9th Wonder is a man of principles. It’s been seven months since he left the North Carolina-based group, Little Brother, but the acclaimed producer has refused to reveal the details surrounding their breakup. That isn’t the case, however, with LB’s remaining members, Phonte and Big Pooh. In a previous interview with XXLMag.com, the two MCs credited the split to creative differences and 9th’s refusal to incorporate new sounds into his production. Still, 9th Wonder is tight lipped when discussing the group’s inner turmoil. Opting to bypass beef, the 32-year-old is instead concentrating on two new projects, Dream Merchant, Vol. 2 and The Wonder Years. Both albums look to build upon his extensive resume, which blossomed through his work on both Little Brother albums (2003’s The Listening and 2005’s The Minstrel Show) and freelance production for Jay-Z, Destiny’s Child, Mary J. Blige and Memphis Bleek. Dream Merchant will drop later this year on Sixhole Records, while The Wonder Years will be released in 2008 through It’s A Wonderful World, 9th’s new label deal with Asylum Records. XXLMag.com picks the soulful producer’s brain about his new ventures and the Little Brother breakup.
Tell us about the two albums you’re working on.
The first is Dream Merchant, Vol. 2. Camp Lo [is] on there, Mos Def, Jean Grae, Memphis Bleek, Big Pooh, Royce Da 5’9” and Saigon. The second [album] is The Wonder Years and that’s through Asylum [Records], which is under Atlantic [Records]. Asylum gave me a label deal so I could put out my artists and whatnot. The label is called It’s a Wonderful World.
What’s your vision for the label?
I’m looking to do R&B and hip-hop for the crowd that’s 25 and older. I’m 32 years old myself. Not to say I don’t like little kids and stuff like that, I just can’t make music to pander to little kids. There’s a way you can stay current and sound up to date without pandering to a child. I think there’s not enough good music on TV and radio that our age demographic can hear. I’m trying to fill that void [since] I have a current name in the marketplace that goes underground and over-ground.
How has your production sound progressed on these projects?
The sound hasn’t changed that much. The way I chop [beats] changed a little bit. But it’s a situation where I think my production style has changed as far as how I arrange songs—I’m working with a larger scale. I’m trying to mix [it] up a little bit. [There’s] not too many producers out there right now concentrating on funk and soul. Everything is electronic, which is cool, but somebody’s gotta carry the funk and soul torch. If it’s gonna be me, then it’s gonna be me. Pete [Rock] and [DJ] Premier started something and it’s gotta be finished.
Has being on your own without Little Brother allowed you to reach new fans?
I think even when I was in the group… when I did the Jay-Z record [“Threat”] and the three Destiny’s Child records, then Mary J. Blige, that opened the door to a whole other fan group. I get 14-year-olds hitting me up on MySpace because of [Destiny Child’s] “Girl,” not because of an LB record. I got a whole new fan base. Mary J. Blige got on the Grammys shouting my name out. I been on the subterranean for like two or three years. You gotta understand, when Mary J. Blige shouts your name out to this whole group of people that probably never heard of you, that just opens you up to a whole different fan base. It kinda helped me see the demographics and how generations see and listen to music. I think me not being in the group just opens me up to a lot of things. And for the flipside, probably opens them up to a lot of things, too. I think everything happens for a reason, so we’ll see what happens.
You haven’t spoken publicly about your split from Little Brother. How come?
[Laughs] If you notice, any interview I’ve done I’ve never talked about the LB situation. I like to leave it as is. It was time for us to go our separate ways and that’s what it was. I don’t believe in putting out business to the press like that. As my man Aaron McGruder would say, “There’s enough nigga moments going on in hip-hop as it is.” I’m not going to add to it. I just can’t. Hip-hop is in a state of emergency anyway. I don’t want to add to the whole “beef.” That’s so cliché now. Not to say nobody is a grown man but somebody gotta be a grown man and say enough is enough. I’m not even going to get into that.
In a previous interview with XXLMag.com, Phonte said you got comfortable as a producer and you should incorporate more live instrumentation in your music. What’s your response to that?
With answering these questions, I don’t want to pin it like I am answering him. That would be off the record. I don’t even want to feed off that.
But is live instrumentation something you’d like to incorporate into your production anyway?
Yeah, [I did that for this unreleased] Small World joint, “Billion Dollars.” I had [my man] from The Roots play on that one. I just love hip-hop so much that I like chopping records. It’s to the point now [that] I have a “fan base” [and] if I stopped chopping records somebody would be mad. I had certain record companies coming to me because they know I chop records. If I want a Pharrell type beat, I’m going to go to Pharrell. If I want Timbaland, I go to Timbaland. If I want a fierce chopped up record [you come to me]. I’m cool with that.
Has it been frustrating to be criticized for your “need to diversify?”
People gonna talk, and that’s what I learned. If you’re not used to that, then it gets on your nerves. But then after a while it’s like no matter what you do somebody is going to talk. But what supercedes that is when I see and meet people on the street that don’t even look at the Internet or be on the blogs. They say, “Man, I listened to such and such…” That kills all negative comments. What I do in the studio has an effect on someone’s life. So I’m blessed for all of that.
Have you smoothed things over with Phonte and Pooh behind closed doors?
It’s not a situation where we about to ride over to each other’s house. All that is dumb. We live in America and people love drama. Somebody gotta sit up and say, “Nah, I’m not gonna give you that.” And I’m not. They’re putting out [a new album called] The Getback. I got a joint on there. I’m putting out Dream Merchant and they got a joint on my record. The people are not fans anymore. They want to be an A&R. They want to read SoundScan. That may be a sign of the times but [they] don’t want to sit back, lay on their bed, open up the CD, listen to it, bump it in their car and let that be it. Nobody is a pure fan. It seems to me that my age group is more hip-hop fans because we buy it, come home and that’s it. You call up your man and sit on the back of the porch and listen to the joint together. Now it’s like, “Such and such did 45,000.” Why are you concerned with all of that? So I don’t get into all of that as long as we continue to do good music on both ends of both sides. It’s just not in me [to] say this person can’t do this or that. I hope [Little Brother] go platinum. I mean that from the bottom. I hope everybody does well in the situation.