9th Wonder Details Producing Kendrick Lamar’s DUCKWORTH & Reveals Its Original Title (Video)
Working on a Kendrick Lamar record requires a vow of secrecy as demanding as any spy code, 9th Wonder shares in the latest Rap Radar Podcast. With longtime colleague and Roc Nation producer/engineer, Young Guru by his side, 9th speaks on how he made “DUCKWORTH.” the closer for this year’s Grammy-nominated DAMN. album. The collabo came six years after Lamar expressed his desire to work with the Little Brother co-founder and Jamla Records head.
Everything started with a day spent with California’s Hip-Hop/Rap royalty. “It was a crazy day in Los Angeles,” 9th recalls of his travels with Rapsody. The discussion begins around 6:00 into the podcast interview. “At one o’clock that day we went to see Snoop [Dogg]. At six o’clock that day we went to [Dr.] Dre’s studio to see Dre. We saw Kendrick at like 11 o’clock and I’m like, that’s the West Coast,” he says with a laugh. At the last stop of the day, he left the Compton, California MC with a reported 20 beats. The journey continued via contact with Kendrick’s Top Dawg Entertainment executive Dave Free. 9th Wonder tells Elliott Wilson and Brian “B.Dot” Miller, “He hit me like, I need the samples for these two songs.”
9th continues, “I’m like thinking I got two beats…Then [Dave Free] hit me back, ‘There’s a third beat [that] I need information on.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, I got three.’ But when 9th asked if he had placed “three joints on [the album],” Free explained, “Nah, it’s one song.” TDE’s president went on to clarify that he needed all this music for this one song because “it’s the greatest story Kendrick has ever told.”
Kendrick also played 9th a cryptic snippet of just what he had done with the beats, but asked 9th to keep the project quiet. Young Guru recalls, “We had a night at the studio where 9th had to work on [‘DUCKWORTH’].” He then says how during the mixing sessions, 9th spelled it out bluntly, “If I hear or find out about anybody even remotely talking about this, you can never come back to the studio again ever in your life. Don’t tell yo mama, yo girl, nobody.’ It was real classified information.”
Such secrecy reflects how much Kendrick Lamar cares about his work. Information that Jamla signee Rapsody was the only feature on 2015’s “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” from To Pimp A Butterfly, for example, was also out of bounds. 9th Wonder explains why, “In the age of social media there’s no secrecy any more, no suspense. There’s no turn-on and for [Kendrick Lamar], it’s really important. He really believes in it. I’d never disrupt it.” It also says something about Lamar’s artistic vision, “He knows exactly what he wants to do, what he’s trying to get to and the points he’s trying to make and the soundscapes that go with it.”
Lamar’s “DUCKWORTH.” tells the true story of the intersection between Kendrick’s father, Kenny Duckworth, and TDE founder Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith and how the Top planned on robbing and possibly killing Kenny while he was working at a fast-food restaurant. Thanks to Kenny’s sign of respect by giving street figures like Top Dawg free food, it changed things. When working on the record K-Dot told 9th Wonder that “it closes the album together and brings it to a finale, people are going to be hitting you like crazy when we drop this.”
Among 9th Wonder’s Soul Council production team, the reaction to the song was immediate. “My man Khrysis who has been a long time compadre, brother, friend of mine, producer-in-arms said, ‘Man are you listening to what he’s saying?” Continuing the story, 9th then shares a surprising detail, “So we finally listened to what he said, and I’m like yo. The original name of the song was ‘Life Is Like A Box Of Chicken,’ which is crazy.”
The Rap Radar Podcast also includes debate over JAY-Z’s classic albums (following Jay’s own weigh-in with the podcast), information on the 44 Tuff Gong labeled vinyl 45’s of “Bam,” and Guru’s belief that streaming revenue should be tiered to a particular artist’s reach.
It’s been a busy time for 9th Wonder’s Jamla Records roster. Rapsody’s Laila’s Wisdom is nominated for “Best Rap Album” at next month’s Grammy Awards. While Reuben Vincent and GQ also dropped acclaimed albums over the last few months with Myers Park and E 14th, respectively.
#BonusBeat: Recently, Kendrick Lamar confirmed the Ambrosia For Heads DAMN as two-albums-in-one theory. It was covered for LAST 7: