Earlier this week, Grammy Award-winning producer 9th Wonder released a new compilation album, 9th's Opus: It's A Wonderful World Music Group, Volume 1. The North Carolina mainstay uses the release to reveal some of his artists in development including Tyler Woods, Thee Tom Hardy and veteran Skyzoo. Speaking with HipHopDX last week, the producer for Jay-Z, Drake and Murs revealed why he's expanding his brand, touching the mic as 9thMatic and what advice he'd give to Bun B, who follows in 9th's footsteps to join a university faculty.
Last year, 9th Wonder's Jamla Records imprint joined Duck Down Records in releasing Skyzoo's proper debut, The Salvation. With success from that project and a fledgling brand, 9th explained to DX the difference between Jamla and It's A Wonderful World Music Group. "Jamla [Records] is under It's A Wonderful World [Music Group] actually," he stated. "It's like Universal Music Group, and how they have Def Jam and Motown." A lover of music, Jamla both takes its name and its niche from the same imprint that made some of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder's most loved recordings. "You recognize the fact that I got [the name from Berry Gordy's] Tamla Records. Tamla was at the point where Marvin Gaye came to Berry Gordy and was like, 'Look, I've got this 'Mercy, Mercy Me' record, and Berry Gordy was like, [Laughing] 'Nah.'" Providing context, 9th explained, "At the time, Motown was a Pop label. Stax was the dirty, raw [label]. Tamla was like the off-shoot, against-the-grain, had to be in-the-know, for-the-people label. That was the separation, and that's how I look at Jamla, so to speak."
In addition to Skyzoo, one of IAWWMG's breakout emcees is Thee Thom Hardy. The emcee makes two appearances on 9th's Opus, and steals the show on his solo offering, "Grinnin'." Within his roster, 9th said Hardy is catching ears. "My good friend Eddie Blackmon came to me and said, 'What's going on?' I played him a bunch of records [from different artists], and [Thee] Tom Hardy was the one who stuck out to him. Tom is a white emcee; I always want to make sure that I put 'emcee' first and the fact that he's white second - although the people won't look at it like that. It's always a novelty to some people that a white boy can rap." Although Hip Hop is 25 years removed from The Beastie Boys' Licensed To Ill being the first top-selling white release, 9th still maintains that not only is it about skills, but also authenticity. "Here's a dude that can rhyme, period. That's the whole artist cultivation thing. He's from the south, he has a twang to him. He loves the Dungeon Family, and you can hear it in his music. That's what it is, and that's what we're gonna play off of - not over-marketing the situation."
9th Wonder says that "Grinnin'" is very telling of just who Thee Tom Hardy is, and what exactly he offers the genre. "That is the first song we recorded together, 'Grinnin'.' He got on the joint to do the hook and was like, 'I'm grinnin'!' I'm like, 'You what?' That's him though. That's who he is. We just play on that. I definitely don't like to over-think the music. I let the music speak for itself and attach itself to an audience. That's what 'Grinnin'' is."
While Skyzoo might be the most recognizable name on 9th's Opus, the producer is also migrating from the boards to the booth. As heard earlier this year through several leaks, 9thMatic is the producer's rapper impresario. In a season that's witnessing producers such as Nottz, Black Milk and Gangrene (Oh No & Alchemist) all release lyrical albums, 9th was asked he faces criticism that he's entering an already-crowded kitchen of rappers. "First and foremost, people are gonna say what they want to say. Number two, all of the people that talk about me, I would sit down and challenge any one of them about my knowledge of this craft. It is what it is, man," explained 9th, noting that he reads comments and criticisms from fans online. Still, 9th stresses that 9thMatic is more about fun. "But I do understand, I'm not the best emcee at all; I don't even call myself an emcee. It's just somebody said my voice was dope, and I wanted to try it. But for every person that comes along and says, 'You need to be quiet,' another person comes along and says 'I love it!'" Within producer-on-the-mic status, 9th placed recognition on several peers for their abilities above his own. "I'm not as good [of an emcee] as an Alchemist, as an Erick Sermon, as a Nottz. The best rappin' producer to me is [J] Dilla. He had the voice, he had the flow. It takes time to get to that point. I know what my strengths are, my strengths are as a producer and as a deejay. I never tried to be Top 10, Top 100, Top 1,000 emcees that ever lived. I'm just havin' fun, man."
Lastly, 9th Wonder was asked if he had advice for Bun B. While 9th has been teaching in the Music Department at North Carolina Central University since 2007, Bun B recently accepted a similar position at Texas' Rice University. "I wouldn't give any advice to Bun," said 9th with a laugh. "Rick Ross says he's the 'teflon don.' And I love his [Teflon Don] record - love it! Bun B is the real Teflon don, man. I don't care where you go in this Hip Hop nation of ours - Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Houston, Memphis, Chicago, you better not say anything bad about Bun B! You can't. He's one of the few cats that's been in the game a while, that's untouchable, dog. So what do I tell Bun B about teaching at a university? 'Cause when I teaching at a university, I'm lecturing [about] him. If I'm doing a Black History class, what would I tell Eldridge Cleaver? Nothing. [Bun B is the same]. [All I can say to Bun B is] 'Good luck,' if he even needs it." 9th respectfully added, "That man, you don't tell him anything."
The two respected Hip Hop artists have reportedly spoken privately about their academic careers, and 9th stated, "We've had the conversation, and I already know he's gonna do a great job."
9th's Opus: It's A Wonderful World Music Group, Volume 1 is in stores now.