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Hip-hop goes to school

Rapper 9th Wonder addresses University students about history, future of hip-hop

In 1968, a Jamaican man named Clive Campbell saw the song "The Big Payback" performed live by James Brown. Working as a DJ five years later, he played the same song at parties, except he repeated one 15-second section - the break, as it would become known - "over and over."

DJ Kool Herc was that man, and he later would be credited as the creator of hip-hop. Nearly 40 years later, Grammy Award-winning producer 9th Wonder is still preaching his gospel.

9th Wonder, born Patrick Douthit, visited the University Tuesday night to share that story in a lecture sponsored by the Student Hip Hop Organization. 9th has served as the Artist-in-Residence at North Carolina Central University since 2007, and in 2010 he became an adjunct professor at Duke University. His foray into academia follows his very successful career; 9th has produced for legends of hip-hop and R&B such as Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, Destiny's Child and Jay-Z.

In a way, his acceptance at academic institutions resonates as the next logical step for the development of hip-hop. On Tuesday night, he spoke to a packed Nau Hall about the need for hip-hop to be institutionalized in academia like other genres of popular music so that younger generations would realize its rich history. That history has deeply intertwined with 9th Wonder's own career and style, as he is noted for his use of soul samples in his beats.

For the first 30 minutes of the lecture, his experience was clear. He covered the genesis of hip-hop and surveyed the soul era of the 60s and 70s to demonstrate the importance of that period to the contemporary hip-hop movement. For example, he discussed how his discovery of soul tracks such as the 1975 song "Fallin' in Love" by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds - which is sampled in the Drake hit "Best I Ever Had" - was a revelatory experience akin to "finding out Santa Claus isn't real," he said.

Although it made sense that 9th Wonder was a well versed hip-hop historian, his support for the institutionalization of his genre was somewhat surprising. He discussed the boundaries of hip-hop, often referring nostalgically to the golden age of the early 90s. But he still spoke with enthusiasm about many new artists such as Big K.R.I.T. and Jay Electronica, making his academic involvement seem more of a reaction to the Waka Flaka Flames of hip-hop rather than a critical response to the derivative sound that has characterized recent mainstream hits.\n"There's only a few of us [in the hip-hop community] who will stand up and say what we mean," he explained, "because the rest us are afraid of getting black balled."

His statement reflects how commercially driven hip-hop remains. The major labels still hold the power, and only a select few, well-established artists such as himself have the liberty to speak freely. But the fact that the auditorium stayed full for the almost three hours that 9th Wonder spoke, and that he can be a professor at an university as prestigious as Duke, shows that the hip-hop movement is moving toward a future that will continue to resist the boundaries of the genre. It also serves as a testament to the necessity of hip-hop representation at higher levels of education as a vehicle toward its posterity.

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