Sampling Soul: 9th Wonder Talks Jay Z Being A Sir, Little Brother, Jamla Records

| August 3, 2013 | 0 Comments

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Words: ill Will

9th Wonder is a name long associated with quality hip hop and soulfully authentic beats. An all around “good guy,” his services have been requested by some of the world’s biggest acts – Jay Z, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige to name but a few – while also pushing the creative envelope with the next generation of “real” emcees.

A busy producer, lecturer, husband, father, and friend, the North Carolina native is one of the industry’s most organised individuals. When he’s not laying down a track, touring, or representing one of the artists on his Jamla Records imprint, he’s lecturing at Harvard or taking part in a fellowship program at Duke University.

Taking some time out from his incredibly hectic schedule to talk to IMC, 9th breaks down his relationship with Little Brother members Phonte and Big Pooh, discussing the impact and endless possibilities Jay Z has as a cultural icon; and even lets us in on a secret involving reaching out to a once respected record label to reintroduce one of their famous album series.

With a roster of highly respected artists, Jamla Records this past year has earned the title of “da squad” (shout out to Flipmode). With 9th as a driving force, the label has proved itself as one to watch. “Jamla’s my team and we rock,” 9th boasts with no hesitation. Asked where the idea for the label came from, he explains that it was more to do with two previous labels laying the foundation than anything else. “Jamla was taken from the word Tamla. Motown’s Tamla. Berry Gordy wanted to get Marvin [Gaye] to put his other records out on Tamla. He was like, “We do the pop records here but if you want to do “The Ecology” and all that shit, you put it out on Tamla.” So Tamla became the mainstream alternative.”

The thing about Rawkus was “The Blast” was a record. “Ms. Fat Booty” was a record. It wasn’t just the underground. They were records. So my thing is I can [now] do the same. The great thing about Little Brother was we made records.

Mentioning Rawkus Records as the second label whose blueprint he wanted to mirror, according to 9th the former indie label played a huge part in the thought process for Jamla’s conception. “The thing about Rawkus was “The Blast” was a record. “Ms. Fat Booty” was a record. It wasn’t just the underground. They were records. So my thing is I can [now] do the same. The great thing about Little Brother was we made records. We were seen as an underground group but we could make records with the best of them. You know what I mean? That’s what I wanted to do with Jamla.” Adding, “If you didn’t listen to Ruff Ryders you automatically listened to Mos Def. There wasn’t really a lot of leeway in between,” 9th then goes on to inform us that he actually reached out to Rawkus for an idea he had. “I wanted to reboot the Soundbombing series, but I wanted to do it through Jamla. They said we couldn’t do it. I wanted Hi-Tek to DJ it. I was going to subliminally bring things full circle.”

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9th, pictured with Little Brother

Probing in to the current relationship between 9th and his former music partners Little Brother, as well as questioning if there will ever be a reunion, he offers an honest answer. “One step at a time man. Just be happy that Phonte and I are speaking. I mean we’re doing more than just speaking. Both of us have had a lot of growing up to do.” Having worked together on Tay’s album Charity Starts At Home – 9th produced four of the twelve tracks – things appear to be all good. Admitting it was a natural occurrence that happens to everybody, 9th reveals, “Everybody inside of music, [as well as] outside of music, falls out of a situation with a friend. It happens. It just so happens that ours happened in front of everybody.”

Getting in to the scholastic talents of the North Carolina producer, he informs us that his desire to teach simply stems from just wanting to extend the shelf life of hip hop. “I feel like it needs to be studied at this point. It’s been around for years. It controls youth culture worldwide. More young kids want to be rappers, even if they grow out of it. A lot of companies now use hip hop type stuff to market their products. So at this point it’s a phenomenon.”

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“I wanted it to be taught the right way by the right individuals,” he adds. “Hip hop is one of those things whereby you need to have grown up in it to fully understand it. You can’t even really explain it to somebody that’s not in it. You can explain how it was started [or the reason behind] the way we stand, the way we dress, and the rules that we have. The world has never seen anything before like hip hop. Never! It influences all other types of music all across the board. That’s why I wanted to teach it.”

Somebody did a class on the Wu-Tang Clan… The whole Wu-Tang Clan phenomenon is a class…

Discussing other hip hop related college courses, the many variations of the 2Pac course is probably the most famous. However, according to 9th there’s another one that’s garnering much attention. “Somebody did a class on the Wu-Tang Clan,” he excitedly claims. “The whole Wu-Tang Clan phenomenon is a class. The way we learned about it was through records. All nine members have four or five names and they may be attached to a superhero. [Even] just Ghostface [Killah with his] whole Ironman/Tony Starks moniker alone some don’t even understand [and need to be educated on it]. When they showed him on the movie screen [in] Ironman, they didn’t get that. You know what I mean? It’s crazy.”

It’s obvious from speaking to 9th Wonder that his schedule is as crammed as a man’s hand carrying an entire shop from the car to the house refusing to do it in two trips. With that said, what’s his secret? “I live in North Carolina,” he says simply. “It’s is a place for family. I don’t have any vices. I don’t drink or smoke so I utilize all of my day as much as I can. By the time I get up I’m thinking, “This is what I have to do today,” and that’s what it is. North Carolina doesn’t have many distractions. Maybe if I lived in New York or Los Angeles I would not be able to get that shit done. You know what I mean?”

What I tell my wife is, “Unfortunately you married a mission.” That’s what she married. I then tell her that if she thinks she’s got it bad then just think about Michelle Obama.

Commenting on whether or not it puts a strain on his family life, the former Little Brother beatsmith admits, “You never really have a balance. You just have to come to a quote/unquote understanding.” Getting a little deeper, he gets to the nitty gritty of the [sometimes needed] family sacrifices. “My age group are one of the first generations to do better than the generation before it. So what we’re trying to do is break the cycle. You have some people that come from a long lineage of doctors and lawyers because some bright guy decided to take the sacrifice back in 1875. What about when you’ve never had a family member to take the sacrifice? You know what I mean?

Martin Luther King had to take the sacrifice. Some great college football or basketball coaches had to take the sacrifices. They all had wives that had to sit home. But if no one’s ever had to do that there would be no way to leap forward. So what I tell my wife is, “Unfortunately you married a mission.” That’s what she married. I then tell her that if she thinks she’s got it bad then just think about Michelle Obama. She has it easy compared to her. I’m setting up for my kids. You know what I mean? And I have to make certain sacrifices in order for them to be straight.”

Last year saw Mac Miller sued by Lord Finesse for unauthorized use of a sample. As an avid soul sampler, the question was put to 9th Wonder on whether or not he has ever been threatened with a law suit? “Once. [They] failed miserably.” Going in to a bit more detail, the suit was apparently over a leaked record – “3:16 Pt.2″ – that never made any album. “Michael Henderson [tried to sue me and Murs]. It was a joint we did as a leak. We didn’t put it on the Fornever album, and he tried to say that because of that song me and Murs became popular. Get the fuck outta here! It was like, “What the fuck?” We had three albums before that [so he had] done nothing for our career. But what’s happening now is people are understanding… the people we sample are understanding at this point you kinda need us. You kinda need us to make your shelf life longer. If we’re not selling records you damn sure ain’t selling shit. So you need us to extend your shelf life and introduce you to the next generation.”

… the people we sample are understanding at this point you kinda need us. You kinda need us to make your shelf life longer.

Asking 9th if there’s an artist he’s not yet worked with that he would like to he names MF Doom instantly. As an established and highly credible producer surely this could be made a quick reality. “Trust me. It’s not 9th Wonder’s fault [for not making it happen],” he says of making certain collaborations happen. “We don’t sit around as producers and say, “Nah, I don’t wanna make a fucking beat for Nas. I don’t wanna make a beat for Ghostface.” We don’t sit around and say that shit. It falls in the hands of what the rapper wants to do.”

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Taking advantage of the situation regarding subject matter, the question of whether or not the Drake collabo the Canadian rapper once raved about has happened yet slides in to the mix. Shaking his head repeatedly, 9th is then asked whether or not it’s Drizzy’s fault. “We don’t wanna use the word ‘fault’ but it is what it is,” he states.

Comparing his current stature as one of hip hop’s go-to-guys to that of a video game baddie, 9th asks, “You play video games right? Let’s take it back all the way to The Legend Of Zelda. I’m becoming the producer that’s [like] the boss before the boss. The one before you get to the boss. Which means [that] if you’re a quote/unquote underground emcee or rapper – whatever you wanna call yourself – and you’re a huge 9th Wonder fan, once you start making money you’re not as big a 9th Wonder fan as you once were. You understand what I mean? They say, “I love you man… blah, blah, blah,” but when their album drops I’m not on it, and that’s fine.”

…A lot of them will take the 9th Wonder co-sign and be like, “Word up! You’re my favourite producer of all time, but I’ma go over here.” That’s what happens.

Bigging up a select few for their loyalty, he continues by saying, “I have my own artists to cultivate. But it’s like that whole thing goes away, and the only ones that stay true to that, or continue to work with me time after time after time, is a Kendrick Lamar . He was on The Wonder Years and  he did a joint with Rapsody for her record. Another one is Big K.R.I.T.. Another one is Mac Miller, who did three records with Rap. And he was in the video. That’s what it is. A lot of them will take the 9th Wonder co-sign and be like, “Word up! You’re my favourite producer of all time, but I’ma go over here.” That’s what happens.”

In the industry people have a short memory. You have people that do shit to you and then people come back and ask you for shit and can’t remember what they did. It’s like, “Mother fucker are you kidding me?

Quoting Jay Z, 9th claims that memory loss is a rapidly developing disease in hip hop. “The crazy thing about the industry is everybody thinks you’re dumb. You know what I mean? In the industry people have a short memory. You have people that do shit to you and then people come back and ask you for shit and can’t remember what they did. It’s like, “Mother fucker are you kidding me?” A lot of times I think, as big as she gets I’ll always say to Rapsody – and I got this phrase from Jay Z – “At the end of the day you’re gonna have to see me regardless. You’ll have to see me. Because after you do the whole pop thing there’s only one direction back and that’s down. When you was on your way up I was here (indicates a middle tier with his hands), and when you’re on your way down, guess what? I’m still doing 65 miles per hour while you’re going zero.” It happens like that.”

Speaking of the Jiggaman, 9th takes a moment to praise the man who essentially helped blow him up on an international platform – Jay enlisted 9th to produce “Threat” on his 2003 bow out album The Black Album. “Here’s a guy who seems like he’s gotten everything right. He has the fantastic wife, [they’ve recently] had a baby, and [Beyonce’s] not a home body, and she may make more money than he does on a yearly basis. Which is nuts! He travels in close quarters with the President of the United States of America, and he [owned] a basketball team.”

Making a joke that it won’t be long until Jay Z is knighted, 9th’s head flicks upright.

“It’s the ultimate hustle. What better success story is there in hip hop? Fuck a rhyme, and we may laugh at this shit, but I can see them soon saying ‘Sir Jay Z.’

“Somebody’s gonna do it. And I’ll tell you why. We don’t know how long Queen Elizabeth II has. She’s an older woman. So what’s gonna happen when somebody young gets in that position. You know what I mean? If somebody young gets in that position that understands hip hop, and they can make Paul McCartney a Sir – from a ’60s quote/unquote pop… possibly the greatest pop rock band in The Beatles, who were once teenage idols – what makes you think a young Prince or Queen won’t make one of these rappers a Sir? Who’s number one in line for that? Beyonce’s your wife. You [owned] a basketball team. You know the President of the United States – who is the most famous man on the planet. Why will they not make him a Sir? Let’s talk about it. That is a great possibility.”

Source: IMC

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