He's worked his way out of obscurity and into the mainstream, but you probably still don't know who 9th Wonder is. Beginning as one-third of the somewhat ignored hip-hop collective Little Brother, 9th finally found a way to infiltrate music-video rotations — with his beats.
"I never thought that my first single would be a Destiny's Child record," the calm producer revealed. "People are so stuck in the box: You're a 'backpack' producer; you're an 'underground' producer. What people need to understand is that soul music is soul music. Jay called me up and he said, 'What you doing? This is Jay.' I said, 'Yeah, right,' but next thing you know, I was in L.A. for three days with the girls."
9th produced both "Girl" and "Is She the Reason" on Destiny Child's latest album, Destiny Fulfilled (see "Jay-Z Cohort 9th Wonder Answers Phone, Ends Up Producing Destiny's Child"), but he's still shocked by the video for "Girl." Every time he sees the clip on television, the producer barely believes that the song is his. And the Durham, North Carolina, native — who got his first big break on Jay's The Black Album with a track called "Threats" — refuses to stop thanking the man who put him on the map.
"I thank him every time I see him. So I know he's tired of me, like, 'Please, man. OK,' " joked 9th. "But I always say, 'Thanks a lot for the opportunity again. You didn't have to do it. You changed my life.' I really don't think people understand how much of an impact one man can have on a lot of people's lives."
Mary J. Blige, Mos Def, Ruben Studdard, Ness and Memphis Bleek are some of 9th's upcoming projects, but the down-to-earth Southerner refuses to let his head swell.
"Everything I've ever gotten, Little Brother has gotten me there," 9th said. "Most producers do a track here and a track there. But I was introduced to people through a whole album where all of the tracks were mine except one."
And the former "backpack" producer refuses to forget the artists who inspired him on his way to the mainstream's background. So much so that he has produced several albums with underground MCs, including Murs' Murs' Revenge, Buckshot's Chemistry and Jean Grae's Jeanius as well as the in-progress The Phoenix — which was created by Grae and Wonder after the entirety of Jeanius was leaked on the Internet. And though 9th should be upset about someone stealing his entire album, he's not.
"It fell into the wrong hands. If your album gets leaked and it gets passed from hand to hand to hand, that means it's good, 'cause nobody's gonna pass along some trash," the producer drawled.
Meanwhile, 9th is currently working on Little Brother's upcoming project, titled The Minstrel Show. The album is due September 29 through the group's new deal with Atlantic Records. There won't be too many features because, as the lanky beat maker says, "Whose album is it, yours or the features?' "
Slum Village's Elzhi and James Poyser of the Soulquarians will contribute to Little Brother's upcoming LP. And 9th hopes that with a major-label push and an actual video, The Minstrel Show will be the mainstream reinforcement their fans need to gloat properly.
"There's people here [in North Carolina] that still don't know what we do," 9th said. "It's not going to be real to people until we end up on a video channel. And then it's gonna be like, 'Oh! Now you're a rap group.' "