Somewhere some staunch Little Brother fan will weep after seeing this interview. 

Grammy-winning producer 9th Wonder stopped through #DXHQ ahead of the rollout of LRG’s briLLiant Youth EP—which he executive produced—and cooly perused through seemingly every historic avenue of his now expansive career. Right after the North Carolina-native reminisces on Phonte’s six or seven hour jaunt through New York City as Percy Miracles (Te’s comedic alter ego) and just before sharing the group’s takeaways after learning that BET banned them for being “too intelligent,” 9th reveals the original theme for the LB’s third LP—the one that would’ve been released had they not disbanded. “The next Little Brother album was supposed to be a Blaxploitation movie called Can’t Win For Losing,” he says.

He continues: “If all of us would have stayed together as three, it was supposed to be the Blaxploitation movement and the cover was supposed to look like a Blaxploitation film with the cartoons and all of that. And it was going to be called Phonte, Big Pooh and 9th Wonder of Little Brother: Can’t Win For Losing, ‘cause we already thought The Minstrel Show didn’t do what we wanted it to do and we’re trying to do the best music that we can and we’re still getting the short end of the stick ‘cause we don’t decide to do this or decide to do that. So we were going to name the album Can’t Win For Losing."

In retrospect, a major label pushing a project called “The Minstrel Show” in 2005 is as unexpected as a hurricane in NY. The critically acclaimed release even came complete with promotional flyers boasting a cartoonish version of the painfully iconic blackface image that smacked equally hard both historically and metaphorically. Then, the Trap Star reigned supreme and the “Turn Up” era was right around the corner. While it may seem like a (Percy) miracle that Atlantic Records would release a record with such racially vivid imagery (especially without making any changes to any of the songs included), the album—and the group’s—pinnacle could have reached higher peaks had Little Brother had a better understanding of the power of branding, something 9th Wonder says their contextual contemporary, Kanye West embraced from the first time they met in 2003.  

“We didn’t know what branding was,” 9th Wonder explains. “Us musicians think that just the music is going to carry us—the beats and the rhymes. Well yeah, that’s to a certain point. If you want to get past a certain point it has to be more than just your beats or raps. You have to have something about you. For Kanye it was his branding. It’s branding, he had the music, he had the rhymes, but he had the Dropout Bear. We didn’t have the Dropout Bear. That became his. It even made him prevalent for having the cover with him that had the bear head off. Then the next album, in Late Registration, you don’t see him in the artwork at all. You just see the bear. Then Graduation, same thing. So he created this persona, this brand that we just didn’t have. He just tapped into that and it was off to the races. So yeah, he did beat us to the punch.”

Branding is something that the Harvard Fellow impresses upon his Jamla Records roster, along with the necessary life lessons to help his artists achieve longevity, something he describes in this conversation. He also explains the modern era of the Universal Zulu Nation, of which he is a part. He even confirms that he’s teaming up with David Banner again for the sequel to their 2010 gem, Death Of A Pop Star. 9th Wonder takes the lectern.

9th Wonder Explains How He Crafts Sound For Jamla Records Artists