interview with 9th wonder / "the quest for hip-hop preservation"

exclusive feature
Lauren-Aileen Morris
The Liberator Magazine 7.2 #22, 2008


We recently got the opportunity to sit down and chat with Grammy award-winning producer 9th Wonder. The conversation was enlightening to say the least. We all know that 9th is a genius when it comes to production, but this conversation provides an in-depth look at his ideas on the preservation of hip-hop, Black Nationalism and his opinion on “the best rapper” in the game.

Liberator Magazine: We know about your music, so I’m just going to ask you a few basic questions and then we’re going to move onto some more important topics.

9th Wonder: OK, cool.

Liberator: Who do you prefer to work with, vets or upcoming artists?

9th Wonder: Vets got the checks! Upcoming artists are very rewarding, but vets got checks. Also, vets make more upcoming artists want to work with you. They validate you. I’ve been lucky to with Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu and I worked on the new Ludacris album coming in August/September. So it’s like, vets got the checks, but at the same time its rewarding working with upcoming cats.

Liberator: Who’s your favorite person you’ve worked with and who do you want to work with going forward?

9th Wonder: My favorite person I worked with so far... Jay-Z.

Liberator: Really? You’re not just saying that right?

9th Wonder: No, I’m not.

Liberator: Why?

9th Wonder: You know, Jay is personal. He doesn’t show it often but he’s a very personable dude. I just saw him recently and when we get together, we talk about sports. He’s just a regular dude with $400 million in the bank. He showed me that no matter how big the person, just be yourself. I learned so much from him in the 3 days I spent with him recording the “Threat” joint for The Black Album. That was 5 years ago now, and still I carry that on in every session.

Liberator: How do you feel about the state of hip-hop right now?

9th Wonder: Me personally, I’m 33 yrs old. I don’t pay attention to that … can we cuss on this joint?

Liberator: Do you.

9th Wonder: OK, I don’t pay attention to that lil’ boy shit they play on the radio. I don’t find comfort in listening to songs that my nephew listens to.

Liberator: Why do you think that is though? Is it because everybody has T-Payne singing on their track?

9th Wonder: It’s because we’re afraid to be ourselves, and we’re afraid of our age. We want to be our kid’s friend instead of our kid’s parent. You heard all the old school songs I was playing tonight right? But you got people standing around like they ain’t ever heard these songs before. It’s like your ass forgot. You’ve been brainwashed so much by TV, it’s like you don’t move unless it’s the same song you hear 50 times a damn day. That shit is sad. So for me, personally, the current state of hip-hop is good because I still play EPMD to this day... and I’m good. In my car… in my home… hip-hop lives where I am. On the radio though… hip-hop is dead.

Liberator: What’s on your iPod right now?

9th Wonder: A lot of old soul, a lot of old 80s tracks like Duran Duran and shit like that. I got any song that New Edition ever made -- Bobby Brown, Ralph Tresvant, Johnny Gill. New Edition is the greatest group in the world over any genre of music. Nothing stops them niggas, man.

Liberator: For real, dawg?

9th Wonder: Oh yeah. New Edition taught me -- and any 30-year-old man will attest to this shit -- how to be a man. I learned shit from New Edition. That’s where I got my game from. “Sorry, You’re Not My Kind of Girl,” “Stone Cold Gentleman,” “Man With Sensitivity,” “Roni”… I mean they got so many songs in their catalog that you just can’t beat them niggas… you can’t beat New Edition, that’s it.

Liberator: Questlove once told me that people don’t want to hear hip-hop artists be emotional and show their soft sides. How do you feel about that? Do you think hip-hop artists can be three dimensional?

9th Wonder: I think hip-hop artists need to grow the hell up. If you’ve been in the game long enough to be a 30-year-old rapper, follow me? You need to stop doing songs with these lil’ kids on your hook. That’s almost molestation, I think.

Liberator: Tell me about your creative process when you go into the studio? What’s your influence, and how does it happen?

9th Wonder: You know, Lauren, there’s a feeling in your chest when you hear “Electric Relaxation”; there’s a feeling in your chest when you hear “They Reminisce Over You”; there’s a feeling in your chest when you hear “You Don’t Know My Name” by Alicia Keys. It’s all soul music to me, you know? I try to create that feeling all the time with anything that I do. I leave the club stuff for the club. I’m for the feeling, I make life music. My stuff extends beyond the club. You listen to it in the morning; you listen to it in the evening; when you’re raising your kids; when somebody done died. That’s my stuff.

Liberator: Tell me about what you’re doing at the University and your work with True School?

9th Wonder: What I do at the University is teach a hip-hop class 1973-1997 to a bunch of 18-22 year-olds. If you do the math, they’re not old enough to remember. We start with James Brown and end with the day Biggie died. That’s a big gap of hip-hop that TV, radio and magazines don’t even like to show. So, I’m basically trying to pass the torch to the next generation before it gets lost. Because once white people take it, it’s over. I’m trying to claim it as ours before they take it in their universities and start teaching it to their kids. Then 40 years down the road, some white kid will be thinking white people started hip-hop. I’m at North Carolina Central University now, but next semester I’ll be at three schools. I don’t know how I’m gonna pull this off, but I’ll be at North Carolina Central, Duke and Florida A&M.

Liberator: I defi nitely admire all the stuff you’re doing. Why do you think it’s so important right now?

9th Wonder: With great position comes great responsibility, and people don’t want to be responsible. Somebody has to step up and do it on every level. King had to step up and do it, Malcolm X had to step up and do it, Medgar Evers had to step up and do it, Afrika Bambatta had to step up and do it, A Tribe Called Quest had to step up and do it. Somebody has to step up and, for once in their lifetime, just be a black person with integrity. Not to say that we’re perfect and elitist, but damn -- just do something right for a change. Don’t always be so money based and jack the culture all up. So that’s just me. I feel like there’s something in me to just give back to the kids, and teach the kids the history of this music. That’s why I’m in it.

Liberator: What’s the most important thing you think you pass onto the kids in terms of the history and time period you’re teaching them about?

9th Wonder: To know that nothing is new under the sun. I played “If I Ruled the World” by Kurtis Blow and their feelings were hurt cause they thought Lauryn Hill wrote that song.

Liberator: Damn, is it really that big of a disconnect?

9th Wonder: You know, I don’t think we really understand how old we are. I don’t think we understand that your 18-year-old was born the year after House Party came out. So we really have to understand that, and understand that a kid that was born the same year that Coming to America was released is only 20 years old now. So, it’s not their fault. You can’t expect a kid that’s 14, 15 or even 18 right now to understand and grasp Pete Rock and CL Smooth. Just like when I was 13, I couldn’t fully grasp Curtis Mayfield because my mind wasn’t ready yet. I just grasped Slick Rick, but once I got older I was able to. So you can’t be like, “Aw, you don’t know nothing about no Gang Starr!” Because it’s like “Yeah, nigga, I don’t ‘cause I’m 14 … what do you expect? I wasn’t even born when “Take It Personal” came out, my bad.” So, we have to stop jumping on kids because they don’t know about hip-hop. It’s really not their fault, because BET and MTV ain’t doing a good job. The only ones trying to do a good job is VH1 with the Hip-hop Honors, and that comes on once a year. That’s just not good enough.

Liberator: Who’s the best rapper alive right now in your opinion?

9th Wonder: Jay-Z … what?

Liberator: Without a doubt?

9th Wonder: Yeah. You know most days Jay gets it, but you know who’s really killing it right now? Andre 3000. Hanging niggas by a string out there. Andre 3000.

Liberator: What’s the most rewarding thing about what you’re doing right now, and what do you want your legacy to be?

9th Wonder: Well, right now for me, I get to wake up in the morning and do what I want to for a living. There are so many people that get to their 20s and hit a crossroads and say ‘I want to try this, but I gotta pay bills’. Me, I went the other way. Yeah, I didn’t eat real good for like a year and a half, but it paid off. So, that’s the most rewarding thing to me. I’m happy that I can get up in the morning and do this every day. I love my job. Some people hate their jobs, and they’re stuck there for 30 years waiting on a pension. So, I’m blessed to have my job.

Liberator: What’s one thing you want people to know about you or your music that you don’t think they know already?

9th Wonder: You know, people still don’t think I’m from here. People still don’t think I’m from North Carolina. People think that with the records I’ve done, you have to move somewhere else to do it. They don’t believe I want to represent this state. Also, on the low, I’m really a Black Nationalist.

Liberator: What you know about that!

9th Wonder: Well, you know I was a history major, right?

Liberator: Oh, ok, so you know what’s up ...

9th Wonder: Yeah, my dude is Minister Farrakhan. I’m not a Muslim, but he’s my favorite black leader because he speaks things that are on my mind. That’s just real talk. We see eyeto-eye on a lot of stuff. So that’s what is it to me. “It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back” changed my life when I was 13.

Liberator: What do you think about the things that are happening politically in this country right now?

9th Wonder: I’m afraid. I voted for Barack Obama, and I’ll vote for him again in November. But, I’m afraid because we live in a dangerous country where the powers that be still don’t like black people. You feel me? I hope this country is ready for a black president, but realistically, I’m afraid. If Barack gets in offi ce and something happens to that man, then all black people need to pack their shit and move out of this country. Because that will mean there’s no hope.

Liberator: So you do still believe in the democratic process?

9th Wonder: I just can’t take another Republican. Anything to keep another Republican out of office. We have to get our gas back down to $1.50. That’s my thing -- just get gas down. It’s getting hard out there in these streets!

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