Erykah Badu’s “Honey” Was a Five-Year-Old 9th Wonder Fruity Loops Beat
(Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that 9th Wonder won a Grammy for “Honey”. The music video for “Honey” received a Grammy nomination but didn’t win.)
O n October 25th, 2017, 9th Wonder tweeted, “It takes a while sometimes for people to digest your art. Give them time.” This sage advice caught on quickly, getting close to 800 retweets in a matter of days.
If anyone should know the value in letting people digest art on their own timeline, it would be 9th. Most recently he saw Kendrick Lamar take three of his previously passed-on beats and roll them into one timeless classic. By exercising patience and not stressing the lack of interest from other artists, 9th wasn’t afraid to show the rejected beats to one of the most successful rappers in the game.
His willingness to trust the process paid major dividends, as “DUCKWORTH.” quickly becoming one of the most-discussed songs on DAMN. “The 3 beats for ‘DUCKWORTH.’ that Dot (Kendrick) picked was previously picked by 3 other rappers, neither of them used it,” 9th explained on Twitter. “Dot made one jam outta them.”
“It takes a while sometimes for people to digest your art. Give them time.” — 9th Wonder
For reasons we’ll likely never know, the rappers that passed on those three beats couldn’t see their obvious potential in the same way Kendrick could. Fighting for well-deserved respect and his rightful recognition as an elite producer seems to be a common thread in 9th’s career. Despite his remarkably diverse and impressive resume, 9th caught his fair share of backhanded comments and sideline shade for being a pioneer of the music production software Fruity Loops — now better known as FL Studio. Even after he earned admiration from folks like Pete Rock and Questlove when he produced the entirety of Little Brother’s The Listening (2003) and the majority of The Minstrel Show (2005), people still seemed more concerned with his means of production than his actual productivity.
This wasn’t lost on the rappers he was working with at the time, as several of them addressed it directly in songs produced by 9th. On 3:16: The 9th Edition, the first of 9th and Murs’s many collaborative efforts, Murs talks about people’s fixation with 9th’s software use in the very first song, rapping “To answer all the rumors that been shooting through your group/Yes 9th really does make these beats on Fruity Loops/But what does that matter? this is more than music.”
Similarly, Phonte of Little Brother expressed annoyance with the people picking apart 9th’s choice of drum samples on The Minstrel Show’s “Still Lives Through”, rapping “One day they giving you the thumbs up the next/They telling 9th to go on switch his drums up the best/Is what they expect, but why they won’t let the music/Just be what it is is anybody’s guess, so ah/If y’all feeling this y’all ain’t gotta analyze it/This shit is dope so we ain’t changin’ up.”
“Yes 9th really does make these beats on Fruity Loops.”
In a candid 2008 interview with XLR8R, 9th himself explained why he started using FL Studio in the first place. As he reveals to writer Jesse Serwer, it was a matter of necessity. “I’m not gonna not make music because I can’t afford an MPC,” he said. “I didn’t choose Fruity Loops to sample–that’s the only choice I had.”
Taking a it a step further, he hypothesized why he was the recipient of so much saltiness after building a sizable part of his catalog with FL Studio. In 9th’s eyes, the naysayers were envious that he was able to reach such great heights with so little. “The fact that it’s a $50 program that you download off Kazaa and I [won] a Grammy off of it fucks with some people, man,” he told XLR8R. (He won a Grammy for “Good Woman Down”, his contribution to Mary J. Blige’s 2005 Breakthrough album.)
The entire article is a must-read for 9th fans, but the most jaw-dropping moment is a revelation about his contribution to a certain R&B legend’s album. “The Erykah Badu ‘Honey’ joint is a Fruity Loops beat from five years ago,” he admitted in the article.
This means 9th, who seems like he has entire hard drives full of amazing, unused instrumentals, made “Honey” around the same time as The Listening, casually sat on it for five years, then had Badu select his beat for her lead single from New Amerykah Part One (4th World War). Pretty remarkable.
“The fact that it’s a $50 program that you download off Kazaa and I [won] a Grammy off of it fucks with some people.” — 9th Wonder
9th’s career is a testament to a relentless, tireless work ethic. After fifteen years of producing professionally and several years of honing his craft before that, he has always put in the necessary work to build a vast and expansive catalog. The North Carolina native makes sure that he has enough material so that he isn’t caught empty handed when opportunities like “DUCKWORTH.” and “Honey” present themselves.
This 2007 interview with The Smoking Section gives some particularly keen insight into his regimented and hyper-focused routine, especially the last few lines. This was our exchange after I asked him about his 9 to 5 beatmaking schedule.
9th Wonder: We work all day, and that’s it. We work, and then I go home.
Gino: Do you ever get burned out?
9th Wonder: No.
Gino: You never think, “I don’t want to go to the studio today”?
9th Wonder: Nope, I get to take Wednesday’s off.
Regardless of what his detractors might have said about FL Studio or his drums, 9th has always blocked them out and focused on the craft of making music. Once he finishes a song, he seems happy to let folks discover it on their own terms — even if the world isn’t ready for it yet. Sometimes it takes people a few years before they can see his vision, but he seems more than happy to wait while he works on something else.