What a week for North Carolina hip-hop. Impressive, to say the least. Alongside J. Cole’s coming out party and the release of Phonte’s solo venture, producer 9th Wonder looked to make a splash of his own with the highly anticipated LP, The Wonder Years, a collaborative record infused with 9th’s trademark soulful sampling and robust melodies.
9thmatic (the producer’s moniker when he raps) gets things started with “Make it Big,” and over a stammering sample, carries the listener along on a narrative of his own golden years from 6th grade to his breakthrough on Jay-Z’s Black Album to linking up with the likes of Erykah Badu, Ludacris, and Destiny’s Child.
The next cut, “Band Practice,” reunites 9th Wonder with former Little Brother groupmate Phonte, and it’s invigorating to hear the chemistry between them again. Tigallo’s well aware of the magic in their chemistry, rapping “Intricate, me and 9th, two of God’s instruments, and when we get together you can call it band practice.” Phonte’s second guest spot on the velvety smooth “One Night,” stands out as another album highlight.
The Tarheel State producer organizes a West Coast party of sorts on “Enjoy,” a laid-back track where Warren G, Murs, and Kendrick Lamar deliver solid verses over fluttery strings. Murs gets the best out of the beat with memorable lines like, “Classic with this mic like Mike, when he was blacker/And you? You remind me of me, when I was wacker/I read lines and bring drama like an actor. But I’m so Hollywood that you would think that I’m a rapper.”
This time around, the production is a bit more Dilla and little less Premo. The honed in focus on an R&B sound is a bit of a change of pace for 9th, but it’s a success throughout. Even more aggressive rappers like Raekwon and Masta Killa tailor their flow and sound at home on 9th Wonder’s inimitable hip-hop/R&B hybrid. The beatsmith also elicits the help of female crooners Mela Machinko and Marsha Ambrosius, both of whom display their extraordinary vocal abilities on their respective songs.
On the album’s introduction, 9th addresses the issue of an artist’s legacy. He’s doesn’t concern himself with his own, professing the focus has always remained on upholding hip-hop culture. But if in fact 9th does have any anxiety about the mark he’ll leave when he’s gone, he can rest assured. The Wonder Years will be remembered with great fondness. —Neil Martinez-Belkin