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In the Studio: 9th Wonder

9th Wonder put the soul back in Southern fried hip-hop a half-decade back with his warm, sample-driven beats on Little Brother’s debut LP, The Listening. Quickly landing freelance production work with Jay-Z, Destiny’s Child, and Mary J. Blige, among others, the Winston-Salem, NC native was soon recognized as one of the saviors of sample-based hip-hop, alongside Just Blaze and Kanye West. While 9th left Little Brother behind in 2006, he hasn’t changed his tune sonically, as evidenced by last year’s The Dream Merchant, Vol. 2 (6Hole). 2008 is shaping up to be his most prolific year yet. With 9 Wonders (a recently released online EP with NY rapper NYOIL) in the bag, 9th will drop The Formula (Duck Down), his second full-length collaboration with Black Moon’s Buckshot; Big Brother, a digital EP with Jay Electronica; and his third solo LP, The Wonder Years (Asylum), in the coming months.

XLR8R: Your new album with Buckshot is called The Formula. Do you have a formula you work from in the studio?

9th Wonder: The formula is the whole idea of him coming to North Carolina and working. He flies down, gets a hotel, and I pick him up the same time everyday. That sets the mind frame for when we go into the studio together. He’ll be working on and writing to a beat I already made, and I’ll be making new ones. We’ll record the one he wrote to and then I’ll burn beats I made that day. He’ll take them home, and by the time he comes back the next day, he’s written to them. That’s our formula, for the most part.

You’ve been prolific lately. Are you doing anything equipment-wise that’s helping you get the job done faster?

Not necessarily. There’s no magic machine that cuts the time down. It’s still the same process. I’ve been prolific since the first time you heard me. You might have heard [Little Brother’s] The Listening first, but we recorded that at the same time I did [L.E.G.A.C.Y.’s] Project Mayhem. He’d come in and do a record and then Phonte and Pooh would do a record. Shoot, I still probably got six, seven albums nobody’s ever heard, so I’ve been prolific.

Do you still work on a PC?

It’s the same set-up I’ve always had, except I was using Cool Edit and now I’m using Pro Tools to record. I know some people make beats in Reason on a Mac, but I’m still in Fruity Loops [now sold as FL Studio] on a PC. I say all the time, it don’t matter what you use. If you can’t jump, Jordans aren’t going to make you dunk. If you can’t hear how a record is supposed to be chopped, or understand chord progressions, no machine is gonna make you know that. Whether you use Reason, Pro Tools, Acid Pro, Cakewalk, Fruity Loops, it all boils down to when you drop a needle on that record, man, and listen for that sample. Some cats got all the equipment in the world and skip over the best samples.

What do you like about Fruity Loops for samples?

I liked Fruity Loops [initially] because it was cheap. MPCs was two grand when I was in college. In 1973, when they took all the money out of New York public schools for arts and music, kids [went to] the corner, set up turntables, and threw parties. I’m not gonna not make music because I can’t afford an MP. I didn’t choose Fruity Loops to sample–that’s the only choice I had. If I’d have never said anything, nobody would’ve ever known. But the fact that it’s a $50 program that you download off Kazaa and I [won] a Grammy off of it fucks with some people, man. The Erykah Badu “Honey” joint is a Fruity Loops beat from five years ago. Hip-hop purists say, “He ain’t no real beatmaker, he ain’t working on an MP.” These same motherfuckers ain’t got no friends. I don’t hear that from Just [Blaze or] Pete [Rock]. I ain’t never heard that from Premier.

Do you mostly find yourself making made-to-order beats for artists, or do you generally bring finished beats and have them pick and choose?

The Destiny’s Child joints were made to order. Out of the 13 joints on this album with Buckshot, I’d say seven or eight are made-to-order beats. Same with the Murs records, Jean Grae. You know what happens? I’ll make beats to order for an artist I’m doing an album with, and then go back and find old beats that fit those, so it sonically sounds like an album.

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