Behind the Beat: How Kendrick Lamar’s “DUCKWORTH.” Grew to become ninth Marvel’s “Magnum Opus”

Having impressed generation-after-generation of bed room beatmakers to cut up soul samples with Fruity Loops software program, North Carolina’s ninth Marvel (actual title Patrick Denard Douthit) is that uncommon determine who has genuinely reinvented the artwork type of rap manufacturing.

His beats are inclined to marry uncooked, air-popping drums — which sound like they’re being beatboxed via moist lips — with craving howls from outdated gospel data. And over time the outcomes from this musical strategy have frequently been hypnotic, with ninth Marvel crafting the Weblog Period-meets-De La Soul sonics that propelled Little Brother into underground royalty; the gutter chime that impressed JAY-Z to threaten “to place the boy within the field like David Blaine;” a daring mash-up of a Nas album by way of God’s Stepson; and even remodeling a perspicacious love music by long-forgotten Seventies R&B group The Independents right into a church confessional that allowed infamously brazen gutter rapper Sean Worth to purge a few of his demons (“I like my mothers and her drug behavior”) with “Heartburn.”

You probably have ever used a biro to scribble down aware raps onto a chunk of A4 paper you then in all probability had a dusty, soul-stirring instrumental lifted from the producer’s Zion instrumental collection guiding you within the background, whereas the ninth Marvel sound was lately immortalized when the 48-year-old from Halfway, North Carolina was given a new mural in Winston-Salem’s arts district — a uncommon honor normally solely reserved for useless males.

But regardless of a profession packed filled with milestones, there’s clearly one beat within the ninth Marvel oeuvre that the producer believes shines just a bit brighter than all the things else. “It’s my magnum opus,” he mentioned throughout a uncommon telephone interview with Okayplayer. “The very fact the music modifications thrice and has that insane plot twist on the finish? It’s extra like a film than a rap music.” A Hitchcockian thriller set in Compton, maybe? “Precisely that, sure.”

The music ninth Marvel is referring to, Kendrick Lamar’s “DUCKWORTH.,” is the gorgeous nearer of the rapper’s 2017’ Pulitzer Prize-winning album DAMN. Amid a sparse, time-hopping narrative, the West Coast storytelling mc powerfully displays on how his musical mentor Anthony “Prime Dawg” Tiffith robbed a Kentucky Fried Hen spot that his dad Kenny “Ducky” Duckworth used to work at. Had the TDE label boss really shot up this explicit drive-through, it might have set forth a totally totally different chain of occasions, the place a famous person rapper ended up as a bleak statistic and by-product of a fatherless household.

Being raised on soul

To know what led ninth Marvel onto the trail to producing the hip-hop equal of The Butterfly Impact, and an intricate beat that he believes represents his very inventive peak as a producer, you must return to the Douthit’ household Christmas celebrations of the late Seventies and early Nineteen Eighties. Certainly one of ninth Marvel’s early productions, 2002’s nostalgic “Land of Hate” by Caeser Comanche, evokes the Jacksonville rapper to warmly replicate on a North Carolina childhood stuffed with pine cone fights and Transformers present hauls. “That’s precisely how my childhood was too,” ninth Marvel mentioned.

“I’m a ‘70s cat, so I actually appreciated the artwork of accumulating toys. Rising up into the ‘80s, all of us had Transformers, Star Wars, and GI Joe. Yearly, we’d have 30 to 40 motion figures on our Christmas lists.” Opening Optimus Prime, Boba Fett, and Megatron figures beneath the Christmas tree had been pivotal moments for the younger ninth Marvel, cementing a persona trait and compulsion to seek out rarities. And in a while, obsessively trying to find Hasbro, Mitel and Kenner toys would get replaced by the excitement of digging within the crates for area of interest soul vinyl.

Because the Nineteen Eighties progressed, North Carolina was remodeled by the Crack Period. Communities that beforehand left doorways unlocked at evening had been now lurking with concern. “There was a distinct sort of crime round,” he remembered. “You had the crime of the particular person promoting the crack, certain, however the largest crime was perhaps what occurred to the consumer. It was the primary drug that remodeled how folks seemed. All of them seemed identical to Zombies. It tore households aside greater than some other drug we had ever seen.”

Working laborious at college, after which coming again house to get misplaced in his loving household’s gospel file assortment, had been simply two of the methods ninth Marvel stored out of hassle. And when older brother Charles put ninth Marvel onto ‘70s soul artists, together with the Delfonics, Willie Hutch, Nancy Wilson, Melba Moore, Marvin Gaye, and the O’Jays, he discovered himself falling head over heels with the concept of making the same sort of therapeutic music. “Keep in mind the way in which Curtis Mayfield sounded? The soul and funk of the Seventies simply had a sure stage of ache to it. It healed you. I appreciated rap that shared that ache,” the producer mentioned. “My upbringing was rooted in old-fashioned values and methods. I spent numerous time in my bed room tinkering round on the keyboard and listening to soul and hip-hop on my Walkman.”

By 1998 these rituals had helped ninth Marvel solidify a sound that may flip the ears of classmates (and budding rappers) Huge Pooh and Phonte, who had been two fellow college students at North Carolina Central College. The three would subsequently kind Little Brother, and in 2001 they launched their first single “Speed,” the place ninth Marvel makes an attempt to find a hidden serenity throughout the darkish corridors of a hissing increase bap beat. Utilizing FL Studio to provide this observe, he mentioned, was purely out of necessity. “I couldn’t afford to exit and spend $3,000 on an MPC. Fruity Loops was all I might afford,” ninth mentioned. “It was extra for Home and EDM producers, however I discovered a means to make use of FL to cut up soul and funk samples. I made it work for me.”

The music’s message of slowing down amid a “capitalist onslaught” was utterly at odds with the explosive beliefs of the dominant gangsta rap and crunk sounds on the time. But for individuals who felt just like the rap on the radio was too targeted round anarchy and narcissism, Little Brother’s inward-looking lyrics (“Attempting to choose up a test I solely see 20 p.c of”) made it really feel like hip-hop was speaking on to the everyman as soon as once more. “Little Brother was about making the music that all of us missed,” ninth Marvel mentioned. “Lil Jon and the Eastside Boys had been dominating the radio. Money Cash too. It was like, what can we do that’s new?”

The group rapidly received a cult fan base due to quotable raps that couldn’t determine whether or not they needed to look at generational ache or crack soiled jokes, with “Get them so moist they make a Freudian slip” the hilarious Phonte punchline that lit up the unfastened strings and new swing bounce of “Whatever You Say.” But when their debut album, The Listening, turned heads, it was the follow-up, The Minstrel Present, that actually established Little Brother as native heroes.

“Making music for the remaining 21 hours of the day.”

Little Brother members Phonte, 9th Wonder and Big Pooh attend their "The Minstrel Show" album listening party at Studio Dante August 03, 2005 in New York CityLittle Brother members Phonte, ninth Marvel and Huge Pooh attend their “The Minstrel Present” album listening social gathering at Studio Dante August 03, 2005 in New York MetropolisPicture by Ray Tamarra/Getty Photographs.

Launched on Atlantic Information, 2005’s The Minstrel Present stays a daring assertion even at present; a serious label idea album that brazenly mocked the way in which A&R executives exploited Blackness and compelled Black artists to parade their demons in entrance of cheering, unempathetic white audiences. “I keep in mind the label undoubtedly didn’t just like the title of that album,” ninth Marvel mentioned. “I don’t assume we cared. We did the music we needed to do; it doesn’t matter what the folks within the fits thought of it.”

It was little shock when Little Brother had been dropped by Atlantic, who merely had no thought easy methods to market their anti-commercial sound to the plenty. Though Phonte and Pooh carried on efficiently as an impartial duo, ninth Marvel parted methods and utilized Little Brother’s crucial acclaim to department out to problem himself extra artistically. This determination resulted in classic ninth Marvel beats for artists as numerous as Buckshot and Jean Grae to Memphis Bleek and Lloyd Banks, and when the pioneering Masta Ace rapped the phrases “That is how hip hop is meant to sound” on the ninth Marvel-produced “Good Ol’ Love”, it mirrored simply how extremely his pristine, solemn soul loops had been valued by the broader rap group. If you heard chipmunk soul samples in rap within the 2000s and past, ninth was each bit as accountable as Kanye West or the Heatmakerz for this development.

Refreshingly, ninth Marvel displayed a transparent starvation to step exterior of his underground rap consolation zone, working with Erykah Badu to show Area Invaders synths into Blaxploitation disco on “Honey” and even creating magic with Future’s Little one. In actual fact, his beat for Future’s Little one “Girl” impressed considered one of Beyonce’s most empathetic ever vocal performances, flipping a Dramatics’ song about crying whereas looking to the ocean into one of the iconic R&B songs of the 2000s.

“Some folks make music for the three hours within the membership, however I’m making music for the remaining 21 hours of the day,” ninth Marvel mentioned. “The trip to work, the trip house, the elevating of kids, chilling in the home, to scrub as much as, to cry to, to eat to: I lean extra onto the life music aspect. Anytime somebody will get within the studio with me, properly, they know they’ve acquired to dig a little bit deeper. I’ve heard so many instances that my beats have a ‘deeper really feel’ that brings up a hidden reality or pushes an artist to say one thing new. Possibly it had that impression [on Beyoncé].”

The last word goal, in keeping with ninth Marvel, is to attempt to use rap & R&B manufacturing to emulate an virtually spiritual expertise. “I imagine there are specific moments in hip hop which can be non secular,” he mentioned. “Identical to the horn break on “T.R.O.Y” by Pete Rock and CL Easy. That’s all the time what I’m aiming for.”

Connecting with Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar was actually somebody who had been paying shut consideration to this hard-fought ninth Marvel’ journey. ninth Marvel first met him in Los Angeles on the Paid Dues pageant in 2010, the place the budding MC instructed the North Carolina producer how he used to freestyle over his beats. It was the beginning of a mutual respect and friendship, which might progress to a deeper stage when Kendrick confirmed as much as file “Rock The Bells” with ninth Marvel’s artist Rapsody again in 2011. Though the Compton artist hadn’t but dropped his celebrated 2012 main label debut, good child, m.A.A.d metropolis, ninth Marvel already sensed one thing particular was rising.

Part.80 was bringing again a sound I hadn’t heard for a very long time,” ninth mentioned. “Kendrick’s model of storytelling was a direct descendent of Nas, [The Notorious B.I.G.], Rakim, and KRS-One. In the event you’ve heard these guys earlier than, you then knew what Kendrick was doing wasn’t new. It’s simply Kendrick was doing it at a time the place it wasn’t so fashionable anymore. He was rekindling one thing that we had misplaced and wanted to come back again.” This three-dimensional storytelling arguably reached new heights on 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly, the place Kendrick used the explosive spontaneity of jazz to have a conversation with God and in addition weigh up the advantages of a violent, Nat Turner-esque riot.

By studio album quantity three, DAMN., ninth Marvel had managed to get a beat tape CD over to Kendrick Lamar, crossing his fingers that one thing can be used. When he heard again from Kendrick’s label, TDE, about needing to clear three samples, ninth Marvel was shocked but additionally elated. “I’m like wow, shit, I’ve three beats on the brand new Kendrick Lamar album!?” he mentioned. “Then they mentioned, ‘no — now we have turned three of your beats into one music that repeatedly modifications.’ It was undoubtedly complicated at first.” But when ninth Marvel heard the completed end result, he knew this experimentation had resulted in one thing actually magical.

“DUCKWORTH.” begins out with a pattern of Ted Taylor’s “Be Ever Wonderful,” a beautiful waltz of a soul music constructed round a purring vibraphone and vocals that merely caress you. Earlier than lengthy, ninth Marvel brings within the haunting cries of Nia Palm, the lead singer of Hiatus Kaiyote, for a sample that hits just like the ghost of Minnie Riperton singing a whistle register vocal via a distant wind. Lastly, the beat takes on the misplaced harmonies of Slovenian and Yugoslav rock band September — who sound just like the Jap European equal of Golden period Seashore Boys. All through, there additionally splashes of drums lifted from The Fatback Band’s “Let The Drums Converse,” which appear to hold the ahead momentum of clapping ft at a civil arts march.

On paper, these are all samples taken from utterly totally different eras and genres, however this determination suits completely with ninth’s love for monitoring down area of interest samples and Kendrick’s story and the way it performs round loosely with the idea of time. “So far as a rap beat switching up thrice, the primary time I heard that earlier than was on Gang Starr’s [‘I’m the Man‘ off of Daily Operation],” ninth Marvel mentioned. “The second time was on one other Gang Starr music known as ‘Speak Ya Clout.’ I really did a beat with three acts to it with Murs’ ‘Walk Like A Man,’ however I most popular the contrasts to the ‘DUCKWORTH.’ beat. It runs precisely like a three-act film.”

At instances on “DUCKWORTH.” it appears like Kendrick is studying poetry straight out of a crystal ball, at others it’s extra like he’s barking curses at a black sky. Bringing the listener instantly into his household tree via his trademark hyper-animated vocal supply, Kendrick pays tribute to how dad, Ducky, hustled on the aspect of his 9-to-5 serving three-piece specials. His father’s story is juxtaposed with the quick rise of Prime Dawg, who was one of many first on his block to drive a two-tone Ford Mustang and turn out to be a millionaire via hustling.

By bringing these two totally different characters collectively, Kendrick exhibits the duality of dwelling within the interior metropolis, and the way behind each fast-rising, jewelry-flashing hustler, there’s a blue collar employee enjoying it straight for groceries and doing all the things they’ll to set a accountable instance for his or her son. Kendrick ponders what might need occurred had this pair’s KFC showdown ended otherwise and he was raised with out such a supportive father. “Whoever thought the best rapper can be from coincidence?,” he spits. “As a result of if Anthony killed Ducky, Prime Dawg could possibly be servin’ life / Whereas I grew up with out a father and die in a gunfight.”

“You by no means would have thought by him beginning that story, it could finish that means,” ninth mentioned. “Most rappers solely speak about aspirational issues or what’s sat proper in entrance of them, however Kendrick raps about how his previous impacts the fitting now. Kendrick is aware of easy methods to take the issues he’s been via, apply it to the current, after which determine a method to transfer ahead. Lots of rappers spit about fatherless properties, however Kendrick talks about having a supportive father. He’s extra like a documentarian overlaying the entire social strata. A documentarian. Artistically, that’s the actual fantastic thing about Kendrick Lamar.”

It’s laborious to disagree with this forensic evaluation of “DUCKWORTH.,” particularly when it comes from a revered beatmaker who has labored with everybody from Kanye West to 2 Chainz to Mac Miller to Nipsey Hussle up shut in a studio. Nonetheless, essentially the most mind-bending second of DAMN., an album that rubber-stamped Kendrick’s standing as a mainstream star, would even be nothing with out ninth Marvel’s non-linear, three-act beat. It carries a glory and unhappiness that aligns completely with sardonic lyrics (“Life is one humorous ma’fucker / a real comic”) from Kendrick, which analyze how even when Black Individuals are flying excessive, they’re nonetheless solely ever just a few steps away from falling via a entice door.

Surviving 20 years within the business

9th Wonder wearing a black hoodie, sitting down staring at the camera.ninth Marvel.Picture courtesy of ninth Marvel.

Now a middle-aged educational instructing a category on hip-hop historical past at his outdated college, ninth frequently explains to his college students why “DUCKWORTH.” deserves to be picked aside forensically, identical to a James Baldwin or Ralph Ellison novel is likely to be. By profitable a Putlizer prize, he believes Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. helped cement hip-hop intellectually inside Western educational circles. “That win was a foundational second,” he mentioned. “You don’t see that very same condescending perspective towards rap in academia as a lot anymore. In the event you come into my class with a unfavourable view of hip hop, you received’t go away it with one, as I’ll present you ways rap is now an integral a part of American historical past. You understand, there’s perhaps some individuals who don’t like the current type of rap after 50 years, however you’ll be able to’t count on one thing to remain the identical as soon as cash has acquired to it.”

As for ninth Marvel’s present extracurricular actions, he’s persevering with to step out of his consolation zone, with supergroup Dinner Party (which can also be comprised of Kamasi Washington, Robert Glapser, and Terrace Martin) making a post-modern jazz rap sound that explores contemporary methods to raise the black subconsciousness. This 12 months additionally noticed the discharge of the 8th part of the celebrated Zion beat tape collection. And though a Little Brother reunion isn’t in his future, ninth mentioned it doesn’t matter, as a lot of that outdated music is just simply getting found.

“For proper now, the Little Brother boat has handed for me. However the loopy factor is so many individuals nonetheless haven’t found these first two albums,” he mentioned. “You understand everybody is aware of who DMX or Snoop Dogg is, however not everybody is aware of who ninth Marvel or Little Brother are. It means we nonetheless have so many followers to make with our outdated music. Somebody would possibly take heed to a ninth Marvel music then they go down an web wormhole discovering Huge Poo solo data, the International Change, or a Buckshot music that I produced. That fixed sense of discovery is an exquisite factor.”

With over 20 years within the business and pivotal collaborations with wordsmiths that many would have completely etched onto their rap Mt. Rushmore’s, I ask ninth Marvel how he has managed to outlive such a cut-throat business. And, how he wish to be remembered past “DUCKWORTH.,” the music he considers to be the jewel in his crown.

Referencing Phonte’s bars on “The Listening,” the place he superbly rapped the road “Music is my sanctuary, so I take a protracted pay attention,” ninth Marvel concluded: “Music was all the time my sanctuary, too. You understand, I’ve been so immersed in making music and making dope songs for different artists, I assume I didn’t ever have time to consider the concept of fame.

“Keep in mind: I by no means lived anyplace else aside from North Carolina. I didn’t attempt to stay in LA or New York, so I by no means had the possibility to get into the entire rat race of fame. It’s laborious to not promote your self as a model these days, however I all the time cared extra concerning the musical legacy, to be sincere. I assume I simply wish to be remembered for making good beats; that’s it. As somebody who most popular to remain of their gap and carry on working.”


Thomas Hobbs is a contract tradition and music journalist from the UK. His work has appeared within the Guardian, VICE, Monetary Occasions, Dazed, Pitchfork, New Statesman, Little White Lies, The i and Time Out.