The Legend of 9th Wonder
Growing up in the early 80’s I was a fan of Star Wars. In Star Wars, there are Jedi’s that fight against The Dark Side. To become a Jedi Knight, you are required to work yourself through the ranks as a Padawan until your training is complete. In Hip Hop, there is a level of training, preparation, diligence, focus, and determination necessary to navigate on the rocky road of becoming a MASTER, in whatever arena within the culture you choose. In the case of 9th Wonder, his journey is one of the most interesting Rap Music has possibly seen. You hear stories on Documentaries from some of your favorite Musicians talking about their childhood; upbringing, influences and what eventually led them to greatness at their craft. Who would have thought this kid from a small town in North Carolina would go from playing in School Bands to Grammy success.
9th Wonder, born Patrick Douthit is the epitome of patience mixed with hard work. Success is not overnight for the average artist and it’s certainly not guaranteed. As a matter of fact, a lot of overnight success doesn't lead to longevity in the world of entertainment. To literally start from the bottom and elevate through trial and error provides individuals with a since of pride that reflects in their music. There are stories of 9th Wonder sleeping on couches, staying up all night making 20 beats, selling them for peanuts and being ridiculed by peers and Rap Fans locally. Younger fans of 9th Wonder see the accolades and notoriety but many of them didn’t witness the beautiful struggle that eventually led to the Hip Hop figure you see today.
During the beginning of the millennium, 9th Wonder was making beats and working with the North Carolina Hip Hop Group Little Brother. 9th was a member and the producer, providing beats for their projects. A lot of Rap Fans in North Carolina during this time were requesting beats from 9th. 9th also made beats for their crew, The Justice League as well. In 2003, 9th Wonder and Little Brother released their debut album The Listening. Little did 9th know, this album would eventually change his life. During this time 9th released 9th Invented The Remix and God’s Stepson (a Remix of NAS album God’s Son). The Listening started to receive appreciation from a list of very influential Hip Hop Figures. I remember hearing the album with a few friends as we traveled to Atlanta that year. Established artist such as Pete Rock, J. Dilla, Questlove, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Kanye West (Producer at the time and aspiring Rapper) each recognized the brilliance of the album, especially the production. That being said, Phonte' and Pooh were sharp in terms of rapping. At any rate, when the engineer for Roc-A-Fella Records Young GURU heard the song SPEED, 9th Wonder was invited to audition for Jay-Z’s The Black Album.
The late J. Dilla holding a copy of Little Brother's The Listening Record
Going back to something I said earlier, the hard work and focus never stopped even when 9th Wonder was doubted. 9th Wonder was called a one trick pony. 9th Wonder was advised to change the drums on his beats and style. This ended up being like a running joke but I digress. 9th Wonder was told that he would never see mainstream success with his “sound” and that nobody really cared about the Boom Bap 90’s Hip Hop sound anymore. What did 9th Wonder keep doing? He kept working and being true to his art. That is a powerful lesson to those who have dreams of being relevant in the music industry. With the deck stacked against him, 9th Wonder started to receive phone calls from industry heavyweights. From 2003-2008, 9th Wonder produced tracks for Jay-Z, Destiny’s Child, Mary J. Blige, Erykah, Jean Grae, Lloyd Banks, Ludacris, EPMD, Masta Ace, De La Soul, Boot Camp Click, a young Drake and of course Little Brother. 9th Wonder also established It’s a Wonderful World Music Group and later Jamla Records as well.
In the following years 9th Wonder has produced for Kendrick Lamar, Jill Scott, Talib Kweli, Big Krit, Fat Joe, Anderson Paak, Big Boi, Lecrae, David Banner, Mac Miller and so many more. You see, tunnel vision can lead to success. You have to be willing to take the criticism and push forward. 9th Wonder can be cited saying to never compromise your sound. Over the years, 9th Wonder has been a Professor (Artist of Residence) teaching Hip Hop and Music Courses at North Carolina Central, University of Virginia, and Duke University and worked with Harvard University on a Research Project with The W.E.B Dubois Institute. 9th Wonder has established himself as one of the foremost educators in the Hip Hop Culture. 9th has an exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture which is an amazing accomplishment. 9th Wonder and Jamla Records have linked a deal with Roc Nation which is monumental for the North Carolina based independent label. Jamla has several talented artist led by Rapsody, who was recently nominated for a Grammy with her sophomore album Laila’s Wisdom. 9th Wonder has inspired the artists on his label and shown them how perseverance can create wonderful outcomes.
As we come full circle, I will stress yet again that 9th Wonder’s path to stardom is as fascinating as any that I’ve seen as a Hip Hop Historian. Aspiring producers and rappers can take a few pages out of 9th Wonder's book. You should always remind yourself that your dream is “your” dream. Don’t allow others to kill your dream. Allow the negative observers to live in their nightmare. If you’re a Padawan with ambition of being a JEDI, you will have to be dedicated to your training. There are no days off. 9th Wonder made beats every day for extended periods of time around the clock. You have to outwork the competition and outwork yourself in the process. So there you have it my people, dreams can come true but you have to be willing to seize the moments laid in front of you. 9th Wonder continues to be a vital piece of the Hip Hop Culture. 9th is never far away from "the people", as you can still see him DJing in Raleigh, North Carolina, around the State, Nationally and Globally. I also recommend The Wonder Years and The Hip Hop Fellow Documentaries for your viewing pleasure where you can hear the man himself break down his journey. Well, all I can say is “May the FORCE be with you” my good people.