9th Wonder Says Without Phonte, There Is No Drake (Audio)
During A3C week earlier this month, 9th Wonder served as Reggie Osse’s latest guest for a live taping of The Combat Jack Show. Per usual, the conversation spanned the career of the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina producer/DJ/sometimes-MC. However, there are certainly some impromptu side discussions and points made that make this particular dialogue especially powerful.
Early on, it’s clear that Combat Jack asked the Little Brother co-founder different questions, when a casual review of common A3C practices (see: lots of business card exchanges, CD passing) leads 9th to explain why unlike many of his peers, he never charges artists to consult about the industry, or give a listen to their work. If for some reason that comes as a surprise, the latter discussion of L.B.’s breakthrough circa 2002 will surely explain it, along with 9th’s personal character.
Moving into the early days of Little Brother (around the 20 minute-mark), 9th reveals that it was not until listening to The Listening‘s “Speed” 20-25 times on playback after it was recorded did he, Rapper Big Pooh, and Phonte grasp the magnitude of their ground breaking group. He details how The Roots’ ?uestlove played a major hand in the group’s early success, how they feared a pre-Zshare album leak, (31:00) and guys like Mr. Walt (Da Beatminerz), Pete Rock, Grap Luva, DJ Spinna, and others blowin’ up the guys’ phones in the days when they were sleepin’ five deep in an apartment, working regular jobs.
In another cool question, Combat asks 9th about L.B.’s early 2000s, “Internet era” peers. A Hip-Hop Head to the fullest, 9thMatic shouts out collaborators Cunninylnguists, as well as Philadelphia’s Mountain Brothers, Cali’s People Under The Stairs, Michigan’s Athletic Mic League (featuring a pre-Stones Throw Mayer Hawthorne), and Maryland/Washington, D.C.’s Low Budget Crew (Oddisee, Kev Brown, Peter Rosenberg).
Moving into The Minstrel Show-era (40:00), 9th remembers Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles seeking out Little Brother back-stage after their B.B. Kings performance, despite the fact that the members of L.B. have never been on Def Jam, and were then signed to Atlantic Records. Later on, he explains how Phife Dawg and De La Soul are pushing for a third (fully-reunited) Little Brother studio album, just as Heads once wished those groups back to the studio. If that’s not enough, there’s a beautiful anecdote about Phonte, in full Percy Miracles garb, dropping in on Julie Greenwald and Craig Kallman (i.e. the highest-ups at Atlantic), and their surprising reaction.
By 52:00, the discussion grows to talk about The Minstrel Show‘s message nearly 10 years later. 9th bemoans the media for “talking more about Ray Rice than Mike Brown,” and how spectacle far exceeds the value of life, in some eyes. Reflecting on his own disappointments with the major label system, 9th asserts that Public Enemy would never be signed by today’s standards, out of fear of their militant ways, powerful message, and threat to the common comfort zone.
If that’s not enough, in this discussion, 9th makes it clear that he’s not being critical of guys like Gucci Mane and Rich Homie Quan. In fact, 9th (and Combat) state themselves as big fans of the 1017 wave. The longtime Duck Down affiliate (and Jamla founder) also argues why Nelly’s Country Grammar has to be included in Hip-Hop/Rap’s Top 200 albums, a project he’s working on at Harvard.
Perhaps the most interesting thing in here is 9th’s reflections on Phonte. From the days when Phonte quit his retail job on the spot due to a Pete Rock phone-call, to calling ‘Tay one of the greatest MCs of all-times, there’s a lot to love here. He reveals that Phonte is the only member of Little Brother with a college degree, and how ‘Tay’s art is a reflection of his Suma-Cum Laude graduate status. He adds that if Pooh dropped verses on Charity Starts At Home, the album would have been amazing, and a worthy addition to the L.B. canon. 9th also doesn’t bite his tongue in saying that Drake’s success owes Phonte a lot (“without Phonte, there is no Drake. And Drake knows this”). He also thumps, that without The Listening, there would be no College Dropout from Kanye West, and how a certain Phonte line broke this all down, then.
Combat Jack has hosted some amazing interviews in the last few calendars, however, this discussion is so heart-felt, so open, and so educational (without any reliance on controversy) that it’s a true benchmark in the series, and in the subject known as the life and times of Patrick Douthit.