Hip-hop has made its way into the academy and is increasingly becoming accepted as a legitimate field of inquiry, with many top universities around the country offering classes in hip-hop studies, exploring not only hip-hop as a musical genre but also the history and role of hip-hop culture in society—creating a bridge that connects the past to the present.
As Duke University professor Mark Anthony Neal explains, “What hip-hop studies shows is that working-class kids, kids coming out of abject poverty, are thinking critically about the world that they live in.”
It’s in that context that Patrick Douthit, better known as 9th Wonder, has been working to preserve 40 years of hip-hop history by teaching students to critically consider how this rich and complex culture is translated into the universal language of music. And 9th Wonder’s classes—both at Duke and Harvard University—are filled to capacity with students who are eager to immerse themselves in the hip-hop tradition.
9th Wonder is a Grammy Award-winning producer who has worked with some of the most prolific artists in the music industry, including Jay Z, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, Ludacris, Lecrae, Drake, Murs, Destiny’s Child, Chris Brown and Erykah Badu. He’s also a skilled turntablist and acclaimed rapper who currently raps under the name “9thmatic.” He was previously part of the Durham, N.C.-based group Little Brother, rapping alongside Phonte and Big Pooh from 2001 to 2010.
In recent years, 9th Wonder has added the titles of hip-hop scholar and college professor to his list of credentials. After 9th Wonder was appointed artist in residence at North Carolina Central University in 2007, where he taught a “History of Hip-Hop” course, a chance encounter with Neal led to their first collaborative effort, teaching a “Sampling Soul” class at Duke in 2010.
In 2012, 9th Wonder was awarded a yearlong fellowship to assemble a hip-hop archive at Harvard, where he also taught “The Standards of Hip-Hop” and conducted research for his thesis, exploring hip-hop’s culture, history and place in academia. His year as a Harvard fellow is chronicled in director Kenneth Price’s new feature-length documentary film, The Hip-Hop Fellow, which will premiere Saturday, April 5, at the 2014 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham. It’s a follow-up to Price’s 2012 9th Wonder documentary, The Wonder Year.
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