One week ago today 9th Wonder dropped his much-anticipated solo LP The Wonder Years and promptly took it to the stage with the L.R.G. tour (<– full disclosure: co-sponsored by Okayplayer). Right in the mix of action, the world-renowned maker of beats and Little Brother alum graciously found time to get with OKP to talk about reuniting with estranged LB running buddy Phonte, the lost generation of hip-hop–and the street value of that crown on his head in the cover illustration. Read on after the jump!
OKP: Tell me what’s in the immediate future.
9th Wonder: Um, I’m about to go on a L.R.G. tour with my artist Rapsody and Freddy Gibbs, and Kid Daytona. And after that, Phonte and I are doing a tour together.
OKP: There’s been so much anticipation and talk about Little Brother splitting and getting back together…tell me what’s it’s been like, linking back up with Phonte, collaborating again?
9: It’s been… It’s a good feeling, dude, you know? Until January 1st, Phonte and I hadn’t spoken in about 4 years. I think that’s the biggest thing for us. We wanted to, basically get past the past, and get on with the present and the future. And I think we both understood too that we’ve done, because of our personal hang-ups, we’ve done hip-hop a big disservice, know what I’m sayin? We learned a lot apart, I think we understand that that 4 years had to happen for us to grow as men, and that’s the biggest thing for us. We have a better understanding with each other now than we ever have, you know? That’s what it is, man.
OKP: But now you’re connecting as two solo artists, instead of part of the same unit. How does that change things? When you’re in the studio, does it feel like old times, are you guys surprising each other?
9: Yeah, I think we’re more surprising each other with what we bring to the table and just in our individual lives…how we perceive things. We are surprising each other in that regard more than anything, how much we have grown as men, you dig? Now, even listening to the music, you have, a better… it sounds more crisp, doesn’t it? You’ve heard what we’ve done, as of recently, and it just sounds like we have a clarity on life like none other.
OKP: So with this album The Wonder Years, what was the statement you were trying to get across?
9: Inspiration, man. Just inspiration. Be able to do what you want to do with your life, and your music. Feel me? A lot of people have said that I can’t do what I want to do with my life…or the music that I make. I think we preach that a lot: “Oh you gotta do this to make a mark in the game. You can’t sound like that to make a mark in the game. You gotta sound like this.” Know what I’m sayin?…I think this album, and even with the movie, proves that you can do what the hell you wanna do. Dope is dope. Wack is wack.
OKP: I was struck by one of the songs, the West Coast track “Enjoy,”–your production on that might be—not shocking—but maybe unexpected for certain 9th Wonder fans. Can you tell me about that?
9: I don’t understand why they would think it was shocking, because I’ve always been about that. It seems like we come from a time period where if you don’t talk about guns, drugs and women–you automatically talkin’ about trees, incense and saving the world. And there’s an in-between there. And I think, we as LB fit in the in-between. That’s what Phonte talks about on “The Yo-Yo,” right? He’s like, This is what we are. And if you’ve heard what we been sayin for years, there’s no reason for you to think that “Enjoy” is foreign to me, ‘cause I grew up on the West Coast. I grew up off NWA. I grew up off Pharcyde. The West Coast made tons of records from all sides of the fence. So I don’t understand why people would think that’s so foreign for me to make a record like that.
OKP: I guess what I mean is, the album has such diversity– can you identify the thread that connects all those different sounds?
9: What connects all those different sounds is that’s what I grew up on. Everything you hear, that’s what I grew up on. From the R&B of the 80’s and 90’s, to the hip-hop in the 80’s and the 90’s. Maybe to a young kid…you know, I made a statement: “Young hip-hoppers– if all you listen to is hip-hop music, then you’re not hip-hop at all.” And I meant that. I see it when I go to parties. When I spin, the young kids in there, they want me to play Dilla and Doom and Kendrick and even my stuff. Put on Yarborough & Peoples and they lookin’ confused. They don’t get it, like “I didn’t come here to hear that.” Because maybe they haven’t matured to be able to accept that that’s part of hip-hop too.
OKP: Do you think that reflects the general mindset of hip-hop today?
9: I think it does. I think it reflects the general mindset of a box, putting things in a box. This whole generation just knows stuff in boxes; the generation between mines and Kendrick’s. And that’s the thing about it. That’s the box generation –but Kendrick’s generation is not like that. They’re open to new things. And maybe that’s because Kendrick’s generation was raised by us. I have a son that’s 15 years old, and all he knows is what I show him, as far as hip-hop. He likes what he likes, but all he knows is what I show him. That’s Kendrick’s generation. The generation between me and Kendrick, the one right after us, it was underground and overground. And our kids’ generation is erasing the underground-overground perspective.
OKP: I always that middle ground was just the sound of North Carolina…
9: It’s funny that you say “North Carolina,” like there’s not cities in North Carolina. There’s different cities in NC, and I don’t think people pay attention to that fact, as if we all know each other. When it comes to North Carolina hip-hop, it’s kinda hard to say “NC hip-hop” you have to put more focus on what’s going on in the cities in NC. It’s like you have LA and then you have the Bay…
OKP: But even as different as they are, the bay and L.A. are both part of a West Coast vibe, which is different from the East or the South…
9: Well, we are in the Middle East. We’re not up North and we’re not down South. We’re just in the middle. And I think that middle contains not only NC, it contains Virginia and Washington DC area…….
OKP: Do you feel like you’re still rooted in that vibe? Or are you more like a citizen of the world at this point?
9: Hip-hop has a tendency where you can do both. Cause it’s all about representing where you’re from. There’s no other culture that really bigs up their hometown in a big sense like hip-hop does. There’s not another culture that really does that. You don’t see an actress walking down the red carpet like ‘I wanna give a big shout out to Wichitaw, Kansas.’ You don’t see that. But hip-hop does that. At the same time, we can be on a worldwide scale.
OKP: I guess what I was sneaking up on is that image of the crown on your album cover—do you think rap is even enough of a unified field in 2011 that one cat can go for the crown?
9: That’s not what that crown means. That crown means that I am proud of what I have achieved–and in my own right, I feel like I’m a king in what I’ve achieved, number one. Number two, that crown tells young black boys, You are a king, your people were kings. The crown has less to do with hip-hop than anything. That crown means I’m king of my household. That crown means that I am king of what’s goin on around me. I have more control over my career than somebody else does. In order for you to come holla at me about a service from me, you have to talk to me. I don’t have a boss. I’m the boss. I turn the lights on in the morning and cut the lights off at night.