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

9thmatic talks about working with Jay-Z, Little Brother, Murs, and more.

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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)


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Little Brother “Speed” (2003)

9th Wonder:The Listening was done in Missie Ann. Cesar Comanche, who I met when I was attending North Carolina State University, lived not far from the school. He stayed in a two-bedroom apartment, and that’s basically our studio Missie Ann. [Comanche] named it after his sister. And we pretty much did that album in Comanche’s other room besides the bathroom.

"Every song on The Listening has a story to it, which is crazy. We started recording The Listening in August of 2001, which will make this August the ten-year anniversary when we started Little Brother.

“So the story goes like this. At the time Phonte was doing his 9 to 5 at Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, the insurance company, and he would come into the studio, and then going back to his 9 to 5, sometimes without even sleeping. That was a repeating fashion.

”One day, Phonte and I were doing a song called ‘Speed.’ Phonte did his part, and we took ‘Take A Look’ by Joc Max and Grap Luva, put out by DJ Spinna, which has a part that goes, ‘I put my JBs on when I hustle with speed,’ and I really loved that part, so I put that in there.

”We asked Median to be on it. He said he was down to do it, but on the weekend we wanted to record it, we couldn’t find Median. Pooh, who was originally from Virginia, was in town at the time with his friends in Charlotte, North Carolina. Matter of fact, I think around March or April of 2001, Pooh asked Phonte to be a group, and Phonte said, ‘No.’

“But Median wasn’t around, so we were like, ‘Let’s just ask Pooh, he’s in town.’ So Pooh came in, and recorded the song, and we listened to the song like 18 times, and I looked at Phonte afterward and said, ‘Let’s try to be a group, man. Let’s see what it sounds like.’ Median could have been a member of Little Brother. ‘Speed’ was the first song we recorded as a group, because Median didn’t show up. But we thought it sounded good, so we just said, ‘Let’s be a group.’ And that’s the first song in Little Brother’s existence.”

Away From Me

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Little Brother “Away From Me” (2003)

9th Wonder: “The only song from The Listening we didn’t record from Missie Ann was ‘Away From Me.’ We recorded that with our manager at the time in Durham. I remember recording that song at 3 a.m., September 11, 2001. No lie, no joke. We recorded the song, we thought it was dope, and I went to Phonte’s house to stay over.

“My girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, had just graduated from North Carolina State, and went back to live in her hometown. We had a little girl at the time, and she decided to get a job and said, ‘I’ll give you a chance to do this music thing.’ So at the end of ‘Away From Me,’ you’ll hear me talking to my little girl. When I say, ‘Say something boo boo, say something else,’ that’s her. She’ll be 11 years old in November. And at the time, Phonte had a son who lived with his mother in Maryland. And our son and daughter are a month apart in age.

”So that song was a tough song for me to even mix because I had to mix it by myself. And it just got to me one day. But, yeah, we recorded that at three in the morning of September 11, then woke up the next day, and saw the towers falling, which was crazy.”

Nighttime Maneuvers

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Little Brother “Nighttime Maneuvers” (2003)

9th Wonder: “That was a beat I made before Little Brother. Phonte really liked that beat. And I remember Talib Kweli had come into town around 2000. And he wanted to get something to eat. And this too was before we formed Little Brother. We were lucky to be able to go with him to get something to eat. And it happens to me because when I’m in cities doing functions, some lucky fan gets to take me to get something to eat. So that’s basically what happened with Phonte, Yahzarah, Kweli, and me.

”We took this guy to Waffle House. While we’re going to Waffle House, of course we’re going to play him some music. And we played him some beats. And I remember one of the beats we played him ended up being ‘Nighttime Maneuvers.’

”So ‘Nighttime Maneuvers’ was one of the last songs we recorded for The Listening. Phonte and I spent three weeks talking about what kind of snare we were going to use in that song. I’d put a snare in there, he’d listen to it, and he’d be like, ‘Nah.’ And we finally found a clap-type snare that would work. And I put in that Mos Def sound bite from the ‘Respiration (Remix).’

”If you noticed the second song off The Listening, that’s Pooh’s solo, and second to the last song off The Listening is Phonte’s solo. In the Minstrel Show it reverses. The second song is Phonte’s solo, and the second to the last song is Pooh’s solo.

The Yo Yo

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Little Brother “The Yo Yo” (2003)

9th Wonder: “‘The Yo Yo’ and ‘The Way You Do It’ were recorded on the same day. That’s probably the most well-known Little Brother song after ‘Whatever You Say.’ That was our first statement to let everybody know we like everything. Don’t put us in a box and say we don’t mess with Trick Daddy and all that. We were trying to tell people back then, that’s why Phonte says, ‘I’m about to kick some Trick Daddy next poetry night.’

”We were trying to separate ourselves from getting billed as a peace-love group. We’re not a burning-incense, coffee-shop group. And [Phonte] got Hip-Hop Quotable for that verse in The Source because they understood that we’re real.”

The Way You Do It

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Little Brother “The Way You Do It” (2003)

9th Wonder: “Phonte came up with the concept for ‘The Way You Do It’ early on. A friend I’ve known for about 20 years, Nora Shorte, was in town during that session. She has a very lovely voice, so we tried to get her on the record. So she’s on ‘The Yo Yo,’ ‘The Way You Do It,’ and ‘Home.’

”What happened was, we recorded ‘The Way You Do It’ with ten people in the room. All of them sitting against the wall and couch in Missie Ann. We recorded ‘The Way You Do It,’ and ‘The Yo Yo’ back to back. Then we walked over to North Carolina State, because Missie Ann was walking distance from the school. We went there to see Phonte, because he was there for a battle. He won that battle, then we got back home, and finished recording that joint that night. [Laughs.]”

Whatever You Say

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Little Brother “Whatever You Say” (2003)

9th Wonder: “'Whatever You Say’ was a beat that I did and this random guy who raps claimed he was going to have me on BET in six months if I rocked with him. He said, ‘Once I lace this, you might as well get ready to go on your shopping spree.’ And I said, ‘Aight, whatever dude.’ So he gets on the beat, and just messes the beat up.

”The next day, Phonte gets in, and I let him hear the song, and he goes, ‘This dude is wack, but what’s up with that beat though?’ And I said, ‘It’s ours.’ So I took the dude off, Phonte got on it, the end of story. But regarding that dude, the last time I saw him he was playing flag football somewhere.”

The Listening

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Little Brother “The Listening” (2003)

9th Wonder: “For The Listening we didn’t clear any of those samples. At the time we didn’t think the record would have the impact it did. So we weren’t even thinking about clearing samples. It was more so, ‘Come get us.’ We didn’t have the money to do so, and we didn’t want to stop our creativity because of it.

“So in the ‘The Listening,’ I incorporated that bit off ‘T.R.O.Y.’ because that’s my favorite rap song of all-time. That part at the end of ‘T.R.O.Y.’ I memorized. ‘Just listen, to the funky song, as I rock on, and that’s word is bond…’ I know all the adlibs. And I really liked the part that said, ‘Just listen.’ That’s why I named the album The Listening, and it needed to be the title track.

“I felt like in order to get our album, you really had to sit down and listen to it. And we also talked about the fact that niggas weren’t really listening to what cats were saying no more. I think that was the beginning of the end of people actually listening.

“We didn’t expect any of this. We just wanted to see if we could make a dope album, front to back. We’re from North Carolina, dude. There are only a few people that live here doing something musically on the black side.

”I try to look at cats now like, ‘Don’t look to me to get you out of NC,’ because I sure as hell didn’t look to Petey [Pablo]. None of us did. We looked at Petey saying, ‘Okay, homie. If you can do it, I know I can do it.’ And I didn’t need Petey to do it. Because everything I needed was on the Internet.

”That’s not animosity towards Petey Pablo at all. He did his thing, and it was time for us to do ours. Plus, we knew the type of music Petey made. And we didn’t want to go that way. So we needed to find out ways we needed to go. And it just happens that we were doing our music, and then ?uestlove heard of us on the Internet.”

God’s Stepson

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God’s Stepson (2003)

9th Wonder: “God’s Stepson was a record that didn’t have a real agenda. If there was an agenda, it was simple. I just wanted Nas to rap over better beats. He’s done joints with Primo I loved, he’s done joints with The Alchemist I loved, and with L.E.S. he did a couple of joints. But everybody can argue that beats on his albums haven’t been the best since, phew, It Was Written.

”And it came to the point that a lot of Nas fans were saying, ‘Well, I already know the beats aren’t going to be great. I just want to listen to the lyrics.’ So I got tired of that. Not as a producer, but as a fan, dude!

”So a homeboy at the time, this cat named Bum Rush, brought some acapellas to the house, and said, ‘Let’s see what you could do with these.’ It was a Saturday. By Monday, I had an entire jam remixed.

”I didn’t even have a name called God’s Stepson. I was just so appalled that people were sharing music on the Internet, I said, ‘I’m going to email one fan of mine on each corner of the United States, and have them pass it around by email.’ But that failed. [Laughs.]

”Then I sent it to this guy named Ian Davis, who used to work at ABB Records. He said, ‘Let’s call it God’s Stepson.’ Then he sent me the cover, and I just laughed at it. And then HipHopSite picked it up. Fast forward, I went to Japan in 2004, and I remember signing like three hundred copies of God’s Stepson. Once again, I didn’t expect it to turn out that way. And it’s better that way for me."

I See Now

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Consequence f/ Kanye West & Little Brother “I See Now” (2003)

9th Wonder: “We had a conference in Durham, North Carolina called the SMES Music Summit. It was a hip-hop conference and they have panels. So we’re at this conference and there was this guy standing in the lobby with Roc-A-Fella chain on his neck. And somebody said, ‘Yo, that’s Kanye West.’ I was like, ‘Okay, the dude that did beats for The Blueprint album.’

”So I go up to him like, ‘Yo, I’m 9th Wonder.’ He’s like, ‘I know who are you man. I’m Kanye West.’ And then Phonte came over and we’re all talking to him and he’s like, ‘Man, I want to do a song with y’all.’

”So Big Dho had another studio in Durham called Chop Shop, so we went there and recorded ‘I See Now.’ Consequence was with him, and I was playing beats for them and Kanye was like, ‘Yeah, that’s the one.’

”The craziest thing was during that session Kanye played us like half of College Dropout. So we asked, ‘What’s going on with it?’ And he said, ‘Dame is fronting on it.’ He played us the ‘Workout Plan,’ ‘This Way,’ which he did for Dilated Peoples. So he picked the beat and he got on it and said, ‘9th Wonder of the beat. I can’t front, man. You got some hot beats.’

“I kept in touch with him. We kept in touch for a long time. We talked. We were at the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Awards in Miami like a month after that. I called him during The Black Album. We kept in touch for a good while all the way up through Late Registration.

”Around the time right after Late Registration is when things got crazy for him. And you can’t expect anybody that goes in that particular route and gets that much acclaim to stay in touch with everybody, especially when the circle around you changes. Not your immediate circle, but you’re not around hip-hop kids no more.

”I saw him at Bowery Ballroom for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I went upstairs to the dressing room and it just looked different. These were cats that I wouldn’t…it just looked different. I felt like I was at a U2 concert. And that’s no diss. It’s just that he’s gotten so large that his audience had changed, and I bet you he can say that about me because I’m teaching at Universities, sitting in rooms with professors and drinking coffee.

”We had stayed in contact. It’s not like we talked everyday, but we talked about producing stuff and tried to stay in touch when we could.”


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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.’”

Murs "Bad Man!" (2004)

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9th Wonder: "I met Murs in May of 2003. I linked up with him through Ian Davis. He put Murs on the phone and Murs was like, ‘Yo, I really want to rock with you.’ Murs was one of the first people I called when I was going to do The Black Album for Jay-Z and he was like, ‘So, I guess we’re not going to do my record, huh?’ And I was like, 'Nah, we’re going to do it.’

“Murs came out to North Carolina in November of 2003. I picked him up from the airport, and recorded Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition in six days. I don’t fuck around.

"I wanted the album to sound like Death Certificate because I wanted him to capture what was going on at the time. And Murs has a West Coast twang to his voice. And that’s what I wanted. So for ‘Bad Man!” we had The Mighty Diamonds sample, and just ran through it. Same thing with 'Pain,' which I used a Buddy Miles record for, and that was a beat that I already made.

"Production-wise I wanted the beat for 'Walk Like A Man' to change because that's what Primo did so many times on 'Speak Ya Clout.' I remember when we did '3:16,' Phonte was like, 'Yo, come on dude. You're giving away some heat.' [Laughs.] Overall, the record had ten songs because Illmatic only had ten songs. So we wanted to keep it short."


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De La Soul f/ Spike Lee “Church” (2004)

9th Wonder: “It was very much a surreal experience. When we called ourselves little brothers of Tribe and De La, we really meant that shit. The reason we have skits throughout The Listening is a reflection of that. When Phonte and I were 15 or 16 years old, we didn’t know each other, but we were both somewhere in our rooms listening to De La and Tribe records.

“I think me meeting Jay-Z first kind of killed the bluntness of meeting De La. Because I was thinking, ‘If I’m with Jay-Z now, anything can happen.’ But De La were members of the Native Tongues, which is my bloodline. And it’s seriously in my bloodline now because I’m a member of the Universal Zulu Nation.

”I got to meet Dave, Maseo, and Posdnuos. And they were really on some, ‘9th you’re my man. Can’t nobody ever fucks with you in life.’ You know? That’s a great feeling to have. And the funny thing about it is, we mixed the song ‘Church’ in Baseline because Guru mixed it. And I remember Dru Ha came to Baseline to bring me DAT tapes for the ‘Nightriders (Remix)’ joint I did for Buckshot, which had Aaliyah on it.

“That album had Dilla on it, but I neither met him nor spoke to him. And for that record Spike Lee spoke on it. That would’ve been the first out of two times, Spike spoke on my record.”

Is She The Reason

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Destiny’s Child “Is She The Reason” (2004)

9th Wonder: “Jay called me in May of 2004. I was home cleaning up, and Jay called me on the phone! He called me! I mean Jay just don’t be calling motherfuckers. He was like, ‘Yo, man, I want you to send that beat CD you gave me to Destiny’s Child.’

”Now at the time, I hadn’t bought one Destiny’s Child record in my life. Everybody else was a big Beyonce fan, but this girl LeToya was who stood out to me. And she wasn’t in the group anymore. So once again, it wasn’t something I expected.

”I sent out the beat CD that day, then Teresa LaBarbera from Jive called me, and Angie, who’s Beyonce’s cousin called me. My second daughter was born on June 7, 2004. On June 28, I was in L.A. for three days with Beyonce, Kelly, and Michelle.

“I cut three records with them, while I was out there. I had the beat for ‘Is She The Reason,’ but for ‘Girl” and ‘Game Over,’ I actually brought samples in, and made them when I was at the session. ‘Is She The Reason’ is one of my favorite records that I ever did. I just made that beat at home.

”I just flipped a Melba Moore sample, and I didn’t know it was going to be an R&B joint. I had no idea. I played that record, and Beyonce said, ‘I like your beats, but your beats need bridges in them because this is R&B. I want our music to sound like The Emotions, the group from the ‘70s.’ So I was like, ‘Word up!’

”So I tried to figure out a way to make them sound like The Emotions, but keep it up to date. Now one of my favorite R&B groups is SWV, so I was like, ‘Why don’t I try to SWV these girls.’ That’s what ‘Is She The Reason’ is. Actually, same thing goes for ‘Girl,’ and ‘Game Over.’ Because that’s the style of sound I really loved.

“That was one of the best sessions I ever have been in, man. The girls were real cool, real laid-back, and hilarious, and they’re God-fearing girls. Beyonce would sing all night long. We’d be in that joint sleeping. Sean Garrett wrote those songs, and made it real special. And the records we cut are the records we kept.”

Smoke the Pain Away

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Memphis Bleek f/ Denim “Smoke the Pain Away” (2005)

9th Wonder: “I wasn’t with Bleek in the studio during those records. That was the Internet. I sent them joints and that’s something that Guru recorded. But Jay-Z wanted me to do six songs off that album. Memphis Bleek played ‘Alright,’ which I produced, for Jay and he was like, ‘You need to let [9th] do half your album, dawg.’

”But we ended up just doing “Alright” and “Smoke The Pain Away.” It’s funny because ‘Smoke The Pain Away’ was another Gamble and Huff sample I used. So that led me to meet Kenneth Gamble.

”I talked to him on the phone, and I met Leon Huff face to face. They were tripping saying, ‘Your name has come across our desk a couple of times. Why do you stay using our songs?’ I’m like, ‘Because they were jamming to me.’ He’s like, ‘But they weren’t hits.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but them parts that I picked were jamming.’ And I guess that’s when Mr. Gamble and Mr. Huff really started to understand the art of sampling. So I was able to forge a relationship with those guys."


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Sean Price “Heartburn” (2005)

9th Wonder: “That was the time when Duck Down all came down here. Sean Price, Smif-N-Wessun, Buckshot, and Dru Ha were all down in North Carolina. They all hopped in the Duck Down van and got down here. That’s when we recorded ‘Heartburn,’ and I also recorded Chemistry with Buckshot.

“I first got with Duck Down when I received a call from Mr. Walt from Da Beatminerz. He said, 'Evil Dee is going to call you.' And then Evil Dee called. He said, 'I'm going to have Dru Ha call you.' And then Dru Ha called me. They all loved The Listening. Evil Dee told me that The Listening inspired him.

"So I had a bunch of beats. Sean Price liked the 'Heartburn' beat. I played it for him beforehand, and when Duck Down came down to record, I had that beat ready for him. So we went in and laid the track. That was that."



No Comparison

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Buckshot "No Comparison" (2005)

9th Wonder: "It was crazy because I was standing besides Dru Ha outside the Duck Down van and Buckshot was standing on the other side. And I was like, 'Dru, I want do an album with Buckshot.' And Dru said, ‘Go ask him.’

”Now Buckshot is one of my favorite rappers of all-time. I'm a super-huge Black Moon fan. Black Moon and Wu-Tang Clan were two crews that...I don’t know what dudes like now, but you know how Roc-A-Fella was? Or remember how dudes wanted to be in Dipset real badly? Wu-Tang Clan was like that for dudes when I was in college. We really had Timbs and wanted to be in the Boot Camp Clik.

"It took us five days to record Chemistry. I made some of those beats beforehand, but overall ain’t a lot of time to waste in North Carolina, man. It’s not like we’re in the woods, but it’s not a big entertainment hub so if you can’t get work done out here I don’t know what you’re doing with your life.

"'Chemistry 101' was the intro record, and it showcases how I wanted to capture the sound of Boot Camp, but still be me. That’s what that [record] was and that’s what that whole album was.

"My favorite record off that album was 'No Comparison' by far. Man, that’s one of my favorite beats I’ve ever done. That's the embodiment of a 9th-Wonder-sounding beat because if gives you that tingle in your chest.

"When the album came out, it was crazy. Marc Ecko did the covers, and it was somewhat his signature mural. I thought that was crazy. I was just happy that I could say, 'Wow, I did a whole record with Buckshot, yo.'"

Good Woman Down

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Mary J. Blige "Good Woman Down" (2005)

9th Wonder: "Remember when Jay-Z was on tour with R. Kelly, and R. Kelly got kicked off the tour, and Mary J. Blige got added? Jay-Z told Mary J. Blige about me. End of story. That's how I got with Mary.

"Right after Jay told Mary about me, Geffen Records called me, and I sent Mary about thirty something beats. 'Good Woman Down' was the joint that she picked. It’s a Meli'sa Morgan sample. I used a song called 'Heart Breaking Decision.' I'm able to make R&B records because of my soul music background. And that's the R&B we love.

"We didn't get to record that track together. But Sean Garrett actually wrote that song. Including the Destiny's Child records, we have four tracks together."


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Big Pooh f/ Joe Scudda & Median "Scars" (2005)

9th Wonder: "You’re talking about Sleepers. Yeah, that 'Scars' joint, man. Pooh was at my house when I made it and he took it right off the press. That’s what cats would do, they would take beats right off the skillet. I make it, and then seconds later they'll say, ‘It’s mine.’

”He got it and then put Median and Joe Scudda on it. That’s one of my favorite beats too. We were working on Pooh's album at the time, and 'Scars' was meant to be on Sleepers all day.

”But 'Heart Of The City' was something we actually recorded right after The Listening. That record was actually sitting around for a bit. We recorded that around the same time we recorded 'Light It Up' with Nicolay.

”I remember we had some issues trying to figure out how to tie the whole album together, but we were eventually able to get everything set with all those skits from Insomnia and School Daze."

Little Brother f/ Joe Scudda "Lovin' It" (2005)

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9th Wonder: "When we started doing The Minstrel Show, a lot of recording duties went to Khrysis. My schedule at the time was a bit hectic, and I wanted Khrysis to be part of it to be honest with you.

”It forged the relationship between him and Phonte for Foreign Exchange, because I recorded half of the first Foreign Exchange album, and Khrysis recorded the Foreign Exchange album after that, which was Leave It All Behind.

”'Lovin' It' is one of the two records off The Minstrel Show I actually recorded. That was a very short session. Jay-Z actually liked the beat for it. But 'Lovin' It' was a record that Phonte thought at the time would be our single. And it turned out that way.

"We weren't really liking the way the major label was operating, but it wasn’t a big deal to us. We once again weren’t looking for it, and it is what it is, man. We didn’t really care because we never expected it."

The Becoming

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Little Brother "The Becoming" (2005)

9th Wonder: "'The Becoming' was one of the two records that I recorded [The Minstrel Show]. That track was supposed to be another beat and it was changed at the last minute. I use Chaka Khan's 'Circles' as a sample. I thought the record was dope. But like I said that song was supposed to be on another beat, but at the last minute Phonte chose the Chaka Khan beat. That was also a record ?uestlove told me, ‘Yo, you chopped the hell out of that Chaka Khan joint.’

"Phonte usually does one take. He gets a thrill from doing one takes. Big Pooh not so much. And that’s not a slight to his skills. But after I told Phonte that Jay-Z writes with no paper, he hasn’t written with paper since.

"There was somewhat of an interaction between me, Phonte, and Pooh during The Minstrel Show, but a lot of times there wasn't. Like I said, what was happening with me, Phonte, and Pooh was something natural that takes place with groups as they grow apart. But the album still came out great, though."

Sincerely Yours

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Little Brother "Sincerely Yours" (2005)

9th Wonder: "The creative control of the album was more so determined by Phonte. Not so much Big Pooh. "I mean Phonte had the concept of the album, but at the same time I came up with some individual song concepts, like for Pooh's 'Sincerely Yours.' Phonte was always good at sequencing records. So tying the album together was kind of Phonte's master line.

"Cats used to talk about Pooh on the Internet, so I said, 'Pooh, I got this beat. You need to do a song addressing that issue, man. For real.' And that's where that record came from."

We Got Now

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Little Brother f/ Chaundon "We Got Now" (2005)

9th Wonder: "I sampled the same dude, Arthur Verocai, for the Ludacris record, [‘Do The Right Thing.’] That was a record that Saigon was supposed to be on, but the verse that Saigon sent didn’t fit, so I used that verse for The Dream Merchant Vol. 2. So that’s where that record came from."

Murs "Yesterday & Today" (2006)

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9th Wonder: "We had gotten to the point where out of the past eight Thanksgivings, Murs has probably spent six of them with me. And we were like, 'If you come down, we’re going to make a record.'

Murray's Revenge was the last record I made that Murs got a hair cut on. So we had just left the barber shop before we took the picture for the cover. I was like, 'Dude, come on, man. You’re killing me.' So that’s where the concept kind of came from. And that was a lighter sounding album for us. It wasn’t as dark as Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition.

"We had that track 'Barbershop.' And when Pooh is at the end talking? That joke comes from a dude who was on The Minstrel Show acting as a dad. That's one of the jokes from the barbershop. Because I first heard that dude in the barbershop, and had him on our album before. See how it all ties together?

"Murs named his songs and then he writes to whatever he named it and I would pick the beats for the album. It was a similar case for 'Love and Appreciate.' That's one of my favorite records that we've ever done. Murs didn't want to do that record because it was girly.

"The record that did stand out for me was 'Murray's Revenge,' the one where I chopped up 'Nautilus' by Bob James. That's a record many people say, 'Just leave it alone.' But after I chopped it, many people told me that's the best chop of 'Nautilus.' And Bob James even cleared it for us."

One Night Stand

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Lloyd Banks "One Night Stand" (2006)

9th Wonder: "That was the record that forged my relationship with Sha Money XL. He reached out to me and once again I didn’t expect it coming from him. And it’s a record that they decided to keep, and I thought it was dope. He hit me up, and he played the beat and asked, ‘Yo, does anyone have this beat?’ I said, ‘Nah.’ He was like, ‘Word up! That’s all I need to know right now.’ *Click* [Laughs.]

I wasn’t in the studio with Lloyd Banks and to this day I’ve never met him. I saw my name on 106 & Park because I was on the album, but I’ve never met the dude. I do remember making the beat in Fruity Loops. It’s a Carolyn Franklin sample I used. Just one of those days making beats, man."

Breakin' My Heart

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Little Brother f/ Lil Wayne "Breakin' My Heart" (2007)

9th Wonder: "I can’t tell you that much about that record. That was a record that I gave to the boys and they put Wayne on it and that’s all I know. I wasn’t in the studio for that. I don’t know anything about that record.

"I didn’t depart from the group and that’s something that I still don’t talk about. You've never heard me talk about that. What I said was that during the making of The Minstrel Show, I wasn’t recording, and within the context of the group people just grew apart.

”The guys have talked about it during the time that we were going through what we were going through. Me? I haven't done it to the press. I spoke about it amongst family and friends, but in the press I have not. I still don’t talk about it and me and Phonte are cool now."


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Sean Price "Violent" (2007)

9th Wonder: "That was a record where Khrysis did more beats than I did, and I set it up that way. But I did 'Violent,' which I love. It’s one of my favorite beats. It's a record that we did in Chop Shop.

”Sean Price came down for it, and it was a laid-back yet sinister record. That's why Sean Price called it 'Violent' and it came out to be dope, man. That’s one of my favorite beats. Sean Price is a funny guy, but not in a goofy way. He's generally funny.

"Next to 'Violent,' a lot of people like 'P-Body.' But I didn't think it was all that. I made that beat back in 2004."


Brooklyn In My Mind

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9th Wonder f/ Mos Def, Memphis Bleek, & Jean Grae "Brooklyn In My Mind" (2007)

9th Wonder: "I finally got to work with Mos Def. I was at Baseline Studios, and Mos came in one day, and just got in the booth and started rapping. This was around the time we were mixing The Minstrel Show. Jean Grae was actually there, so she did her part. Bleek did his stuff later.

"I called it 'Crooklyn Dodgers Vol. 3.' I actually asked Primo for permission, and he said, 'Yeah.' He even did the cuts on it. I just listened to the original and Primo's version a lot before I went in and made it. I didn't feel any pressure to top Primo's version or anything like that. Once I got the 'okay' from Preme, I felt like it was good."

Erykah Badu "Honey" (2007)

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9th Wonder: "I sent her four beats and she kept the fourth beat that I sent her and started writing to it, which was dope because I made that beat back in 2003.

“I linked up with Badu through James Poyser of The Roots, one of the original Soulquarians. He was like, ‘Badu wants to reach out to you, man.’ And it went from there. I didn’t know it was going to be the first single from the album though. That was a big surprise. She said, ‘Sylvia Rhone really liked the song.’ And the video was retarded.

"I went out to Dallas for that. She’s cool. These people that are larger-than-life-type people, once you get into their close quarters you actually realize that they are cool people, but they have to protect themselves because people are crazy."


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Murs "Breakthrough" (2008)

9th Wonder: “That was a record when Murs was on Warner Music Group. We just felt very restricted. I know I did. It was okay. When we talk about Murs and 9th Wonder albums, we don’t really talk about those records. We just don’t.

“It wasn’t a distribution situation, but we were really, really on Warner. That’s when we got, ‘Everybody got to listen to the songs. Sit around a table.’ Man, we ain’t got time for that shit. I wasn't at those meetings, but they'd be like, ‘Check this out,’ and ‘What about this record?’ and ‘Oh, and this...’ We ain’t got time for that, man.

"Out of the three records I cut off that album, 'Breakthrough' is the most memorable. I just like that beat a lot. That beat was real. It’s just the feeling of it. I made it on the MPC. I flipped a Main Ingredient record. [Plays ‘Breakthrough.’] You know what? That’s kind of a record that I think Kanye [West] would rap on.”

Love Thirst

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Jean Grae "Love Thirst" (2008)

9th Wonder: “I met Jean Grae at a Roots' function. They were doing a tour at the beginning of 2004. Little Brother, Jean Grae, and Pete Rock & CL Smooth were also on the tour around New Year’s.

”So I met Jean Grae when we were in D.C. and I was coming out of the hotel when she was walking in. She said, ‘9th, what’s up?’ Then we talked for a minute and she said, ‘I want to come to North Carolina and rock with you.’ So she came to North Carolina in April 2004 and we recorded Jeanius in four days.

”So ‘Super Love’ and ‘Don’t Rush Me’ that are on This Week were actually recorded back then alongside stuff on Jeanius. We cut all those songs in four days at Missie Ann.

“That was an album that we just got in the studio, and recorded like crazy. She was recording two or three songs a day. And she wrote all those verses at the spot. That’s why I don’t understand how some of these kids take two, three, four, or nine days to do a verse. As Phonte would say, ‘I fuck with the ones who really do this,’ and she really does this.

”She picked the beats and we went from there. I trust MCs to do what they do. Jean's just super focused. She's a workaholic. She drinks and smokes, all that. But that's what keeps her focused.

"'Don't Rush Me' was one of the first records that we did. The part that I said, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah,' was when I was testing the microphone. We just left that in there. 'Billy Killer’ was about a guy she was dating at the time, who would go and try to holler at her people to buy deals for her. The feeling of ‘Billy Killer’ sounds like a Kill Bill sample. So we just called it ‘Billy Killer.’

"I wanted to channel the direction where they were chopped samples, but I wanted females to get it. I wanted females to really hear the beats I was making. I wanted to make sure I picked samples that weren’t so dark and even if they were moody, like a record like ‘My Story,’ I really wanted them to feel it. But, yeah, that’s a personal record that only Jean could tell you about, to be honest with you.

"My favorite cut off that record is 'Love Thirst.' That's one of my favorite beats I've ever done. It just came out dope, and the way she came off on that joint. Busta Rhymes actually got on the remix of that joint. I'm a sucker for nighttime beats, and that's a nighttime beat for me."

Buckshot f/ Talib Kweli & Tyler Woords "Hold It Down" (2008)

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9th Wonder: "The Formula was raw. We were trying to make records on this album. Not radio records but records. A record that I feel got away was ‘Here We Go.' That’s the one where I was like, ‘Yo, we have to do a video for this. This is a jam.'

"But the session for The Formula took longer than Chemistry. It took about two weeks? [Buckshot] came down here to record that album. The Solution took about five days. I picked all the samples, and made all those records. That's what I was paid to do. It's not really a special story attached to it.

"'Hold It Down’ was a record with my R&B artist, Tyler Woods, and Kweli is on there. I really like that record. We did the video in Brooklyn. And it was a play off the movie Crash. And that was one of the videos Rik Cordero directed. We had some big records on there. It really could have been bigger if the playing field was even."

Do The Right Thing

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Ludacris f/ Spike Lee "Do The Right Thing" (2008)

9th Wonder: "At the time there was a kid on DTP called Small World. And he was with DTP, but then he went solo. Ludacris liked the records that me and Small World did, and that's how they got a hold of me.

”It so happened that I was going to be in Toronto to DJ a party in March of 2007, and they were like, ‘Word, Ludacris is going to be up there.’ He was up there shooting Max Payne. I went to Toronto and there was ten feet of snow on the ground and we recorded 'Do The Right Thing' together in Canada. The sample was beefed up by E.Jones too because E.Jones played keys over it to make it sound big. I made that beat in 2004 and Luda just picked it.

"Luda's a great dude. He's a very smart dude. Some people, when they get to a certain level they lose themselves, and I think Chris Bridges is not one of them. He's funny. We were laughing at Youtube videos, man. It was a Youtube clip of a Jodeci concert, and one of the dudes from Jodeci passed out. What made it funny was not that he passed out, but that K-Ci kept singing after he passed out. He was like, ‘My partner just passed out on stage and I’m still going to sing my song.’ That’s what was crazy to us. It was funny.

"That record also has Spike Lee talking on it. Ludacris hooked that up. The concept of the video was supposed to have us reenact Do The Right Thing. We wanted Spike Lee to direct the video, but I haven't met Spike to this day."

Skyzoo "Beautiful Decay" (2009)

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9th Wonder: "Sky first recorded 'Beautiful Decay' to a Pete Rock beat. Then DJ Premier took a stab at it. Then Sky was like, 'I just want you to try,' and that's the one we kept. I just took the acapellas he had, and wasn't in the session with him for that. As far as the beat, I wanted something kind of upbeat and I didn't want to sample the dude too much because if it's a single, I didn't want to lose anybody.

”I hooked up with Sky through Chaundon. He brought Sky to the studio and he was like, ‘You got to check this kid out.’ And at first some of the records that he played for me I really didn’t like. I didn’t think the flow was right, but it was early Skyzoo. Very early. Then later on he jumped on a record for The Dream Merchant Vol. 2 and I thought, ‘This can’t be the same kid on this record. There’s no way.’ But some people grow like that.

"I remember doing the beat for 'Under Pressure,' and Jay-Z really liked it. But he never got on it, and I played it for Sky, and he really dug it. 'Easy to Fly' was one of those beats I started to put drum tracks in the back, like it was a break beat. I started doing beats with break beats in the back of them.

”I think that could have been a bigger record if it would have had a larger push on it. But we ain’t got that time. Cats are really lucky that the playing fields are not even. It is not, and they know it. And I know they capitalize off that.”

Murs f/ 9thmatic "Asian Girl" (2010)

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9th Wonder: "Fornever was recorded in Los Angeles in Inglewood, California. And you can tell by the beats. It just had that feel to it, and then Kurupt came through. Come on dude! That was crazy. He was on 'Live From Roscoe's' and he was on 'Fornever.' It was amazing. Murs said, 'I think we’ll get Kurupt on this album.' I was like, 'What?' It was my first time working with anybody from Tha Dogg Pound. There’s nothing like working with legends.

“‘Asian Girl’ was a record that I did, and I thought the sample had an Asian feel to it. I was on the plane and I came up with the hook. The concept was supposed to have Pharrell do the hook. We couldn’t get with Pharrell. So I did it myself, and E. Jones wrote my verse for ‘Asian Girl.’

”It’s a fun record. To be honest with you, I got a lot of flack from black girls. They were like, ‘Why are you talking about Asian girls?’ We could have talked about white girls if we wanted to.

"If you're an Asian rapper and you rap about black girls, I wouldn't take offense to that. If you're an Asian kid who grew up around black women, and everything you're saying is true, there's nothing I can say.

”Steven Spielberg directed The Color Purple. It was a movie about black people in the 1920s. He was right on point. Ain’t nothing I can say about that. Now, he could’ve made us look like coons, and then that’s something else.

”But that’s L.A. culture, and the album was themed around that. To be honest with you, I was in an argument with this black girl. She got mad because we did something about Asian girls. So I asked, ‘How many Murs albums have you bought?’ She said, ‘None.’ I said, ‘So shut the fuck up then!’ You know what I’m saying? Like, ‘Yo! Asian women support me and Murs. Ya'll don’t! So until you start buying our records, shut the fuck up.’”

Slow Down

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David Banner & 9th Wonder f/ Heather Victoria "Slow Down" (2010)

9th Wonder: “David Banner and I have a mutual friend by the name of DJ Cuzzin B, who lives now in Washington D.C. So him and David Banner were friends in school at Jackson State University, and they’ve been friends for a while.

”David Banner came through D.C. and hooked up with DJ Cuzzin B and was like, ‘Yo, do you know 9th Wonder?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, that’s my partner.’ So Banner ended up coming to North Carolina. He was supposed to get a couple beats from me, but he ended up getting nine. That’s how Death of a Pop Star came about.

"I was in the lab with Banner, and he's just a crazy dude. He's just very vibrant and animated. What you see is what you get. There’s no fronting, no nothing. You’re not going to get that from him.

"The album cover looks futuristic, and the name of the album is Death of a Pop Star. So what pop star were we talking about? Michael Jackson. That’s why we made a futuristic cover, because what is the world going to sound like, or even look like without him being around?

”We had to basically try to figure out what in the world we're going to do after Michael Jackson died. Because every artist from every genre of music, whether they want to believe it or not, after the year 1984, is influenced by that guy. So what are we going do about music, especially black music, when he’s gone? That’s why the album has a lot of political undertone to it.

"'Slow Down' was a beat I made like six years ago. And the young lady who's singing on it, is actually one of my artists now. Her name is Heather Victoria. At the time she was a student at North Carolina Central University, and I was teaching. That was the joint with a video, and we did that video in the north of Virginia. And the video was a play off They Live. We shot it for two days, and it came out to be dope."

Be With You

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David Banner & 9th Wonder f/ Ludacris & Marsha Ambrosius "Be With You" (2010)

9th Wonder: "We did more songs than the nine tracks we have on the album, but those are the ones that we kept. That's a record that I told [Banner] was going to be the single. It took me five hours to get him to rap over that beat because he wasn’t feeling the beat. So I finally convinced him, and called Ludacris and Marsha that same night to have them do the record. I sent it to them both and they sent it back to me in a matter of days."

Base For Your Face

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Lil B f/ Jean Grae & Phonte "Base For Your Face" (2011)

9th Wonder: "The Based God. He hit me through DM on Twitter. And we had a phone conversation and he’s a smart dude. Very smart. Intelligent. He knows what he’s doing. When you can have a bunch of people talking about you on a day-to-day basis like that, and make them wonder, 'Why is he doing that?' Then you know exactly what you’re doing.

"He just wanted a beat from me. And it was after a conversation, when he told me the reasons. I was like, 'Dawg, why you do those wack records?’ I asked him straight up. And he gave me his reasons, but that’s between me and him. The point of the matter is, I understand his reasons and he told me the reason he was telling me was because of who I was. He didn’t have to explain his reasons to his fans and the people who don’t like him, but he wanted to explain his reasons to me because he wanted to pay homage.

"I didn't have to convince Jean Grae or Phonte. I sent them the beat, they liked it, and they liked his rhymes. It just shows how society is. He has records on YouTube with like 45,000 views, and he's spitting in those. But the dumb joints he has out there get like two to three million clicks. Does that say something about him? Or does that say something about the society?"

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