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By Patrick Douthit aka 9th Wonder | With thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Monday, January 13, 2014.

As far as music consumption prior to 1996, music fans were pretty much on the same page as far as who we were listening to, where to find them, and how to support them.  From R&B to Hip-Hop, we could all sit around and turn each other on to what was dope, hot, exciting, etc., without being so behind, or "lost in the sauce".

Enter the summer of 1996.  There was an alternate reality for a small portion of us, if you will, created RIGHT under our noses.  This particular alternate reality was called, "The Underground." There were two albums that created the reality and alternate reality for all of us that loved, revered, respected, and consumed hip-hop on a daily basis;  Nas’s It Was Written and De La Soul's Stakes is High.

For the most part, especially throughout the college communities of the South and East Coast, a majority of hip-hop fans bought either one, the other....or BOTH.   For the ones who bought Nas's It Was Written with the single "If I Ruled the World" ft. Lauryn Hill, this album was mainstream enough, played in the clubs, and still had the credibility to be seen as a "Hip-Hop" album.  

De La Soul's Stakes Is High and even their previous album Buhloone Mind State, was the gateway to the alternate reality to the other side of the Matrix.  On De La Soul's Stakes Is High, a budding emcee by the name of Mos Def and a young producer by the name of Jay Dee (Dilla) were showcased, but not with the same exposure as It Was Written.   

While It Was Written kept our Hip-Hop needs on the forefront, Stakes Is High led a lot of us follow Mos Def, and Jay Dee to a place where, although the quality of music was top notch and competitive, it wasn't receiving the same coverage and radio airplay as it's counterparts.  In turn, to follow the music that was similar to the Mos Def’s, De La's, Jay Dee's, and the like, you had to seek the music in other ways, mainly the internet.

Enter 1997.  By this time, an influx of No Limit Records was invading the airways.  I found myself being very frustrated with not being able to hear the music on the radio that I loved.

One of my best friends and college buddies Michael Burvick was sitting downstairs in the computer lab in North Hall at NC State University, clicking through an internet site called HipHopSite.com.    "Come check this out" Burvick said, "It's a bunch of dope shit on here we can order...and check this group out right here that Questlove is talking about called Slum Village." This is where the wormhole started.  

That wormhole lead us to so much R&B and Hip-Hop that we longed for, without giving an iota about what the radio was playing.  Sites like HipHopSite, SandboxAutomatic, and a ton of other sites is where between 1996-2000, I first heard Slum, Dwele, Talib, MF DOOM, MadLib, Goapele, Ledisi, and tons of other people that a lot of music fans hardly got a chance to hear because they don't have the money, nor the resources to reach that "Mainstream Reality" that Nas, Jay Z, and only a few artists have lived in for years.   

That was a turning point for me.  I started to notice that folk my age was pretty much on the same page as far as knowing about artists...all the way up to about 1996-1997, and I never understood why until recently.  I don't believe that it has anything to do with my love for music, it has everything to do with the accessibility of music, where to find it, knowing where to look, and the like.   Some of us back in the 1996-1997 walked through that alternate reality door...and just never looked back.  

A lot of  us just walked through that door last week, and find worlds of music they've missed out on for the past 15 years, which can be exciting, but at the same time, overwhelming.  Due to the many ways to receive music, it can be very overwhelming and almost sensory overload (I find this out when someone goes on youtube or google and types in "9th Wonder"...).  It's almost as if now instead of just watching "The Pros," we all have to pay attention to the "Minor Leagues" as well.  

Seven-time Grammy Award nominee Kendrick Lamar lived in the minor leagues for nine-and-a-half years before he made the Pros....a lot of us missed out on tons of great music.

Music is out here people.  It's like the Matrix; it's the blue pill or the red pill...


Born Patrick Denard Douthit in Winston-Salem, NC, 9th Wonder is a Grammy Award Winning Producer, DJ, College Lecturer, and Social Activist. 9th Wonder is the president, founder and CEO of It's a Wonderful World Music Group, which includes Jamla Records.  The documentary The Hip-Hop Fellow (dir. Kenneth Price), which documents Douthit's tenure as a Fellow at Harvard's HipHop Archive, will be released this spring.

The Red Pill & The Blue Pill: The Summer of 1996—Hip-Hop 's Big Bang Theory

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