Hip-hop scholar drops knowledge at Wake

Hip-hop scholar drops knowledge at Wake
September 24
00:00 2014
(pictured above:  Winston-Salem’s own Patrick Douthit, aka 9th Wonder, gives a lecture at Wake Forest University last week.)

Patrick Douthit, aka 9th Wonder, offered locals a taste of what it was like to teach hip-hop at Ivy League Harvard University.

An image from “The Hip-Hop Fellow.”

An image from “The Hip-Hop Fellow.”

The Winston-Salem native returned home on Sept. 12 to lecture and screen “The Hip-Hop Fellow,” a documentary about the time he spent teaching at Harvard in 2012. Filmmaker Kenneth Price was also on hand. “The Hip-Hop Fellow” – Douthit’s actual title at Harvard – is Price’s second film about 9th Wonder. His first, the 2011 feature-length documentary “The Wonder Year,” let viewers “see what makes (Douthit) tick and what his world is like.”

Photo by Todd Luck Patrick Douthit with filmmaker Kenneth Price.

Patrick Douthit with filmmaker Kenneth Price.

“He was just a real dynamic renaissance man, and I’ve always been a fan of his music,” Price said.
It was during a screening of “The Wonder Year” at Harvard that Douthit was approached to be the Hip-Hop Archive and Research Fellow, a position with Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Studies. The Institute is headed by Henry Louis Gates Jr., whom Douthit described as “probably one of the greatest intellectuals of our time.”

Douthit has taught at Duke and is now teaching “Hip-Hop in Context” and leading the Hip-Hop Institute at N.C. Central, a university he attended. He said college students are the same everywhere, but some things set Harvard students apart.

“The thing about Harvard is it’s the mecca of thinking. It is arguably one of the number one places on the planet to learn,” he said, “…. It’s the number one place on the planet to create a job. Most people go to school to get a job; Harvard students go to school to create a new job or to be the CEO of the job.”

After graduating from Glenn High School, Douthit headed to NCCU with the intentions of studying to become a history teacher. His love for hip-hop led him to leave college early and devote himself to music. He became the producer of the group Little Brother, which gained him critical acclaim for its 2003 debut release “The Listening.”  This led to him working with some of the biggest names in the business, including Jay-Z, Destiny’s Child and Mary J. Blige, whose “The Breakthrough” disc won him a Grammy.

Though Douthit never received his college degree, he has become an academic authority on the subject of hip-hop. At Wake, before the screening of “Hip-Hop Fellow,” Douthit gave a lecture about hip-hop culture that he had given in front of Gates and others at Harvard.

He took the audience on a journey through the musical roots of hip-hop, including its evolution from urban music to an international phenomenon.

He recalled what his parents listened to (gospel and Motown) and his own discovery of funk music. The 39-year-old explained to an audience many years his junior about cassette tapes and watching the revolutionary “Yo! MTV Raps.” Those who missed the show, he said, would be out of the loop the next day at school.

DSC_0024“If you missed it, you missed it,” he said.

From the Sugar Hill Gang to Run DMC, Douthit used pictures and audio samples to illustrate the history of hip-hop. Sometimes, he said, hip-hop taught him history. Public Enemy, for example, exposed him to Minister Louis Farrakhan, historian Carter G. Woodson and activist Fannie Lou Hamer.

“Chuck D was the best black history teacher I ever had,” he said. “Public Enemy was using the coded messages of hip-hop to teach a generation.”

He said that hip-hop is as deep and complex as any type of music and that being a hip-hop artist isn’t about the way one walks or dresses or about guns, money and girls. It’s about knowledge, he said, and knowing the music. The true greats of the genre like the late Tupac Shakur knew that, he said.

 WFU’s Interim Director  Office of  Multicultural Affairs Wesley Harris sports a ‘The Hip-Hop Fellow’ t-shirt.

WFU’s Interim Director Office of Multicultural Affairs Wesley Harris sports a ‘The Hip-Hop Fellow’ t-shirt.

Wesley Harris is the interim director of Wake’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, which was one of the program’s sponsors. He said Douthit’s visit highlighted the rich depth of hip-hop and why the genre is worthy of academic study.

“A lot of the time, folks don’t give music and arts credit for being founded and grounded in academia, but you can’t rap, you can’t make music, without the foundation,” he said.

For more information on the “The Hip-Hop Fellow,” which is currently being screened at film festivals across the nation and in South Africa, go to

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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