Patrick Douthit, the Grammy Award-winning hip-hip producer known as 9th Wonder, will teach a class on “Hip-Hop in Context” at N.C. Central University this fall, which will also launch the university’s Hip-Hop Institute.
NCCU formally announced the move at a news conference Monday on campus. NCCU Chancellor Debra Saunders-White said the university is embarking on a new era in its academic offerings. The Hip-Hop Institute is the beginning of an interdisciplinary program, she said, based in the history department.
Jim Harper, chairman of the NCCU history department, said the department is proud to house the Hip-Hop Institute and will also be working with the mass communication and music departments.
“It’s funny how things come full circle,” 9th Wonder said. He, Harper, and NCCU Men’s Basketball Coach LeVelle Moton were all in history class together in the mid-1990s at NCCU. This is also where 9th started his academic journey teaching, he said.
His mother and father were his teachers, but so was hip-hop artist Chuck D. Originally from Winston-Salem, 9th attended NCCU, but didn’t graduate, instead following his hip-hop career. He has worked with a large range of artists, including Mary J. Blige, Jay Z, Murs and Drake. He started the group Little Brother while a student in Durham along with Rapper Big Pooh and Phonte. He came back to NCCU the first time as an adjunct professor from 2006-09, also teaching “Hip-Hop in Context.” He then went on to teach at Duke University and at Harvard University. A documentary about 9th Wonder’s year as a Harvard University fellow, “The Hip-Hop Fellow,” premiered April 5 during the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham. While there in 2012, he worked with professors Henry Louis Gates and Marcyliena Morgan, who heads the Hip-Hop Archive at Harvard.
9th Wonder said Monday that if the Hip-Hop Institute was going to start anywhere, it needed to start at NCCU.
“I found my favorite albums while here on campus,” he said. Those include Nas’ “Illmatic” and Outkast’s debut album, both of which were released 20 years ago this month. It’s funny to say hip-hop albums are classic, said 9th Wonder, who is 39 years old. The 20th anniversary of those albums’ release is another example of things coming full circle, he said.
Saunders-White said that the institute is a way to engage students where they are.
“You cannot deny the impact of hip-hop culture,” she said, and it’s their responsibility at NCCU to engage students. She hopes the institute will be another way to graduate more students, and she is looking forward to developing the curriculum. Hip-hop is not a fad, and the university is making a major investment, Saunders-White said.
9th Wonder’s class this fall will be a large introduction class with more than 100 students. Future classes will be smaller seminars, he said.
Harper said they’ll first build a curriculum for a concentration crossing the history, mass communication and music departments, and perhaps business and technology, too. “The power of hip-hop is global,” he said. The course will launch by the end of the week. Saunders-White said that if demand grows, it’ll move from a concentration to a full-fledged major.
9th Wonder said he’ll continue producing, as making beats is his foundation, he said. He has a recording studio in Raleigh.
Harper remembers being undergrads with Moton and 9th. They took a class together called “The Black Experience since 1865,” taught by Glen Harris, who now teaches at UNC-Wilmington. Moton carried a basketball everywhere back then, and 9th was always making beats, Harper said. Harper spent his time in the history department, which he now leads. Harper said their success is what Saunders-White is talking about when she says “Eagle excellence.”
9th said that he and Harper are building the hip-hop curriculum now.
“We’re not just instructors, we’re children of hip-hop, around to make sure it’s taught the right way,” 9th said.
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