Educating Hip Hop – 9th Wonder | The Open Mind

Educating Hip Hop – 9th Wonder | The Open Mind

September 23, 2019 9 By Ronny Jaskolski


HEFFNER: I’m Alexander Heffner
your host on The Open Mind. A one-man brain
trust to the likes of Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar, Mary J.
Blige and Destiny’s Child, Grammy-award-winning
producer, DJ, lecturer and social activist 9th Wonder
born Patrick Denard Douthit, joins me today.
9th is a professor at North Carolina Central
University and Duke University, most recently
a Hip-Hop Fellow at Harvard University. A
musical impresario, the DJ is both old and new
school. Committed to the creation and legacy of a
hip-hop archive. The Hip-Hop Fellow documentary
chronicles 9th Wonder’s journey as a practitioner
scholar from the studio to the classroom. Based in
Raleigh, North Carolina, 9th founded It’s a
Wonderful World Music Group, Jamla Records, an independent
label. From R&B to neo-soul, rhythm and blues, fresh
and retro, today we explore the wonderful
world of music with 9th. And as a one-time student
of the Harvard music department, I’m really delighted
to have him here. 9TH WONDER: How you doing man? HEFFNER: Thanks 9th for
doing this and I, it’s a long time coming, right. 9TH WONDER: Right,
right, right, right. Absolutely. Finally got it done. HEFFNER: What’s
going on with the archive. 9TH WONDER: The archive,
um, the archive lives in… um the… Hutchins Center. And
inside the Hutchins Center is the W.E.B. DuBois Institute.
It’s ran by Henry Lewis Gates. Dr. Henry Lewis Gates. Harvard
University. And Dr. Marcy Morgan. Uh Dr. Marcy
Morgan runs the uh Hip-Hop Fellows program, inside of
the Harvard Fellows program, right? So. Within
that we wanted to try to place hip-hop in the canon
and that means creating what a standard is, and
what classics is ’cause we haven’t really decided
what they are yet. Um. So, we chose, or I chose, 200
albums. Don’t ask me why I tried to do it but as
painstaking as it was I chose 200 albums. And
we’re admitting every year maybe four, then ten, then
twenty. And the first four that we did was Nas’
Illmatic. Uh Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A
Butterfly. A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory and
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill. Um to
kinda show the range of hip-hop. What it sounded like.
It shows a range of age when it comes to the artists. So
just trying to place hip hop in a canon and, and
create what standards is and, and so we can carry on. So the
next generation would know exactly what the…
rubric of hip-hop is. HEFFNER: What was the
rubric of the classic, when, when you
think of classic hip hop… 9TH WONDER: Right. HEFFNER: How did you
arrive at that… definition. 9TH WONDER: You know these
days a lot of times music is based on you
know record sales and you know, now it’s Instagram
followers [LAUGHS] right. But you know, I try to base
it on, simply, creative license. Creative ideas. Uh, does
it stand the test of time. It didn’t have to sell a lot.
You know, a, a classic is not a, a platinum seller sometimes.
It may have been important to that region. It may
have been important to the time. It may have been
important to a group of people, a culture of people.
So that’s why it ranges from uh Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a
Butterfly all the way down to a Deltron 3030. Like,
it’s, it’s, across the board, across the strata
of what we kind of look at in the mainstream sense of
what hip-hop is ’cause like I said, we always…
define those by, oh it went platinum, oh the
first week sales. Uh, hip-hop is much deeper
than that. When it, when it stands in, in the
pantheon of music I believe. HEFFNER: To what
extent was this a hip-hop hall of fame, to what
extent was it something deeper that was getting at
economic, political, social challenges… that
the community of artists who made this music faced. 9TH WONDER: Right, right. HEFFNER: And continue to
face. 9TH WONDER: That’s,
that’s the toughest thing. Because trying to get everyone
to understand outside the culture of hip-hop
what this thing actually means, or what the culture actually
means, or what we actually trying to say. You know,
mass media can kinda miscont- get that misconstrued.
People can get that misconstrued through mass media so, you know,
this way we’ll be able to tell our story the correct way. We’ll
be able to tell our story from, you know, these are the major
players in it. These are… these are the major
poets in it. These are the producers in it. Um. All
the way down to the mastering ideas of the
album. All the way down to the mixes. All the way
down to the artwork. They all mean something in the
pantheon of music, so… doing this kind of sets
that up so people can finally understand instead
of just going through just a vacuum of mass media. HEFFNER: I should have said
in the intro, professor of history because
that’s really what you are. 9TH WONDER: Right. HEFFNER: You’re a
hip-hop historian. 9TH WONDER: Right. HEFFNER: Uh so you take
Miseducation for instance. 9TH WONDER: Right. HEFFNER: But you… being that
was… among the four to graduate in your
inaugural class. 9TH WONDER: Right. HEFFNER: Can you… give
our, our viewers a sense of how, how that, you know, how that fit
into an opening definition of what hip-hop is. So that folks
who listen to Lauryn Hill uh or the media’s popular
depiction of Lauryn Hill is not misconstrued and… 9TH WONDER: Right. HEFFNER: Comes at that genuine
definition of here is hip hop. 9TH WONDER: Well the
beauty about Lauryn Hill was and still is… is the beauty
of a woman. Honesty. Like, brutal honesty, whether
you’re ready for it or not. And with Lauryn Hill, she
did that on Miseducation. You know it the, for
those that don’t know, it comes from the,
the book by Carter G. Woodson Mis-Education of a Negro.
Um… and just to take that particular instance to bring it
forward- not only bringing ideas of sampling forward,
now we’re bringing ideas of books forward. Bringing
those forward and then turning it into the views
from a woman. Because hip-hop is a
male-dominated industry, it always has been, but
she took that particular sense and made it hers and
brought beauty to hip-hop. Hip-hop was never looked
at as a beautiful thing, or a warm sense, or a warm
feeling. The Miseducation did that. And she told a
story not only through the gift of rhyme but the,
through the gift of singing. And… it was important
and especially in these day and times that we have
that particular female voice. HEFFNER: Was it enduring
enough, as you look at these next albums that are entering
that idea that this can be a… if not gender neutral, a… 9TH WONDER: Right. HEFFNER: A multi-faceted,
gendered idea of what hip-hop can be. 9TH WONDER: Not only
multi-faceted in gender. Multi-faceted in race, and
culture, you know. We have… you know, it’s been
this thing for a very long time that some people
outside of… the people of color, and we’re speaking
about brown and black people, you know, whether
you’re African age descent, Latino descent.
You know, some people feel like if you didn’t come
from some certain neighborhood that you’re
not supposed to be there. You’re not supposed to
understand what hip-hop is. Hip-hop is one of
those… it’s probably the one music art form, new
music art form that combines not only the
aspect of culture, but color. You know. You know,
I travel around the world a lot and I, and I DJ
different places and… you know, no matter if I’m a,
I’m black, or this person is of Caucasian descent,
whether is this person is French or whatever, from
wherever. We all know the words to Wu-Tang Clan. And
I think that’s the, the beauty of hip-hop. That
we’re just as universal as math, you know, in this particular
sense. So that is what we definitely wanted to
display in this particular list. To make sure that people
that is not of color, people that’s not of
a, quote-un, from the struggle or social-economic background-
’cause some people believe that you only are supposed
to listen to hip-hop if you come from a certain background,
that you must be coming from a place of destitute
or something like that. That’s not what all of hip-hop
is. And we wanted to show that throughout this
particular list as well. HEFFNER: When you see
people’s reaction as a DJ, they, they’re already…
entranced, righ? 9TH WONDER: Right. HEFFNER: So… the library’s
posture is to invite people into an immersion that can
have value irrespective of your faith, your color,
whatever. And I’m wondering how that, how’s
that going. Eh, I mean it, it… can we… without denying
hip-hop its authenticity… 9TH WONDER: Right. HEFFNER:…draw in the appeal
that crosses those barriers. 9TH WONDER: I think this is,
you know. This is the first generation to do so.
Well, my, our particular generation was the first,
generation X. You know, and this is all happening
after uh desegregation. You know, desegregation
did a lot, you know, in education. But it also did
a lot in music right. And if we talk about
desegregation in the late ’60s, early ’70s, if we
take it all the way up to the birth of MTV, music
television, once we started to get there, then
now the idea of music reaching a different
amount of people is now broadened. Right? The one
thing MTV did for me was it introduced me to s—the
Police and Duran Duran and Bananarama and… you know.
I didn’t see my first quote-unquote face of
color on MTV until like 1982. 1983, right? So I think
when, now when I DJ like my class reunion, or I DJ, I do
parties called 95LIVE where we play, you know, ’70s,
’80s, and ’90s music. You know, when I play a Guns and
Roses record, I’m not only speaking to
somebody who you think would should be
listening to Guns and Roses. I’m also speaking
to every kid that was in 8th when Appetite for
Destruction was released, right? If I play a Das EFX
record They Want EFX, I’m not speaking to me, or
somebody think that I would listen to that. I’m
also speaking to every kid that listened to the urban
hip-hop station in, in Winston-Salem, North
Carolina at the time. And I see that every time I go
home and I DJ for my class, you know, I’m
looking at my classmates, and you know, I graduated
from Robert B. Glenn High School in Winston-Salem.
And my class is half and half. It is half, 49 percent black
and 51 percent white. And… what I play we all
love. You know, ’cause we’re the first generation
that absorbed it all. We’re not just a rock
generation, we’re not just a hip-hop generation. We
grew up listening to everything because the way mass media was
set up we had to. HEFFNER: I know. That’s really
the sad [LAUGHS] situation with mass media today. Is
that you can turn on MTV and not find a music video… 9TH WONDER: These days. HEFFNER: …across that
spectrum. 9TH WONDER: Right. HEFFNER: Sting, Jay-Z. Just
throw it all in there- and the same thing with Sports
Center. What is Sports Center today. It’s, it’s
this. This, this, this is, this has a different
design and application, a half hour. I mean I yearn
for that day, when sport- you could turn on,
and I know, because uh we follow each other on
Twitter. 9TH WONDER: Right. [LAUGHS] HEFFNER: It’s a, I want the
highlights. 9TH WONDER: Right, right. Right. HEFFNER: I mean but everyone’s
getting it on their smart phone and that’s the business
justification for why they don’t just play the
highlights anymore. 9TH WONDER: Right. HEFFNER: I’m, I’m riffing a
little. But, which is only to say that I want people to
visit the Hip-Hop Archive in the way they would the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 9TH WONDER: Right. HEFFNER: Not just get a
taste or a snippet. Because I think the t- the,
the taste and snippet leads people to
misconstrue. 9TH WONDER: Right. HEFFNER: Think
about Mis-Education. We want people to be fully
absorbed in it… what is the timetable for widening the reach
of the archive at Harvard? 9TH WONDER: Um it’s gonna
be a… we’re gonna try to do this thing like every
year, like, just as we would do a Rock and Roll Hall
of Fame, or even a- I’m a sports fan
just like you, even like a, a Major League Baseball
Hall of Fame or an NBA Hall of Fame or an NFL. We
want to admit people every year, and keep it going all the
way until the wheels fall off. Because we’re in a situation
if you know, some of our greatest poets and greatest
minds of hip-hop are still alive. Unfortunately
we just lost protégé of Mobb Deep which is, you know,
definitely a sad situation. And we’re learning the mortality
of hip-hop as well because you know growing up, you
think that you can live for, forever. Especially
hip-hop is looked at as a young art form. But now
our greatest minds in hip-hop are 40, in their
40s, right. Um. But we’re admitting people every
year. Not only are we admitting, admitting the album. Say
for example wanna admit um… Paid in Full by Eric
B. and Rakim. Which we will. We wanna be able to bring
Rakim and Eric B. to Harvard, and take the actual pieces
of vinyl, ’cause you always need two, right, take the actual
pieces of vinyl and have them place it in the
archive themselves. And make a ceremony out of
it. I think that’s the way we have to do it to
institutionalize this thing. Uh to make sure that it stands
on and it lives beyond record sales. ’cause
we are living in a dying music industry. We have
to have something that’s going to keep this thing permanent. HEFFNER: Right. The permanence
of meaning, and consequence… 9TH WONDER: Right. HEFFNER: To that end, do
you, do you think that hip-hop is not political
enough today. 9TH WONDER: Hip-hop has always
took a turn for the way of who was actually in office as
President. If you look at um, you know, when we, as
hip-hoppers feel like we’re pressed against a
wall or backed against a wall we do our best, right. You
know. And the, and hip-hop, people in hip-hop, we,
we spend the idea of people that are trying to get
ahead, or, or feel like they’re oppressed.
Like this is not a color thing. And so it seems like every time
we feel like we’re oppressed, our music gets better, it seems
like. So the Kendrick Lamar album couldn’t have come along
at a better time. Chance the Rapper couldn’t come
along at a, at a better time. You know, because now… we
don’t have it as great as we had with certain people
in an office, right. So now we feel like that
we need some source of inspiration, because
music has always been the voice of revolution. If we
talk about Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s, all the way up to
now, it’s always been the voice of revolution. That’s, the
message has always been a part of it. So it seems
like we feel like our backs is pressed against the wall
that we feel like that we need a music or a soundtrack to
push us forward. So we have our Kendricks, we
have our Chance the Rappers, we have our Rapsodys. We have
our Joey Bad-Asses. We have, you know, several people
that has a voice that wants to say something instead of
it being just a party. HEFFNER: Chance really has been
maybe the more or most political um, admirably
so. Um. Does that counter balance what [LAUGHS]
what seems to be Kanye’s Trump Tower appearance?
Uh maybe he was just having a personal melt-down which was
reported in the news but he- Right? But, but his… his um…
seeming to pro-prostitute himself to Trump in the
way that he did. Or maybe it was just a stare into
space. I don’t know if it was… 9TH WONDER: Who knows? HEFFNER: Who knows what it was. 9TH WONDER: Who knows? HEFFNER: But, but it seemed to
betray some of his beginnings. 9TH WONDER: And exactly what
we stand for. Absolutely. Um… with Chance the Rapper,
you know, there’s not only a political edge. There’s
also a spiritual and religious edge to it. HEFFNER: Absolutely. 9TH WONDER: Also with this
last Kendrick Lamar album it was the same thing. You know…
venturing off into a place that a lot of people again
think that hip-hop can’t go. It can’t be… you know people
actually still look at hip-hop as not the genius
art form that it is, that we’re not able to go
exactly where we want to go with this thing. Especially with
the words and the message. And I think Chance
proved that wrong. He proved it wrong on so many
levels. He proved it wrong on a situation that,
I can be spiritual, I can be religious, I can be
political and I… HEFFNER: I can be Governor of
Illinois. 9TH WONDER: I could be
Governor of Illinois. HEFFNER: Don’t you think. 9TH WONDER: I
can sell out Comiskey Park. HEFFNER: Right. 9TH WONDER: I can get involved
in, you know… HEFFNER: One of those things
hasn’t happened yet, for our viewers. 9TH WONDER: Right,
if, yeah, right, he’s not- HEFFNER: I, I, I can
see folks Googling. 9TH WONDER: People
at home, he’s not the governor. [LAUGHS] Is he the
Governor of Illinois? HEFFNER: Chance for Governor. 9TH WONDER: Right, um.
Hopefully one day they will um. But you know… Him selling
out Comiskey Park and him getting involved in
the violence in Chicago. HEFFNER: Right. 9TH WONDER: You know, him
getting involved in it, which nobody talks about.
Everybody likes to talk about the violence but
nobody’s talking about the countless hip-hoppers and
rappers that’s getting involved to trying to stop
this thing. So… HEFFNER: So I think what you’re
saying…is it, there is an element of politics that
is animating hip-hop right now. 9TH WONDER: Absolutely. HEFFNER: Um. But is
it movement making? 9TH WONDER: I think
it is. It’s movement making for Chance because Chance is doing
this as an independent artist. HEFFNER: Right. 9TH WONDER: He’s doing
this without backing from a major label as we would like
to say. He’s, he won Best New Artist at the Grammy’s. You
know it was like, that was a victory for a lot of
people that feel like they needed a big machine
to make their move. To make a, a voice
or to, to have a voice. Ch-Chance is doing that on a
level of, with so many tentacles. Like, religious,
spiritual, political, right? Kendrick, same thing.
Religious, spiritual, political. Um. And
speaking of unification, right? Kendrick is the highest selling
rap album this year, right? If we look back maybe
two or three years ago, political rap doesn’t
sell, right. You know, but he’s changing that narrative.
Kinda taking it back to the times where Public Enemy It
Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back sold two million
copies to a seventh grader like me right? At that time. So,
it’s going back to that time. It’s slowly going
back to that time. But it’s going to take a
while. HEFFNER: When you think of Jay-Z
do you think that he could have, um, exploited his clout for the,
for the, sort of, a political cause, more
than he chose to? 9TH WONDER: With hip-hop, if
we’re speaking about Jay-Z, just as if we were
speaking about Nelly. The thing about Nelly was, and
I’ll, and I’ll get back to Jay-Z in a second, the
thing about Nelly was, you know, he made a, a few,
you know, videos that was not to everybody’s liking.
But that became more of a story than all of the, all
of the research he did and all of the money he raised
for leukemia research. Right? Same thing with
Jay-Z. You know, we don’t look at the idea of what
he’s done for the Kalief Browder story. We don’t
look at the idea of what he’s done for you know, he
just bailed out dads for father’s day, recently,
you know. We don’t look at all of the behind the
scenes things that he’s done, ’cause sometimes, you know,
in this particular music industry, the things that
you do behind closed doors, you do that for a
reason behind closed doors. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t
get done. We didn’t find out that you know, Prince was doing
the things he was doing until he passed on. HEFFNER: Right. 9TH WONDER: And so
I think that’ll be the situation with the, with Jay-Z because-
or with anybody with that particular standpoint
’cause once you help one, you have to help everyone.
So I think he’s meticulous when it comes to
who he helps, how he helps, and how much he helps.
And he doesn’t… although he’s known for talking
about money and records and what I have this,
and what that… him, him helping people, I think
he keeps that to himself. I’m not, I’m not here to
flaunt me helping people. I mean Robin Hood didn’t.
Robin Hood just went and did what he did, you
know, by stories, by legend. So I think he’s
the same way. You know, I, I help people the way I wanna
help people. I don’t feel like I have to flaunt it. I don’t
feel I have to tell the world. And same thing with Beyoncé.
I, she feels like she doesn’t have to tell the world, but you
see the effects afterwards. HEFFNER: Right. 9TH WONDER: You see
the effects down the road. HEFFNER: But has, has it been
a lasting effect in terms of the reputation of hip-hop? 9TH WONDER: I think if you
look at what we’ve done since 1973, that’s the
quote-unquote banner year of when we, you know,
started, or the culture started. I think we’ve done a lot…
of outstanding things. When it comes to the ideas of
education, raising money, you know, the jobs that has
been created because Jay-Z is where he is and who he is.
Like you have to look at all of the jobs he created.
For some people that might have went, went downtown to
try to get a job and couldn’t get one. You know, he’s
not the only one that’s at that statue that has
helped a lot of people that’s under him, right?
Or same thing for Beyoncé, giving a job to… her whole
band is female. Giving a job to a woman who may
have been a great bassist, who couldn’t become a
bassist in another band because that particular
band didn’t wanna hire a woman as a bassist, right.
She hired an entire band of, of, of women. That
says a lot. I think we’ve done a lot in those
places. But I think it leans on the audience,
because no matter what we do, no matter how we do
it, no matter if I am at Harvard, at Penn, at UVA,
at Central, at Duke… uh, at, in the Smithsonian. Uh, uh,
involved with the Smithsonian. There is some people that
is still gonna look at hip-hop the way they do. The same
way they still looked at Obama the way he did, no matter
what he did, no matter the great things he’s done. There’s
some people that’s still just going to look at
him because of his skin color. And they’re not going to
be able to look past it. So no matter what we do, no
matter how much of a global effect that we have-
no matter how many, how much money Akon
raises in his homeland of Senegal, no matter what we
do, people will still look at hip-hop as underserved,
under… this low-seeded genre of music, instead
of the genius that it is and, and the ground that it covers. HEFFNER: Well look, you’re
making a persuasive argument that it is genius. 9TH WONDER: [LAUGHS] Right. HEFFNER: And you have so
I hope there are still believers out there. 9TH WONDER: Of course. HEFFNER: Or soon to be
believers. But you’re presenting frankly
the reality. 9TH WONDER: Right. HEFFNER: Which leads us to
kind of the final terrain that I had to explore with you. 9TH WONDER: Okay. HEFFNER: Being,
being a music junkie. And that is… you
know, so are there folks who, who listen to the, we
were talking off camera, the big man, smooth
styling, vocals right? The, the Pendergrass’s and
the Vandross’s. 9TH WONDER: Right. HEFFNER: Um the Whites.
Are there folks out there who would listen to those
artists, but not hip-hop? I, uh, how, you know, if there,
if there’s a bridge to hip-hop from those
artists, how do you get there. 9TH WONDER: You know, in,
in my um, I had to do a colloquium um in front of
Henry Lewis Gates at Harvard doing my time as a hip-hop
fellow. My whole idea was to get the attention of Henry Lewis
Gates because he’s not a big proponent of hip-hop
music at all. But my thing was, how can I get him to
understand my world? Or what the use of sampling,
the use of sampling old records. How can I get him
to understand that? And it’s exactly what it was.
You know, I played a record uh called uh
Ashley’s Roach Clip uh by the Soul Searchers. That’s
a 1974 song, but it was also used by Eric B. and
Rakim’s Paid in Full. So the bridge is actually the
sounds in the background. HEFFNER: The sampling, the
covers. 9TH WONDER: Absolutely.
That, that, you know, you might not, as
a 60-year old man or a woman, you might not like
uh Jay-Z’s uh Heart of the City. You might can’t you
know, deal with that, you know, the words. It might
not be your thing. HEFFNER: Right. 9TH WONDER: But you can deal
with the Bobby Bland version of [LAUGHS] HEFFNER: [LAUGHS] Right. 9TH WONDER: The song. And
that’s the, that’s the bridge. You know, sampling
is the 100% bridge ’cause then when I sample, I am
sampling a group or a group of musicians. I take
that, I introduce it to a new audience, which is a,
a 18 year old or a 17 year old or a 22 year old. That
particular artist I made the beat for, they take
that particular beat that I made and play it live.
So it’s a circle. It goes from a live band to my beat
machine back to a live band. That is a way that it, a
bridge can be created, that a ’60 year old can
understand what an 18 year old ’cause when I play a record
it’s gonna come from two different directions. They’re
gonna say, oh that’s… I’m in Love by Nancy Wilson.
Somebody my age might say oh no that’s Honey by Erykah
Badu, because that’s the bridge, Nancy Wilson is the bridge, or
that song was the bridge that joined the
generations together. HEFFNER: My hope 9th is
that… uh just as there was that um… connection to, um
those, those vocalists I mentioned, you know,
that, that has been enduring. That your work… will prove
an enduring connection to Lauryn Hill
and the other hip-hop greats. 9TH WONDER: Thank you. HEFFNER: Thank you 9th. 9TH WONDER: Absolutely. HEFFNER: And thanks to you
in the audience. I hope you join us again next time for
a thoughtful excursion into the world of ideas. Until
then, keep an open mind. Please visit the open mind
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