When Jay-Z calls, it's a good idea to answer the phone.
Just ask 9th Wonder, producer/DJ for the rap group Little Brother. Taking a call from the semi-retired rapper helped land him two songs on Destiny Child's forthcoming album, Destiny Fulfilled.
"Jay called me out of the blue," said Wonder, who produced "Threat" for Jay's The Black Album. "It sounds like a fairy tale, but this is how it's been for me. I was at home cleaning up and my phone rang 'private' [on the caller ID]. I usually don't answer private calls, but I answered and it was Jay on the line. He said, 'Yo, man. Destiny's Child needs some beats.' I thanked him once again for getting me on The Black Album — I am eternally grateful for that. He told me to get [the tracks] out as soon as possible. The next thing you know, I am in L.A. cutting the joints."
Wonder, who produced "Is She the Reason" and "Girl" for Destiny Fulfilled, said he learned a lot working with the trio.
"They're all down-to-earth women who are real about life and real about God," he said. "One of the things that really struck me about the girls was that before every [recording] session, they prayed. That's deep. I'm a Southern boy, so religion is real big down my way. The whole experience was great. We did some real soul music."
While 9th Wonder's work with Destiny's Child is technically his first R&B project, he notes that it's not that much different from his hip-hop releases.
"A lot of people will say, 'I didn't know you could produce R&B,' but if you listen to [Little Brother's debut album] The Listening, [MC] Phonte sings," said the Winston-Salem, North Carolina, native. "All of the beats I do contain melodies. Where Pete Rock and [DJ Premier] inspire me on the hip-hop end, with R&B, I have learned a lot from Chucky Thompson and his Mary J. Blige days. He took hip-hop loops and she sang on them. As long as your beat contains melody, you can do R&B music."
Despite his recent foray into R&B, 9th Wonder is still a hip-hop producer at heart, having recently worked with acts like Memphis Bleek, Jean Grae, Murs and Masta Ace. He has also teamed with Buckshot of Black Moon fame for an album that is due in March. In addition to all that, he also hopes to work with Common and Kanye West in the near future.
As his production résumé continues to grow, 9th Wonder is quick to emphasize that his first priority is Little Brother and their next album, The Minstrel Show, which is due in 2005.
"For the people out there that don't know," he emphasized, "I am a member of Little Brother: It's not 9th Wonder and Little Brother; it's not Little Brother featuring 9th Wonder. Little Brother is a group. That's the thing that's really driving me right now: We are trying to start a legacy. We want people to follow the group — we want them to follow us for years."
The Minstrel Show will serve as the group's major-label debut for Atlantic Records through a deal with Oakland, California, indie label ABB Records.
"The Listening was our intro," 9th Wonder said. " 'We're on the scene and this is how we live.' Now, The Minstrel Show is what we've been through in the past two years. It's a more serious record. The reason why we call it The Minstrel Show, and I know we are going to get a lot of backlash from black leaders, is because hip-hop today is a modern-day minstrel show. As Phonte would put it, 'We are caricatures of what hip-hop is supposed to be.' That's why we call it The Minstrel Show."
As the group continues to craft the album, 9th says that there are also plans for a solo set.
"Yeah, you're going to see a 9th Wonder producer album [with guest rappers] in the spirit of [Pete Rock's] Soul Survivor or the Alchemist's [1st Infantry], which is a dope album," Wonder said. "What you are not going to see is 9th rapping. I know my role, I know my place. We work as a team because we want to win a championship, so a shortstop doesn't play the outfield."