9th Wonder Explains Black Colleges' Failure To Embrace Hip Hop History

Exclusive: The Harvard Fellow readies the first New York City installment of 95 Live, a four hour dedication to music made before 1995.

Grammy-winning producer 9th Wonder brings his music and cultural celebration, 95 Live, to New York City’s MIST Harlem tonight (February 1). Featuring guests Statik Selektah and Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg, 95 Live is a four-hour dedication to music made prior to 1995. 

In describing the difference between music produced before and after 1995, 9th explained to HipHopDX that pre-1995 tracks prominently featured bass drums or a thick bass line—creating a sound that is often referred to as the “bottom.”  

“Pre-1995, everything was all about the bottom; all about having the boom behind it,” said 9th. “It was more than just the 808s. Early 1980s and mid-1980s music was mastered way louder. If you listened to ‘It’s Like That’ by Run-DMC, the whole record is really turned up as opposed to how it’s mastered [now]. But it’s not as kicking and hitting as hard as those old Run-DMC breaks.”

9th Wonder was accepted into Harvard University’s prestigious Harvard Fellows program in March of 2012. The North Carolina-native will teach a class on the history of Hip Hop as well as complete a research project entitled “These Are The Breaks” where he will examine the original records sampled on his ten favorite albums, including Nas’ Illmatic, Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, and The Minstrel Show—which he produced as a member of Little Brother. 

When asked if he is surprised by higher academia’s embrace of Hip Hop culture, 9th shared that he’s more surprised that historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have yet to show the same acceptance. 

“It’s incredible to me that they don’t study [Hip Hop] at every Black college,” he said “I think that it’s just a sign of the times, man. It happened with Jazz. Jazz was studied somewhere else first. African-American studies was studied somewhere else first. At some point we have to break that cycle. There are some: Florida A&M, North Carolina A&T State University. And then you have some that don’t want that because they think that we’re gonna teach about what happened on BET last night.” 

9th also believes a generational divide between staff and students is part of the reason there is a dearth of Hip Hop history courses on HBCU campuses. While he began his professorial career as an Artist-In-Residence teaching Hip Hop history at his alma mater North Carolina Central University—where Little Brother was founded—the program was cancelled after only three years. 

“They felt like the budget [wasn’t there] or that [the course] didn’t serve a purpose or whatever it was, but they stopped it,” 9th tells DX. “After that I went to Duke [University]." 

He continued: “We try at our historically Black colleges to make those strides and be first at things and be frontrunners but it’s tough because you’re dealing with three generations of people. You’re dealing with us: The 38-year olds. Then you’re dealing with the 18-year olds and then you’re dealing with the 60-year olds who run these colleges. All of that together is a tough communication to get going.” 

95 Live was first created by one of 9th’s fellow Universal Zulu Nation members, Roman Castro. With Castro’s consent, 9th extended the brand into a bi-monthly party held in North Carolina. Previous special guests include DJ Premier, Erykah Badu, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, among others. 

“For four hours we don’t play anything past 1995,” said the North Carolina-native. “We tried to go to 2000, but that’s just a little bit too far. It’s not only Hip Hop. It’s R&B, Reggae—just celebrating that time of culture of music.” 

Tonight is 95 Live’s first New York City installment and is presented in conjunction with The High End Agency and includes a visual presentation by UpNorthTrips.com

On Wednesday, February 6, 9th will present his research findings at Harvard University’s Barker Center at 12PM.    

RELATED: The Final Adventure by Murs & 9th Wonder [ALBUM REVIEW] 


  • Jay

    90 percent of the new generation don't know anything about hiphop. They can't you a song by KRS, Special Ed, Furious Five, Roxanne Shante,..etc. First bird gets the worm. Harvard and Ivy leagues are probaly going to be the only Universities able to talk about the Hip Hop genre in 50 years from now. It is sad that some HBCUs aren't documenting the history of the hip hop art form and working these young pioneers now.

  • RE:9th Wonder

    In regards to "Connectivity", that was my thesis in relation to social and interracial divide amongst blacks. Jazz and Blues were also initially a rejected art form seen as trivial and inarticulate by upper class blacks. Understanding and respecting Hip Hop as a spirit, an idea and a response to conditions and environments of the age is pivotal in the union and progression of black people. My point is if you don't address the bigger picture regarding the divide, we will be having this exact same conversation 10-20 years from now, about another rejected black renaissance. "Flash of the Spirit"

  • Anonymous

    I am my penis. I am God's penis. God is my penis. God is penis. Penis is God.

  • Come On Now...

    I think this whole Hip Hop history thing has gone too far. They should classify this as a chapter in the book of Black music and nothing more then an elective if that. It was a phase that came, reached its peak and then tapered off like Jazz, Blues, etc... True it influenced new genres, but to treat Hip Hop like it was the Bolshevik Revolution, Arab Spring, or Civil Rights movement is hilarious. Hip Hop was hijacked by external forces (Hollywood), co-opted and used as a tool to further our demise. The forces responsible for this (primarily european Jewish music industry in conjunction with some sellouts (too short, snoop, etc...)) would not support this type of analysis. Instead what we get is an academic version of an episode of 'Behind the Music'. A watered down slideshow devoid of heart...

  • anon

    "Everybody Hates Big Dan"

  • Big Dan

    'Anonymous: @Big Dan, Your post was poorly written. Don't post on HHDX again. thanks bro" I could go all Donald Trump on you and challenge you to posting our English grades online or we can just pick a topic and write on it and see who does better:) I have the smile because you were nice about your request, so don't take mine as mean spirited either. All I'm trying to say is if HBCU students never set foot in a hip hop class, they won't be lacking in life.

    • MalcolmLittle

      So it wouldn't benefit some of these college-age students to learn that Hip-Hop ain't just money and hoes like they've been made to think? It wouldn't benefit em to know that it once STOOD for somethin and had a purpose FAR beyond record sales and YouTube hits? There's no way they'd be able to take anything away from that knowledge at all huh? Interesting...

  • gbjhgj

    Could all these hip hop websites at least learn to put capital letters in the right places for article titles? Typing Like This Is One Of The Most Ignorant Things You Can Do.

  • Danielle

    I am a proud alumni of an HBCU - Hawk Pride! - and I wish we had had a class like this while I was there. I'm a black girl born in the Bronx, the founding place of hip hop, and I don't know all of the history surrounding the art form and culture. To assume so is sterotypical and dismissive of those who are not black or from the Bronx who love hip hop and have made the time to study the history of it. In college, I took a Jazz history class and was amazed at what I didn't know! If it was offered near where I live, I'd love to take a Hip Hop History class, though I am not a college student anymore. I think HBCUs are leery of it more from a qualified faculty standpoint than a perception standpoint. Jazz musicians dealt with all kind of personal issues, yet we teach on the art form and the culture of the day. The same could be done for hip hop if there were qualified professors. Who, aside from 9th and Bun B are teaching courses? What's the requirement? How does is it or should it be presented to HBCU administrators?

  • Drea Camille

    As an alumnae of a HBCU (Tuskegee University), I definitely appreciate this article in some many different aspects. Honestly, 9th Wonder is right about HBCUs not embracing Hip Hop due to numerous of reasons. When you attend a HBCU you are taught about embracing tradition and to honor that tradition which is cool. But the focus should be beyond traditions and legacies just my opinion. The Professors, President and Administrators must realize that traditions are going to remain but you must include the generational traditions and legacies such as Hip Hop. Hip Hop is also a lifestyle rather than just merely music. I truly believe that the Professors and Presidents of HBCUs think that they will have to teach and embrace from a BET or MTV Jams which it could be taught in a multidimensional aspect. It took me to step foot on a HBCU to realize that the Hip Hop I was used to rocking out to in Boston, MA was quite different from Hip Hop in New Orleans, the Bay Area, Down South and Midwest. In order to know where you are going, you must learn your history.

  • Big Dan

    While I am happy for you and your new Harvard gig, hip hop "courses" in my opinion are in fact for rich schools - I won't say rich kids, since lots of poor folk are at rich schools. What exactly are you learning when taking those courses, how much value does it offer? If I am an aspiring hip hop producer, then a These are the breaks" classes makes sense - maybe, other than that, its just an easy A. You can see how the class gets no respect right, because no one is thinking this is important to their future. So no, black schools do not need to offer hip hop classes. Let's not get too full of ourselves where we think hip hop is THAT important. Its a highly competitive world out there, we are no longer just competing against ourselves, but with the rest of the world and how we can become successful in such a world, is what black schools should be teaching, not hip hop. Besides, since we always talking about "living hip hop" blah blah, isn't the average black kid at a HBCU already living it, or already lived it. Why not teach them how to tie their shoes and wipe their butts as well, since we would be regressing.

    • Anonymous

      @Big Dan, Your post was poorly written. Don't post on HHDX again. thanks bro

    • ETL

      If you have leftover money from tuition by all means take a hip hop course it helps legitimize the art further, but please make sure you take something that can recover what you spent on tuition after you graduate, that's all I'm saying.

    • mark sri

      Come on @BigDan. I'd like to know what courses a kid should be taking then?

    • khordkutta

      Whoa...School 'em 9th!!!

    • 9th Wonder

      While I usually don't reply on message boards, this is a very sensitive topic, being the fact I am a product of an HBCU, and still a student of the culture. First and foremost, to assume that the "average black kid" knows the history of the artform is a very stereotypical argument. Just because someone is black, doesn't mean they automatically know about hip-hop. If that is the case, the same could be made about Jazz in the 60's and 70's, where EVERY black kid at an HBCU supposedly knew who Lionel Hampton was, or Coltrane, or any prominent Jazz artist of the time, or the time before it. Hip-Hop is used as a connection to history. We aren't in class talking about how to flip samples, record verses, or how to get a record deal. This is a method to use the artform to engage points in history from use of a timeline. Most kids (black or white) can't tell you about the Audobon Ballroom, or it's importance. Neither can they about the Watts Riots, the protests in Chicago, the Haight Asbury Movement, or the like, which were all MAJOR movements, alot of times fueled by music. "I'm Black and I'm Proud" by James Brown wasn't made for only entertainment. As Curtis Mayfield stated, "We Must Educate As Well As Entertain." With that being said, if the beginnings of the artform can also explain the cultural infusion of blacks, whites, asians, caribbeans, and latinos in the 60's and 70's in Bronx, NY, due to the 1965 Immigration Act, then so be it. THAT infusion is evident in Apache by Incredible Bongo Band, which is a famous break, that WE all sample. The question is WHY. The beginnings of the artform can also explain the spirit of innovation during time of economic cuts to Art programs in New York City, which is EXACTLY what is happening right now present day. If you think its all about learning how to make a beat.....think again... Peace....

    • Anonymous

      ^^^^^^^^^ One of the DUMBEST comments ever.

  • Anonymous

    I took a Rock n Roll class in college and the same thing should be done for HipHop. It showed the direct connect between then music thats being made and society and the impact it at the time it comes out. The connection between the music and pop culture and history are so closely related. You cannot look at American black history in the last 30 years without seeing the direct impact that HipHop has had on it and how the music moves in a similar direction with historical events.

  • ajb4

    this is deep... post that Lecrae "Fakin" video on.mtv.com/XY0nqO

  • ETL

    Wouldn't teaching a Hip Hop history class at a HBCU be like preaching to the choir though?

    • Just A Man

      There is a science and historical basis to all forms of music. You do know that all colleges have electives. Classes including but not limited to golf, karate, running, astrology, astronomy, health, physical education, weight lifting, landscaping, and many others. Hip Hop an Americn creation exist in so many facets of society yet is unworthy of elective classification at a 4 year university. Mentioning dream jobs as if so many with educations aren't just dreaming of a job. There are more young black millionaires in sports and entertainment than every other industry combined. These are the people creating generational wealth not lawyers and doctors raising their children under the looming specter of crippling student loan debt. Offer some sense of direction if you plan on panning something. We should be directing more of our children to jobs in government as the military industrial complex will continue to expand government agencies. These jobs however will not be fulfilling but comfortable lives can be created. Account managers, underwriters, copywriters, analysts, and beauracratic positions that you won't be able to explain to your child what you do. The attitudes the older black community have toward young black male dominated professions are very telling of personal inadequacy issues. The very issues expounded upon by many black writers over the last 100 years. @Big Dan you give Hip Hop too much credit for creating negative stereotypes that have existed long before the art form. Rappers living lifestyles that we were all required to study referring to the lavish lifestyles the Romans and many other demographics lived is your example of creating stereotypes. I will not attest that we should be better than those primitive men. However the temperament of your comment suggest that we are somewhat worse. All things to all people we cannot be and now it is your turn to contribute to the cycle of self-perpetuating hate. 50s dad says all young people want to do is get doped up and listen to jazz. 60s dad says all young people want to do is get doped up and listen to swing and big band music. 70s dad says all young people want to do is get doped up and listen to funk. 80s dad says all young people want to do is get doped up and listen to rock and roll. 90s dad says all young people want to do is get doped up and listen to RAP. 2000s dad says all young people want to do is get doped up and listen to RAP. 2010s dad says all young people want to do is get doped up and listen to RAP. Impact, impact, impact. Big Dan says being black and listening to hip hop doesn't and shouldn't offer any insight on how cultures are created, nurtured, antagonized, solidified, and spread virally throughout the world. You because kids today are not better than him and his classmates. Yet the hip hop has only known one generation 30 years. Every year young black men graduate at a higher rate, get secondary and post-secondary degrees. While doing better than ever A N.I.G.G.E.R. of any variety will try to convince you that you a proud black man is failing. Don't fall into this cycle of self-hate. SUPPORT THE YOUTH AND YOU SUPPORT YOUR FUTURE!!! If we allow our young, who are born without sour harden hearts, to lead we may all see a better world. Don't complain about the grandchildren of civil rights activists for not keeping the fight going hen their parents didn't. You know those very people that help usher in the crack epidemic in this country and our communities.

    • mark sri

      You see @BigDan, this is the reason WHY WE NEED Hip-Hop courses in schools. The fact that you think hip-hop is one of the main culprits in destroying the minds of our youth is hard to believe to someone that has dived into hip-hop a little bit. It sounds like you are older, someone that has had some form of education, someone that knows how to read and research... well, it won't take you very long to figure out that there are RAPPERS and ARTISTS in the hip-hop industry. In our current society, more is better and the more records you sell or downloads you get or spins you have on the radio equate to more visibility in the media. Those hip-hop rappers you are referring to that are ruining the minds of youth, well, no one can argue that that is actually happening, because frankly, it might be true! BUT, in the big picture, there are A GRIP of hip-hip artists out there that speak on politics, economics, family, love, education and morality... YOU JUST HAVE TO DIG AND YOU FIND THEM. These hip-hop courses you don't like are a great place to understand not only what hip-hop was, but what it is and the potential it has! When you get a chance, Google 'Industrial Revolution' by Immortal Technique' or 'Expansion Outro' by Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek' or 'U, Black Maybe' by Common' or 'Breath' by The Grouch or 'Daughters' by Nas...that should get you started with showing the OTHER side of hip-hop. For real, there are plenty of artists out there that doing an awesome job and it's up to US to show these young folks their options, to show them what a well-rounded diet looks like...

    • Big Dan

      No it wouldn't be - the education system is designed to create a bunch of house niggas... hip hop is a field nigga art form. Educating some house niggas on this would help address the inter-racial divide between black social class. Double Consciousness (W.E.B DuBois) is still a factor. Could you expound on this statement? Education existed thousands of years ago before slavery. How was it set up to create house whatevers? What is your solution and are black people supposed to act like the punks today who think life is about quitting school as soon as you can and becoming a criminal because I am sure those "thugs" are not considered house %$%^ by you. Its also very interesting that you quote WEB Dubois. To paraphrase Charles Barkley, I love me some WEB Dubois, but I am sure lots of people around him would have considered him a house $^$&. I don't agree, so lets not make this about that. But he was highly educated, I am sure he did well for himself financially, had to have been mixed, not only went to Harvard, but was actually a commencement speaker - at Harvard! The ultimate test, I am sure he was in those house with the white folks at their parties, around their table discussing the matters of the day, while being served by a black maid who's husband was out working the field. Looking at his stature, you know he had to have been accepted. He is a hero to me, so I don't want my words misconstrued, but the guy you used to make your point is a poor example. He would look at hip hop today, all the self denigration, misogyny, popularizing negativity and turn in his grave if he thought this is what we people want to teach our kids. We have to be honest, if you want to put things in contrast and think about what those who fought and died for civil rights worked for, hip hop is destroying all that by creating negative stereotypes and whatnot. In summation professor, those teaching HH classes are not Cornel Wests. If they keep it strictly about hip hop and not digress too much, they can't teach about the divides because whether we want to admit it or not, that is not what hip hop is about. We are lying to ourselves. Artists today are all about putting out records, hopefully selling a bunch and living the life, you know, having enough money to make it rain and smoke weed all day, pop mollys and other nonsense. Outside of Public Enemy, Dead Prez, Tupac and I guess those I am not aware off, there isn't any focus on social issues in hip hop AT ALL. You can not use HH to educate house &#^$ but I daresay you have to redefine what a house #&$^ is because you seem to be under the impression that having an education makes you a house #&*#^. Hip hop my friend is a dream job that's all it is. Kids from the hood of yesteryear wanted to become basket ball players. Today, they want to be hip hop stars and that actually highlights teh dangers of hip hop that I am talking about. If you wanted to be a ball player, whether you like it or not, you realize you have to keep your butt in school. Now you don't have to worry about that, you can be a rapper.

    • ETL

      House niggas are born not made, education is a basic human right, where you get it and what you do with it is up to you. Nobody should have to pay to sit thru a HH history class in an HBCU when most black kids nowadays are being raised by parents that grew up on hip hop some from day 1.

    • mark sri

      Not really, you haven't connected all the dots at 17 or 18-years old. Growing up listening to what's "hot" or what's on the radio doesn't mean you've taken the time to study the past and look at all kinds of history with a different lens. The choir at that age still can gain some knowledge on national and international culture I believe...

    • RE: ETL

      No it wouldn't be - the education system is designed to create a bunch of house niggas... hip hop is a field nigga art form. Educating some house niggas on this would help address the inter-racial divide between black social class. Double Consciousness (W.E.B DuBois) is still a factor.

  • Anonymous

    Much respect to the staff at Duke University for letting 9th and Bun B teach.

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