Until ’03, music fans didn’t associate North Carolina with reputable hip-hop craftsmanship. While Petey Pablo’s 2001 hit, “Raise Up,” stirred some noise for the Southern state, its impact was bypassed as an effort mainly rooted in the single’s radio-friendly value. But on February 25th of 2003, an oddly named trio, Little Brother, released their soulful and earnest debut, The Listening, catching the ears of several industry insiders including The Roots?uestlove and temporarily shifting hip-hop's spotlight on NC. The album was adored by critics, loved by fans, and LB’s producer, 9th Wonder, became an admirable name among beatsmiths around the globe.

The Raleigh-based musician, who channeled the spirit of Native Tongues with production steeped in expressive samples and neck-snapping snares, quickly molded an aural identity that garnered him a hefty (and diverse) list of clientele, which includes Jay-Z, Destiny’s Child, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, Buckshot, Murs, Ludacris, David Banner, and more.

From the genesis of working with Little Brother, to knocking out an entire album in less than a span of four days with Jean Grae, the current lecturer at North Carolina Central University, and head honcho of two record labels, JAMLA & The Academy, guided Complex through the creation processes behind some his most storied gems.

As told to Jaeki Cho (@jaekicho)