One of hip-hop’s music’s most sought-after producers, 9th Wonder has built a rock solid catalog over the past few years. After quietly retiring as the in-house beat maker for prolific rap group Little Brother, 9th Wonder has gone on to produce songs for the likes of Jay-Z, Destiny’s Child, Mos Def, Lloyd Banks and Buckshot. Although he’s worked with Grammy Award winning artists in the past, 9th marks a moment from the 2006 American Music Awards as particularly memorable: After receiving one of two AMA trophies for her chart-dominating album “Breakthrough”, R&B queen Mary J. Blige took to the podium and shouted-out Wonder for his exemplary work on the LP.
With an endorsement from the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul to decorate his already stellar resume, now is the perfect time for North Carolina native 9th Wonder to release his debut solo album. On October 9th (coincidence?) 2007, with the help of Six Hole/Hall of Justus Records, 9th Wonder will release “Dream Merchant Vol.2” to the world. On this masterful LP, 9th pairs his smooth and soulful instrumentals with the lyrical expertise of true rap’s crème de le crème. Mos Def, Sean Price, Jean Grae, Royce The 5’9, Saigon, Memphis Bleek, Skyzoo and even former mates Little Brother contribute first-rate verses to 9th Wonder’s outstanding “boom-bap” album.
Not only is he educating a younger generation of fans about real hip-hop beats, 9th Wonder also instructs a hip-hop history class in North Carolina Central University’s Music Dept., his alma mater. Along with Christopher “Play” Martin of rap duo Kid ‘N’ Play, 9th was appointed to the position by NCCU’s Chancellor.
In a recent early-morning interview with Insomniac’s Dirty Angel, 9th Wonder discussed “Dream Merchant Vol.2″ and gave a piece of his mind on a variety of topics; all in his syrupy, southern drawl.
Dirty Angel: What is Dream Merchant going to add to your catalog?
9th Wonder: Man, um… I’ve never put out an album that’s just been me on the beats and different artists. I’ve never put out an album that’s just been me on the beats (with) different artists. I’ve always put out albums that have been me on the boards and the same artist, whether it’s been a Little Brother record, a Murs record, a Jean Grae record, a Buckshot record (or) Skyzoo. I’ve never put out an album when it’s been different artists with different flavors. You know what I’m sayin’? So that’s what ‘Dream Merchant’s’ going to add to my catalog. It’s like every beat-maker has to do one, you know? It seems like it’s protocol for every beat-maker to do an album.
Angel: How did you choose what emcees would be featured on this new jump-off?
9th: All the emcees I chose were the one’s I’ve actually worked with (before). I didn’t want to go through heck and high water trying to get people to rap, you know? Some emcees… some people… you got to jump through a lot of hoops, and I mean, that’s the game. You know, I understand. There’s a business side of it and everything. And a lot of rappers might have thought, you know… some rappers can’t do things, ‘cause they’re busy or you know… can’t do things ‘cause they feel like, “How is this gonna benefit me?” or you know… I ain’t want to go through that. I just get with the people I can get with and say, “Yo, what’s up? You want to do a record with me?” and they’re like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” I want to get with people like that, so that’s how I ended up working with them. Plus they all got talent. Some people need to be heard that haven’t had a chance to be heard yet.
Angel: And what do you hope to accomplish with this album? What are your hopes for this joint?
9th: I just want to add some balance to the game, man. People out there, man, they miss ‘boom-bap’ hip-hop, you know what I’m saying? Age may have a lot to do with that. I don’t see too many newer kids, the younger generation liking boom-bap; but there’s enough 28 (year-old) and ups out there that like boom-bap hip-hop and that’s who my market is. I think I’m finding out slowly every day that’s who my market is for. Not to say that there’s not a lot of 20 year-olds who don’t like boom-bap, but just from a general standpoint. There’s more of us boom-bap listeners that are over age 28, 29, you know? And I’m cool with that and I’m hoping I can fill that void that crowd is looking for.
Angel: Was the song with Little Brother that’s on “Dream Merchant Vol. 2” recorded before or after you departed from the group?
Angel: When did you realize that producing music was your calling in life?
9th: Aw man… It’s kinda… I don’t know, man. To be honest with you, to tell you the truth, I don’t think producing music is my calling. I think that what I do now is my calling. I always thought teaching kids is my calling. And at the same time too, you know what it is? I think it’s a situation where affecting people in a positive way is my calling. Whether it be producing music, whether it be teaching kids, whether it be whatever. I think that’s my calling, man. And whatever medium I have to go through, that’s the way it is. That’s my calling, I don’t think that producing music is solely like, my calling.
Angel: What changes would you make, if any at all, to the music industry when it comes to hip-hop in particular?
9th: I would create an avenue, I would create a lane of some sort for those generations of people who feel like we’re left out. There’s a big gap in the industry, you know? You probably heard this fifty million times, I’mma say it fifty million more; there’s a big gap in the industry, in the music game, that doesn’t appeal to us. Everything is for the young or for the very old as far as media-wise, as far as terrestrial radio goes. There’s nothing on terrestrial radio… you know that’s (in) layman’s terms… (there’s nothing) that’s on the FM dial that’s for your age 29, 28 all the way up to your age 30, you know what I’m sayin’? Like, there’s certain songs that we like, certain songs the way we like ‘em, that either get swept under the rug or it’s not on the radar or (on) some far-off website or something like that, that the masses need to hear; and I mean the masses as far as our age group, that needs to be on radio every day. Which would also make it easier for De La (Soul) or somebody that wants to put out a new record and what not. And if they wanted to do so, here’s an avenue where they can, on a day-to-day basis, old De La music could be played; so therefore they could easily connect with their true De La fans, you see what I’m sayin’? So that’s one thing that I think is missing out here.
Angel: Rap music’s most prominent critics right now have been calling for a ban of certain words; they’ve been wanting to ban the words “b***h”, “n***a” and “h*e” specifically from hip-hop music. Do you have any thoughts on that?
9th: Oh God, man. I don’t think that’s the problem, man. Everybody needs to worry about banning these folks with these drugs they’re bringing into the country, man. We need to stick with the right things and try to focus on the right things in America, you know what I’m sayin’? Like, I wish more effort was put into finding out what was wrong with that kid (who killed people) at Virginia Tech, you know what I’m sayin’? For real. They spend more time talking about the negativity in hip-hop than they do talking about that, man. And that’s the only thing I hate, you know? Or (spend more time) finding out really what happened (with Hurricane) Katrina; why the government didn’t get involved when they was supposed to get involved. But they want to make a big hoopla about the words we use in hip-hop, because of something that Don Imus said. If it was so much of a big deal, that should’ve been the situation a long time ago, you feel me? Especially with black people wanting to ban the word “n***a”… I mean come on, man. I don’t care who you are as a black person, man. You get any black person mad enough, he gonna come out and say, “This crazy n***a.” You know? Everybody needs to get off their high horse, man, and really start looking at things for what they are and just put things in perspective. And focus on bigger things than the words we use in rap.
Angel: You just mentioned the Virgina Tech shooter. In his I-Pod, all they really found was rock and industrial music up in there. If they would’ve found some hip-hop songs, some rap music, what do you think would’ve happened?
9th: Oh lord… that would’ve been the talk. You know that, man… that would’ve been the talk all over the news, “We found N.W.A.” or “We found 50 Cent”. C’mon, man. That’s so garbage to me it don’t even make no sense (laughs). That’s garbage, man. And you see they ain’t even talk about that, man; they slowly swept it under the rug. Now if that would’ve been a kid of color… let’s call it for what it is… if it would’ve been a kid of color with a whole G-Unit catalog on his joint or some (Young) Jeezy in there and went and shot up the school, then it would’ve been, “Rap music is destroying our (youth).” Oh God, man (laughs). You know what it is, man.
Angel: Thank God there wasn’t (any hip-hop involved).
9th: Thank God it wasn’t, that’s all I can say.
Angel: So how did you feel when you first heard that Mary J. Blige gave you props on the American Music Awards?
9th: Aw man… I was sleep, to tell you the truth. I was sleeping. My wife was watching the (T.V.) show ‘House’, dawg. My phone started ringing, man. I was watching the American Music Awards and I was seeing some things on there that really wasn’t agreeing with my eyes too much. I’m like, “Man, come on. We’re really looking like buffoons up here”. You know? I turned it off and (my wife) turned to something else and I was falling asleep, sitting on the couch. As soon as (Mary J. Blige) said it, I guess, my phone started ringing; my house phone, cell phone. I’m like, “Man, what’s going on?” You’re thinking immediately something happened, like somebody had something (bad happen), you know? (But) they’re like, “Turn it to the American Music Awards!” It just so happens the T.V. in the other room was on and you know you got the little cable box with the rewind (function) on there. So I ran in the other room and rewound it. And sure enough (Mary) said it. I was like, “Wow”, you know what I’m saying? (I’m) talking about, it was just like the Jay-Z (Grammy Awards) moment all over again.
Angel: That’s a good look right there.
9th: Yeah, it really is, man. It really is.
Angel: Depending on the genre of music, the word “producer” takes on different meanings. So in your opinion, what qualities must a great producer have?
9th: Direction of the song, man; to take full control of the song. I know a lot of rappers might not like this, but (a producer should) tell them the way a rapper should rap, dawg. That’s very, very important. But one thing I really commend Kanye West on when it comes to these Common records (is) that… you can hear him giving Common the flow on these records. On (Common’s song) “The Corner”… (9th mimics a few lyrics from the song) That’s a Kanye West flow. But, that doesn’t take anything away from Common; it takes an emcee to relinquish his power to a producer like that to do that. Tell the rapper, “Nah, say that over, man, that ain’t right.” You know, stuff like that is very important when it comes to making beats, especially in the world of hip-hop. That’s some of the rules we have that a lot of other genres of music don’t have, man. And you know it’s hard to break that down to another genre of music but I guess you just got to be in it, you know what I’m sayin’?
Angel: One other thing. Do you think that equipment makes a good producer? Because a lot of times, in magazines and stuff, they’ll list down what equipment somebody used (to make a beat)… “I used this” or “I used that”. Do you think that plays a big part in it, or is there more to it than that?
9th: Man, let me tell you how I answer that question: How much really did Air Jordan (sneakers) play in Michael Jordan’s career as far as him playing basketball? (Laughs) Seriously, like… that dude could have had on Chuck Taylors, man. It wouldn’t have made no difference. Like it really don’t, and I think we need to get off the situation of what equipment you use… Oh God. It all depends on the end result, man; it’s the result. That’s all it is, you know. Some people need all of that stuff, man. I won’t say necessarily need all of it, but some people who don’t have an ear… new producers, like, “Oh, I just want to wake up in the morning and be a producer”-ass dudes. You know the dudes I’m talking about. Like, they buy all this stuff ‘cause they see an A-list producer got it or this that and the third, man. And they’re really not honing in on the talent they really got. They’re sitting around with all this stuff and they’re like “I don’t know what to do with this stuff”. That’s not going to give you the ear to chop up no sample. That’s not going to give you the ear to produce. That’s not going to do that.
For more information on 9th Wonder and Dream Merchant, visit www.myspace.com/9thwondermusic.
For more stories and work by Dirty Angel, visit www.supremearsenal.com or www.myspace.com/blackpacino.