9th Wonder Tells All: The Stories Behind His Classic Records

Jay-Z “Threat” (2003)

9th Wonder: “'Threat’ and Masta Ace’s ‘Good Ol’ Love’ have a tie in-between. I did ‘Good Ol’ Love’ in the summer of 2003. Masta Ace came to Raleigh, and I gave him a CD. He picked a beat, and I think I got paid $2,000 for it. At the time I would do beat raffles. I would mail cats back and forth, and I would probably sell three beats for about $700, which at the time I was like, ‘Yo, word.’ [Laughs.]

”So I would send a beat, then send in a money order, it was very simple. I remember for ‘Threat,’ I saw an advertisement that they had on the Internet. It was a picture of a reel-to-reel. You know in reel-to-reel they write the names of the producers? There were like twelve slots, and three of them were rubbed out. So it told me, ‘Yo, he’s looking for three more producers.’ That was a dope ad. I wish I could find it.

“But rewind back to February 2003, I met a guy by the name of T. Smith. He was a director, and he directed a video for a cat around here named Spectac. I did some music with him. So T. Smith came down here, we hung out, he was cool, and I played some beats for him. He said, ‘Yo, if I’m ever in New York, and I hear anything about beats, I’ll tell you.’

”So time passes and September 18 comes up, I get a call out of nowhere. T. Smith hits me up saying, ‘Remember what I told you? Well, Jay-Z wants to hear some beats from you.’ Now at that time, I thought, ‘Okay, I just did a joint for Masta Ace…’ I’m not disrespecting Masta Ace. That’s Juice Crew. But when most dudes do beats, they climb. They’ll have one for Masta Ace, then another artist, then another artist. You got to build your way up to Jay-Z. But not for me, dude.

”So when T. Smith said, ‘Jay wants to hear your beats. I’m here with Young Guru.’ I said, ‘What? Don’t play with me.’ And the reason why T. Smith was able to be so close with them was because he was chosen as one of the cinematographers for Fade to Black.

”So T. Smith puts Young Guru on the phone. Guru goes, ‘Yo, man, I bought The Listening from Fat Beats, and I loved it. I want you to come play beats for Jay.’ That was a Wednesday, and on that Saturday morning I was on a plane to New York.

”It’s funny, because I called ?uestlove to make sure he put a bug in Jay’s ear for me. I remember ?uest was like, ‘Come to Philly for a day.’ So I got to New York that Saturday morning, hopped on the train to Philly, and then got back to New York that night to play beats for Jay.

“I walked into Baseline Studios, and as soon as I walked into the A Room, on the left there’s a couch, and to the right in front of that couch there’s an island, where they put everything. Jay was sitting on that counter, facing the track boards. I walked in, and then he turned around, and looked back, while Beyoncé was lying on the couch.

”I went in and said, ‘I want to thank you for this opportunity, bruh.’ Because once again, Jay-Z wasn’t a person I was expecting to meet. It just happened. I was so removed from it. Now if it was Mos Def or Common or somebody? I probably wouldn’t know how to act right. At the time, my head was Rawkus’d out.

”But Jay was just somebody that was completely juxtaposed from what I was expecting. Jay-Z was at the time the biggest rapper out. What do I make of all this? I didn’t really make anything of it. It was surreal. I just went and played him 29 beats.

“Jay kept a poker face on the first two, but on the next 27, he was just like, ‘Man, kid, where do you come from?’ Then he said, ‘We got to go.’ He asked me where I was from and everything, and I remember Beyonce saying, ‘I really like your music.’ They both left, then 30 seconds later, he came back, and said, ‘Yo, man, can I have that beat CD?’ Then he asked me to come back on Monday.

“The track for ‘Threat’ sounds a little more aggressive than what I was doing for The Listening. But that was intended because Jay wanted it to fit in, and he picked the sample. I made the beat for him at the spot. Now you can argue this, but what he was trying to tell me in so many words was, ‘I want you to be like what Primo was to me on my other albums.’

”And I was like, ‘Whoa, you’re going too far now, Jay.’ But that’s why I had that boom bap in there. And I made that beat in like 20 to 25 minutes. He started the song off, and then he was like, ‘Wait, wait, go back.’ Then he started talking about all these 9s, and goes, ‘9th Wonder.’

”I probably listened to that song once a month since I made it. Because out of all the new producers on the album, I’m the only one whose name he says. I was just like, ‘Wait, until North Carolina gets a load of this.’ I met a lot of people, and that’s usually the first question they ask me about, the Jay-Z track.

“Cedric the Entertainer was at the studio, and Jay told me Cedric was going to talk on it. And I have yet to meet Cedric the Entertainer since then, and I’m going to tell him how we’re connected. And that was the time Jay-Z was talking about retiring, and we used to listen to all the songs he did on the album in a row. And Cedric would say, ‘Come on, man. Don’t leave us, dawg. You can’t leave the game.’”

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