Artist: 9th Wonder
Album: The Wonder Years
Label: It’s A Wonderful World Music Group
There’s a reason why 9th Wonder has remained one of the top producers throughout his ten year tenure in the game. Whether he’s making a beat for Jay-Z or Murs, dude always stays true to his sound. His distinct style distinguishes his work to the point where you could be only a couple seconds into one of his tracks and say to yourself “Oh yea that’s definitely a 9th wonder beat”. His fourth studio compilation album is no different as The Wonder Years is truly an ode to that signature sound that a whole new generation of hip hop heads fell in love with the first time they heard The Listening. Although some of the faces on the project may have changed since its original release date way back in 08, The Wonder Years still offers an uplifting and remarkably sonic (especially for a compilation album) collection of material from 9th and a wide range of peers that includes everyone from Skyzoo to Mac Miller.
After a brief intro of 9th provocatively discussing how ones legacy is determined by how people perceive your work rather than the work itself, The Wonder Years begins with 9thmatic (9th Wonder’s rapper alias) spitting about growing up in North Carolina and his early ambitions as a producer on “Make It Big”. 9th’s skills with the Mic really aren’t anything special, and they are abysmal compared to his skills with the MPC but I’ll give him a pass on this one as his genuine biographical bars help set the stage for the rest of the album. Besides, before he goes on to spit a narrative reminiscent of Kanye West’s “Big Brother” about how he “made it big”, 9th lets one half of the Away Team and fellow Justus League member Krysis showcase his skills as a producer that can actually rap when he kicks his verse off with the flamboyant line “I’m on that supercalifragilistic frago nago BULLSH*T”.
9th links up with some other Justus league members on the next track “Band Practice Pt. 2” which really sounds like an old Little Brother joint as the chemistry between the recently reunited Phonte and 9th wonder is extremely evident. However, instead of Rapper Big Pooh, Median joins ‘Te on the mic with clever lines like “Frying fish much bigger for the inquisitive Jurassic / Picture Moby Dick hold a flick / Don’t miss it, may sink your ship”.
Whether it’s the fun and soulful Marsha Ambrosius jingle “Peanut Butter & Jelly” or the piano filled melody “Now I’m Being Cool” featuring Mela Machinko and Median, many of the songs on The Wonder Years have a very jovial mood to them. However, the one that comes to mind first is “One Night”, which is one of the best songs on the project thanks to an electronically smooth hook from Bird and more chemistry from 9th and Phontigga. 9th’s simple yet smooth as f*ck beat co exists perfectly with Phonte’s flow when he spits some of the best lyrics on the album such as “I know you’re probably used to dudes that lie a lot / Take you to the mall trick some dough they buy a lot / Saying they taking you to a higher spot / But steady getting they browse on like Chrome or Firefox”.
Another song that has a chill but upbeat mood is the California cut “Enjoy” where 9th gets three generations of west coast hip hop together on one track in the forms of Warren G, Murs and Kendrick Lamar. This is something that few other producers could probably pull off. That’s one of the most exciting things about 9th wonder. He gets MC’s whom you wouldn’t normally expect to collaborate to come together for the sake of his vision. Not only that but it seems as though 9th inspires rappers to take their flow to the next level. On songs like “Never Stop Loving You” he gets lyrical veteran Talib Kweli to spit with the hungry flow of a rookie as he goes like its 2002 over a jazzy organic beat with lines like “We whispering the sweet nothings / Back when I was single I had the streets buzzing / Now I need you to complete my album…”. 9th really deserves props for reminding listeners how dope Kweli (who has been kind of boring lately) really can be when he’s at his best.
Even when 9th doesn’t have a lyrical expert by his side, as long as he stays loyal to his sound, the results will remain the same, case in point track six “Loyalty”. “Loyalty” features lackluster bars from Wu-Tang bench warmer Masta Killa, but it really makes no difference who’s on the mic as the production on “Loyalty” is arguably 9th’s best work on the album. 9th combines a variety of scratches and samples with a slow down tempo beat that sounds similar to his work on the ’04 Little Brother G.O.O.D. music cut “I See Now” without the horns. “Loyalty” contradicts the jovial vibes given off throughout the rest of The Wonder Years by providing listeners with four minutes and fifteen seconds of unparalleled tranquility.
The Wonder Years comes full circle by ending with the track “A Star You Are” (remember it began with “Make It Big”) adding to the commendable cohesiveness of the album. I would honestly recommend The Wonder Years to almost anyone with an appreciation for music, even those outside of the hip hop universe. The jazz, downtempo and electronic elements that 9th incorporates into his work demands respect from everyone, even those who affiliate themselves with other genres of music. The Wonder Years reminds listeners how wonderful 9th has been throughout his career, and at the same time reassures them that dude definitely has some more wonder years left in the tank.