Grammy award-winning producer. Hip-hop fellow at Harvard University. Adjunct Professor at Duke University. National Ambassador For Hip-Hop Relations and Culture for the NAACP. DJ. President, founder and CEO of It’s a Wonderful World Music Group. And he still has time to make twenty five beats a week? Introducing, the 9th Wonder of the world.
Patrick Douthit, known as 9th Wonder, came to the College on the evening of Aug. 6 to give a presentation on the evolution of hip-hop music as well as the cultural and social changes brought out by the genre. The guest lecture was put on by the school’s African American Studies Department, but not by any coincidence. Douthit grew up and attended middle school through high school with CofC assistant professor of African American Studies, Anthony Greene. The presentation was full of little quips and anecdotes between the two, like memories of nostalgic songs and crate-digging for records. In the reception before the presentation, Douthit said, “What Greene will tell you is, as soon as the Sony Walkman was invented, I had a pair on all the time.”
While waiting for the program to start, I took a glance around the room to see students drumming on tables with pencils, listening to headphones attached to computer screens and planning out questions to ask the musical legend. Douthit attracted a crowd of doers, who were obviously inspired by Douthit’s escalation to success. In the middle of the presentation, when Douthit asked how many people considered themselves to be producers or DJs themselves, the majority of the crowd raised their hands. These kids wanted to learn from the best.
Douthit recalled always having been attracted to music. By the time he was in 7th grade, Douthit had learned to play seven different instruments. In the beginning of his presentation, he talked about the influence of Motown artists such as Sam Cook (as Douthit calls him, “my mom’s version of Trey Songz”) on Douthit’s journey to finding his own type of music. Douthit dabbled in different artists and genres while being influenced by some of what his parents or brother would play around the house, but, “there’s nothing like the day you found your very own music.” That very first record, tape, album or playlist on iTunes that you took as your own and connected with on a different level. The responses from the audience varied from Ella Fitzgerald to hip-hop artists I’ve never even heard of. Douthit’s own? Afrika Bambaataa. But that was just the beginning.
Throughout the presentation, Douthit unfurled his own story through the history of hip hop. His life is intertwined with that of the hip-hop culture. Hip-hop, in Douthit’s perspective, is far more than a music genre. Music not only inspired him, but it educated him. Douthit said, “If the teacher didn’t teach you anything, and if you didn’t want to talk to your mom and dad, you could at least learn from a hip-hop record.”
Douthit’s “wormhole” into the music industry came about when he heard a song that sampled music from the year he was born and current music. Crate digging became a ritual for Douthit and he used his findings to fuse music together to make the “texture” of his songs. Finally, Douthit got his break. Hip hop artist Jay-Z picked up on what Douthit was producing and collaborated with him on the song “Threat” from Jay-Z’s The Black Album. Douthit said he had been working hard for so long before he was noticed by Jay-Z, and the song was actually the 1200th beat that he had ever made.
As we all know, Jay-Z and Beyonce (the Queen herself) are somewhat of a package deal. So after Douthit got onto Jay-Z’s album, he worked with Destiny’s Child, and following that came his work with Mary J. Blige on her The Breakthrough album, which went on to win three Grammys. Douthit currently praises the work of Kendrick Lamar for his words and intelligence. “He’s going about it the right way,” Douthit said. “His music always means something.”
Douthit’s success expands beyond his music production, as he currently holds a three-year fellowship at Harvard University teaching about hip hop culture. As you might assume, Douthit’s class is in high demand. Not only does he teach at Harvard, but he is also an adjunct professor at Duke. Looking back on a pivotal moment in his career, Douthit remembers dropping out of college with 16 credit hours left to pursue his dream. Now, Douthit says, “I don’t have a degree and I teach at Duke and Harvard—and I did not see that coming. Go for your passion or your dream.” (As a side note to that, Douthit made sure to add, “if you don’t know what you want to do, stay in school…because when you get out, the bills don’t stop.”)
Contrary to his self-professed stage name, 9th Wonder, Douthit is extremely humbled by the life he has led so far. He thinks back to when he was selling beats for fifty dollars each, and “if you had eighty bucks, I might have even given you two of those things depending on how hungry I was at the time.” Douthit continues to produce music as well as establish himself as a social activist.
And on being a distinguished staff member at an ivy league university? “You oughta see the looks I get when I sit in first class in a Harvard sweatshirt and Jordans.”