Students at Wake Forest University will return to campus this month with a unique course offered by a Grammy Award-winning professor: producer, DJ, lecturer, and Winston-Salem native 9th Wonder. He's produced songs for the likes of Drake, J. Cole, Mary J. Blige, and dozens of other artists. He sits on the Kennedy Center Hip Hop Culture Council and now will teach the history and culture of the genre.

9th Wonder recently spoke with WFDD's David Ford about the major early influences in life and his lifelong connection with the Tar Heel state.

Interview Highlights

On judging character: 

My mom, she was the people person in my family, right? She was a kindergarten assistant in the Winston-Salem Forsyth County School system. She retired three years ago, but she taught for 46 years. So I had a chance to see firsthand how she dealt with multiple personalities, you know, whether it be students, teachers. I had a chance to go to the same elementary school that my mom taught, which is Union Cross Elementary School in Kernersville, North Carolina, and I got a chance to see how she dealt with her coworkers, which to be honest, taught me a lot about, like I said, to deal with people, and taught me a lot about race early on. I learned that people are people. You have good people, you have bad people, no matter the color. I learned that very, very, very early from her. And I think that was the biggest thing that influenced me for the rest of my life, especially in the matters in the time that we live now, to judge people for who they are. 

On the importance of peers:

The second person that that influenced me, in my high school years ... was a man by the name of Dr. Ernest Wade. And Dr. Wade was the director of Minority Affairs at Wake Forest University. And he was the person who I had to go sit in front of to interview to be in a program at Wake Forest University called "Project Ensure." And that started in the summer of 1989, when I was an eighth-grader going into the ninth grade, and I attended this program every summer. For three weeks I spent there with 60 other African American students, my age, my thought process, different social and economic strata, but I finally got a chance to be around — not to say that I wasn't before, but in multitude — got a chance to be around a bunch of smart Black kids. And that really changed me. It changed me in a way because Wake Forest was a predominantly white institution. But within that was a bunch of Black kids learning about Black history and Black life and Black society that prepared me for the world pretty much. And to live in a space where I can be who I authentically want to be, even though if I'm looked at as being outnumbered. And that's huge for me at age 14. 

On the power of hip-hop:

And the third thing that probably influenced me the most was not a person. It was a thing. And that was hip-hop. I learned to find out what I needed from it. And that means the information I wanted to take from the music I took. The information I felt like I heard it wasn't for me. I didn't take. Luckily for me at that particular time I was lucky enough to be born at a time where the information that came from hip-hop was a multitude of positivity and a multitude of information and knowledge. You know, you talk about Kendrick Lamar. We had in year 1989, we had about 30 Kendrick Lamars, you know, on radio, on video that I can pull something from and learn something that was positive, or that was constructive or was instruction. Right? And so those are the things I think my mom, Dr. Wade, hip-hop and my peer group was my biggest influences.

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