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TSS Presents Smoking Sessions With 9th Wonder

Little Brother has made a stamp on hip-hop that won't be soon forgotten, partly because of the group's outspoken emcee in residence, Phonte, and partly because of its mainstay producer 9th Wonder. Since infiltrating the soundscape with The Listening (2003) 9th Wonder has committed to making music for the heads, forging a signature beat style that thrives in both his classic mixtape God's Stepson and on the latest LB release The Minstrel Show, specifically selecting exclusive and brilliant samples that have drawn him innumerable comparisons to Pete Rock, DJ Premier and other nineties-nostalgia icons.

But the road to underground idol status also tacks on purist nerd fans with unattainable expectations, and the weight of representing an entire generation's need to reconnect with substantive music. 9th remains unflappable, though, recalling the struggle that got him here and the reasons why he'll eat off this music shit for days to come. Sit back, relax and read. Another Sunday, Another Session....

TSS Presents Smoking Sessions With....

Words by Drew Ricketts
Editing by Paola Mendoza

TSS> What up man? I'm glad we could get in contact. This a good time for you?

9th> Yeah it's cool.

TSS> I was just watching this "When the Levees Broke" shit on HBO, trying not to get too mad at the Feds.

9th> I was watching that too. A year later...still crazy.

TSS> Anyway, lemme get into the questions because a lot of people have submitted and I want to cover everything. Your music is infused with a lot of soul, what music were you brought up listening to? Was it soul or mostly rap?

9th> Both...Well, it's a lot of things. I have Southern Christian parents who were playing soul records and gospel. Then, I used to watch MTV --because after '86 was like the MTV era-- with Duran Duran, Huey Lewis and the News. My brother was into Stacy Lattisaw and the R&B artists out at the time. That was all fine and good but when he'd try to pull me over to that side...I just wanted to hear KRS-One and the rap stuff.

Growing up in the South is real different though, man. We have a Christian my folks would play Mahalia Jackson and James Cleveland 8-tracks as much as they might play records like The Commodores.

TSS> You have an older brother? How much older?

9th> My brother is 12 years older than me.

TSS> Is that the origin of the LB name?

9th> Nah, actually. Little Brother was what we came up with to be identifiable in stores as a distinct name when people are looking for our stuff, whether it's [among] rap groups or rock groups. It's like we're the little brothers of that classic hip-hop era -- the Nas', the De La Souls, Tribe -- but since then it has taken on a couple of meanings.

TSS> Aside from Little Brother albums, you've done work with some notable rappers. I heard a rumor that you have a particular studio ethic...something like only one take for every song? Is that true?

9th> Man, I look at it like this. This is rap's very raw. There's no "say it again" or "one more take"...just do the shit. Some people do things just to do it. That's one thing I learned from Kanye West, to go with the feeling of a song instead of trying to construct some thing because of a process. I don't believe in that.

TSS> I also heard this is somewhat different from the style that Murs has in the studio. How did you resolve that?

9th> (Laughs) Me and Murs fight like cats and dogs. We like brothers. He's told people in interviews about that part of the working relationship and it's all good. I just had to let him know that this is how I work. Regardless, we come out with the dope shit's all good.

TSS> How do you decide if you can mesh with a rapper's style?

9th> I don't try to judge that. I really don't care. Music is a feeling to me. I had never heard a lot of Murs shit before we worked together. His people got at me and I started listening and knew we could do a good one together. Good artists...we'll make it work. I think me and Mike Jones could do a record.

TSS> Do you think that goes against what people expect of you? Like the "purists" for instance?

9th> Listen man I don't care what these internet Super Hip-Hop fans think (laughs). They want you to emcee and breakdance and all this other shit. I want to make good music so I don't worry about if it's pure to some people. Hip-hop -- this hip-hop shit -- it's either in you or it ain't in you. That's can't put things in your music to make it more hip-hop or whatever it is. No internet chat board can say what's in you. So the whole purist thing...bump that too. You know what my theory is about these so-called purists? It's like the guy who ain't well-endowed and he goes and buys a big car...they're overcompensating.

TSS> I think that happens because there's a generation of young kids who want to be part of the 'real' hip-hop, so to speak but they have no frame of reference. They're looking for the connection. How do you provide the frame of reference to these listeners when they're hearing remade songs, as is the hip-hop tradition, with no real idea of how the music came about?

9th> It's up to our generation to do that. I mean the generation of 25-and-over people who really got to experience both major periods of hip-hop. The sampling and all that wouldn't be so bad if the average 31-year-old rap fan would act [his] age. For example, I understand, I didn't understand this a couple years ago, why a young person will hear a snap music song and enjoy it and dance to it. I understand why these songs get made...but what I don't understand is why when it comes on and you see this 31-year-old dancing to it. That's what destroys the frame of reference. We are the people who need to be putting younger folks on to the music that they'll appreciate so they don't think this stuff on the radio is the only shit. There's times where I mention what I do to a young person and they're like 'who's Little Brother? Are you on the radio?' I know that we ain't on the radio all the time but we're around and people don't know us.

TSS> So you just want those younger people to have the option?

9th> Yeah the option. I do my part because I'm a professor over here at North Carolina Central where I teach a course on hip-hop. I make sure that I'm telling the students and the younger generation about the music I listen to and the songs that influenced me. That's my class will put Q-Tip in context, my class will put KRS-1 in context. Anything we can do to reconnect with the young people, we have to do.

TSS> Here's a question I know is on a lot of people's minds. I have a friend who makes beats who has wanted me to ask you this among others...Will you make beats outside of the Fruity Loops format?

9th> I'm a stick-to-my-guns kind of dude. I stick with what I know I do best. I've been accused of mailing it in or staying in my own lane. I look at it like this, if the lane I'm in allows me to go a hundred-miles-an-hour, I'll be staying in that lane. I make songs on Fruity Loops. You can hang with it or you can't. There's no sense in any long diatribes about why I do it. I make beats on computers. It's a funny thing that a computer that I've had for so long can put food on the table but so be it. I gotta feed my two daughters and they're not telling me to use the MPC or to change what I do. I don't think they will either (laughs). None of the established beatmakers have ever told me to do something's only the Super Hip-Hop cats who are stressing that.

TSS> Now that you've worked with some of the guys that you always admired as emcees, is there anyone left on the wish list of projects?
9th> You know I'm really tired of this question...everytime I get it...
TSS> (laughs) I know you get it a lot.

9th> It's not because of the question. When you write this, I want you to make it real clear. Everytime I get this question...I say it clearly but the guy never gets back to me so put it in all caps for me...GHOSTFACE KILLAH. I don't have a lot of artists on that list. I'm running out of dream people to work with. I got to do the record with Buckshot (Chemistry, 2005) and he has always been one of my favorite emcees. There's no better feeling than working on music you want to do and live comfortably. I am living comfortably so I can't hate.

TSS> We got a question in that I have to revise a little...concerning that topic. The question was: 'How much do you charge for your beats?' but I don't wanna jeopardize your business...

9th> Haha. I'll say this man, when I first started out I would charge guys like $50 or $100. (Laughs) It's a LOT more now.

TSS> Do you measure yourself by the prominence of LB or by your own body of work?

9th> That's a good one. It's also the answer to the other question I get a lot which is 'why 9th doesn't tour.' The name 9th Wonder is just as big, if not bigger, than the Little Brother name. That's just the way it is. Sometimes, there can be a backlash that results from that. When we go somewhere people ask "wassup with LB?" as if to say that we're not down with each other because I'm not with the group. The thing about LB is we're one of the few groups that includes the's Big Pooh, Phonte and 9th Wonder. Since the late nineties, producers have rarely been in the group so people aren't sure how to react to us when we're separate from each other. I have to take care of a demanding schedule when I'm at home. My workload and my family are each important to me and if I don't address those, then I'm slipping. You make your own rules in this industry and one of mine is that I don't tour because I can't be close to home. Nobody controls my destiny. I can't go on the road for two months if my manager calls me and says so-and-so wants a beat. That would interfere with my work. With the group, it's always love. I have two businesses or brands to tend to, at the end of the day: one of them is Little Brother and the other is 9th Wonder.

TSS> What are your feelings about getting on via the internet and Okayplayer site? Has this been exciting? Challenging?

9th> At first I used to think that some people get to the internet to see how they can bother you. I don't want to jump on all the internet fans because y'all are the shit. It's just the few of that group who really don't have lives. We did get a lot of our exposure from there but there's kids on the net who have nothing better to do than e-mail you. You know Phonte always says how different it is now... like back in '89 I couldn't e-mail Chuck D to tell him how good or bad I thought his show was. At the same time, we want to reach fans in our age group. That's the real focus at this point. Who was a better witness to the Civil Rights movement? The people who were there or the generation right after? I think that's obvious...the 25+ fans are going to feel us [more] and we're going to reach them in whatever forum we can.

TSS> Speaking of, Phonte has had a bit of controversy surrounding his blog comments and some irresponsible journalism from a few of the writers at What are your thoughts on that whole eruption of opinions?

9th> When Phonte blogs, Phonte blogs...We are three men in a group and we're all going to have our say about different subjects. I'll give him this - that dude is really thorough. He was an English major in college and he knows about language and putting words together. He's not going to say something just to say it...he'll always justify it with examples. Right or wrong, we're all going to say what we want to say. I respect his ability to put his thoughts out there and he's willing to take any critique or feedback from it. I don't read every one of his blogs but the ones I do [read] have very concise information and opinions with strong backing.

TSS> Are there any projects you have upcoming that you are anticipating?

9th> You mean my projects or other stuff? I'm a fan first.

TSS> Your projects.

9th> I've been really blessed. I just got a deal with Asylum Records to do my own stuff where I have the power to put out music as I see fit. This is going to be a turning point for me because it won't be about 9th Wonder doing the boom-bap or my drums or whatever. This will prove to the industry that, hey this stuff does sell. Call it what you want. As for other stuff, people keep telling me about Rick Ross' Port of Miami which I haven't heard yet. And some wouldn't expect me to be checking for an album like that but one thing I learned from chilling with Jay-Z and Memphis Bleek is never to judge an artist by appearance. Memphis Bleek is a quiet guy but he's a workhorse in the is Young Guru, the Roc in-house producer...Everyone is thinking that Rick Ross, because he might dress a certain way or he came out this way...that he'll rap in one way too. That's just not true. I look at a guy like Paul Wall...Paul Wall put his wedding pictures up on the net. He a grown man. He's also someone's husband. A lot of people see him with the grills in his mouth and may think one thing but I feel that. He gets my respect for being himself...which is more than a lot of people can say.

TSS> Word. That's true. Were there low points during the time before LB got put on?

9th> Whew! Low. All the time, it was music that kept me goin'. Anytime I was hungry, I'd get some random e-mail from some kid in Texas saying 'yo I just heard this joint and I think you're an incredible musician.' That fuels the fire to know somebody out there will find you. Again, the 'net fans ain't all bad. There's bad people everywhere though and some need to learn how a critique [on someone's music] is different than an attack. I want to hear any critique that makes sense.

TSS> Aight time for the quickie signature questions that keep us goin' over here (laughs). What would you say to your first ex-girlfriend now?

9th> She stay about 3 hours away from me. I've run into her before too. Whenever that kinda thing happens, I'll always say 'How are you? what you been up to?' I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable by being like 'Hey, look at me now.' It's a bittersweet feeling. I do wonder where she is now though.

TSS> What are your tracks in the player right now?

9th> Oh boy. It's a long list: "Mr. Porter" off that Big and "Blaze of Glory" by Jon Bon Jovi about to have a problem because I've been playing that one so much, "In the Midnight Hour," "Long Way," T.I.'s King (the JustBlaze version), "Guess Who Loves You," the GoGo's, Huey Lewis...whatever I'm feeling.

TSS> Which of these TV shows would you be on, Wild N' Out, Survivor, Big Brother, Desperate Housewives or The Wire?

9th> I'd be on Mysterio Lane with them chicks (Desperate Housewives) because that's closer to my life. It's not necessarily what goes on in my house but I live in that kind of community. I see that shit everyday.

TSS> What's a food that's a staple for you at home or in the studio?

9th> Spaghetti, jack. I can't live without some damn spaghetti.

TSS> That's funny because I make these spaghetti omelettes I've had since I was a kid. That shit holds me down major. You should try one.

9th> (laughs) Nah I think I'll pass on that, jack. Good for you though homey.

TSS> (laughs) Don't judge it by the name. It was good. Always an inspiration to speak with another dude making it happen. Stay up.

9th> You too, man. Peace.

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