FULL FRAME: ‘The Hip-Hop Fellow’ about 9th Wonder at Harvard
“The Hip-Hop Fellow” premiered in a packed Fletcher Hall at the Carolina Theatre Saturday morning during the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in downtown Durham.
It’s the second film by Kenneth Price about hip-hop producer 9th Wonder, known first to North Carolina before he went on to stardom. “The Hip-Hop Fellow” depicts 9th Wonder’s year-long fellowship at Harvard University.
9th Wonder, whose real name is Patrick Douthit, grew up in Winston-Salem and studied at N.C. Central University in Durham, where he formed the group Little Brother along with Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh.
9th Wonder, 39, went to NCCU with a plan to graduate and teach history, but his music career took off. His education came full circle and then some, as he became an artist in residence at NCCU in 2006, visiting professor at Duke University in 2009 and Harvard fellow in 2012.
He now lives in the Triangle and has a recording studio in downtown Raleigh. 9th Wonder has worked with Jay Z, Mary J. Blige and Drake. He released three albums with Murs. He is a Grammy Award-winning producer.
During Full Frame, 9th recognized his family first during the question-and-answer session, asking his parents, brother, wife, daughters and friends in the audience to stand. 9th credited his brother Charles Douthit with introducing him to 70s funk.
Filmmaker Price was a grad student at UNC Greensboro when he approached 9th Wonder to film “The Wonder Year,” following him around in his life as a hip-hop producer as well as professor at Duke.
“The Hip-Hop Fellow” came about after Harvard professor and head of the university’s Hip-Hop Archive Marcyliena Morgan saw “The Wonder Year” and offered the fellowship at Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute.
North Carolinian viewers of “The Hip-Hop Fellow” will appreciate footage of NCCU, Duke and 9th’s old high school in Kernersville. He gives a lot of credit for his music education to teachers from his youth, as well as Harvard professors Morgan and Henry Louis Gates.
His cohorts from Little Brother also are interviewed in “The Hip-Hop Fellow” along with experts in the field, including recording artist Kendrick Lamar.
“The Hip-Hop Fellow” films 9th Wonder in class as they determine 10 classic works of hip-hop, as well as chronicling his work as a producer. 9th Wonder notes in the new film that a hip-hop producer differs from other producers.
“It’s so hands-on, it’s me, I made the beat,” he said. Sampling is a way of creating a bridge from a new generation to an older generation, 9th says in the film, and is a new way of introducing music.
Gates explains sampling as the literary concept of intertextuality. For Little Brother’s “The Minstrel Show,” the group wrote letters to the artists they sampled. Those artists want respect, 9th Wonder said.
The 10 hip-hop classics include Nas’ “Illmatic,” Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic,” Jay Z’s “Blueprint” and “Midnight Marauders” by A Tribe Called Quest. “Midnight Marauders,” is in 9th Wonder’s top five hip-hop albums ever, he said.
“You can’t call yourself hip-hop without having ‘Illmatic’ in your collection,” 9th says in the film.
During the Q&A, 9th Wonder’s advice for parents educating their children about hip-hop was to give them a moral foundation and teach first who to worship and what to worship. Then just play the music and say nothing.
“Let them ask the questions. If you tell them, ‘you need to hear this,’ it’s over,” he said.
Price and 9th Wonder will spend the next year getting “The Hip-Hop Fellow” out to audiences at academic screenings and film festivals.
Full Frame ends on Sunday, with announcements of winning films.