A college lecture hall hardly seems like a home for the musical form of hip-hop. Since it’s inception in the mid-70s as a offshoot of funk and jazz, the genre has been categorized largely by its placement as an outlier in American culture’s lexicon. With the passing of hip-hop greats in recent years such as Heavy D and Pimp C, a disconnect has begun to emerge as new artists get younger and younger. Veteran Grammy Award-winning producer 9th Wonder (Patrick Douthit) who has worked with everyone from Jay-Z and Destiny’s Child to Murs has set out to bridge the gap between the new and old school and he’s doing it on a much different stage, within the walls of Duke University. As a member of an older generation of hip-hop evangelists, Douthit has assembled a crew of young MCs such asRapSody and Tyler Woods under the name It’s A Wonderful World Music Group to help foster a new style and groom the newbies on the history of the game.
Verum: What were you looking to accomplish on your newest album, The Wonder Years?
9th Wonder:If you listen to the album, it’s all the types of black music that I loved growing up. It’s across the board the kind of music I loved growing up.
Verum: How important is it to you to teach the art of hip-hop to younger MCs.
9th Wonder: I think it’s very important. I don’t think everyone needs to have that responsibility and I don’t think everyone wants to have that responsibility, but I do. It’s not my marketing ploy, this is me, I am a historian. I believe in legacy and I believe in letting the next generation know the right way so they can understand where things came from, it’s very important to me. Where you came from is very important.
Verum: What was it about hip-hop that drew you in and made you want to take on a role like this?
9th Wonder: There is an unconventional connection with soul music. Trying to go and take old records and turn them into new ones is what really drew me to it. Early hip-hop records were heavy on sample and had a lot of soul. It’s like apples and apple sauce man, you’ll understand it better that way. It translates, the whole past, the older cats say “you gotta do this, you gotta do that” and it’s really just what you make of it.
Verum: As someone who made a career of the practice, what is your stance concerning those who see sampling as stealing?
9th Wonder: I’m just continuing on the tradition, hip-hop is very traditional. Outside of what is always popular or on the radio, hip hop is a very traditional and personal outlet because I’m carrying on what was taken from me in the 70s when they took music programs out of schools. In that sense we had to very literally learn to create something out of nothing and the thing about it is, I dare any musician to do what Dilla did and make it make sense from a composition standpoint. The flip side is that cats don’t understand what we’re doing. They don’t understand that we’re creating a bridge. Through us their music is living on. Someone can listen to an album, and not even care about a guy like D.J. Rogers. But then they can go listen to the song on Youtube and see all the D.J. Rogers videos along the side. Now we’ve created a relationship with D.J. Rogers. I don’t think people really understand the wormhole that is created with sampling and technology today, that’s what I’m doing; educating folks.
Verum: Speaking of education maybe you could tell us a bit about your class at Duke?
9th Wonder: It’s great man, I’ve been blessed. I lectured at Harvard November 15 on hip-hop and how people try to ignore it. This is a cultural phenomenon for the past thirty years, how you market things and all that goes into this genre. They’re playing “Rapper’s Delight” at Disney on Ice! And this is where we are and the problem is that there hasn’t been a true depiction on what it means, where it comes from, where did it start and who started it. A lot of people think hip-hop started in 1990, they didn’t know it started in 1968, they have no idea. It’s great that I can go and teach about that. We in the industry have done a great job making albums but not such a good job chronicling the history of our craft and the only people who can tell the story is us. For me to be able to do that at one of the highest institutions in the world is crazy to me.
Verum: Any up and comers or established artists that you would like to work with that you haven’t yet?
9th Wonder: T.I., man. I really would like to return to Trap Muzik T.I. I really am a big fan of T.I. He is probably one of my number one dudes I would really like to work with.
Verum: What is the process like, getting to work with someone like T.I.?
9th Wonder: If you’ve never been in the game you probably don’t understand why I can’t just call anyone up to work with. As times goes on it becomes hard to trust people in this game. Circles are very small, you know? Jay-Z has been with the same people since he started, every time I see him it’s the same people. Same thing with a guy like T.I. and I learned to understand that, inner circles are small, very small.
Verum: How would you like to build on what you’ve done so far? What’s next for 9th Wonder?
9th Wonder: I want to be able to retire into academia 100%. To really teach the culture and really build the culture and really explore the archives and travel the world and get perspectives on how hip-hop affects different countries, I really want to make this a ten or fifteen year research on this. I know from my personal, the only hip-hop you will get out of me will be on my own label. As far as pursuing my personal projects, it’s not going to be 100% hip-hop anymore, Terrence Martin and I are going to do a project next year. That’s where I am right now.
Verum: What would you like your legacy to be in hip-hop after you’re gone?
9th Wonder: Like I said on The Wonder Years man, I just want to do what I am put on this world to do and that’s it. I don’t think about what kind