One of Hip-Hop’s more unique (and occasionally detrimental) qualities is an artist and sound being largely associated with its regions. And more so than that, its individual states. For North Carolina, one of the northern most southern states, the DNA of the music has largely associated with soulful sounds as opposed to the bass-driven music some of its Southern contemporaries have made insanely popular. 9th Wonder, the legendary producer largely defined by his role in Little Brother, has seen his name stretch far beyond the Tar Heel State. With hits given away to everyone from the likes of Phonte to Jay-Z, the North Carolina Central University graduate looks to cash in on years of networking and favors with the roll out of The Wonder Years.
While not an actual positive for the album, the title will give those who scraped their knees and stayed out past the street lights coming on a welcoming reflection back to the classic 1990s TV show of the same name. Winnie Cooper nor Kevin Arnold make guest appearances, but talent bursts through the seams with names like Marsha Ambrosius, Terrace Martin, Kendrick Lamar, Phonte and more. “Hearing The Melody” with Skyzoo, Fashawn and King Mez is a piercing example of lyrical precision. All three weave in and out of the soulful, repetitive beat with ease, evident with Zoo’s proclamation of returning New York to its glory days, “I promise to be the reason my hood gets another honor/Christopher did it first, Sky’s the second coming/I knew when I saw that hearst I gotta keep up the running…”
In keeping up with the theme of the hour, melodies are The Wonder Years’ best aspect. Tracks in the vein of “One Night,” “20 Feet Tall,” “Never Stop Loving You” and “Peanut Butter Jelly” all emit the beautiful combination of carefully placed harmonies and raps which showcase the point that making a straight Hip-Hop album wasn’t exactly 9th’s main priority.
However, hearing dope harmonies take precedence over the raps is sometimes the project’s most noticeable head scratcher. On “Now I’m Being Cool,” Mela Machinko’s sultry voice makes Mez’s raps nearly an afterthought. With a somewhat similar issue, “Your Smile” could have easily been a memorable moment had the hook been performed by an artist with more vocal range. These momentary lapses in momentum make The Wonder Years skip-worthy at certain junctures. Omitting small nuisances such as the ones just mentioned can turn a good album into a great album, and a great album into one that’s groundbreaking.
For the most part, however, 9th Wonder exhibits his sense of purpose as well as the ear which has made him an in-demand producer for well over a decade. North Carolina can be proud of their hometown prodigy and going three for three with albums this fall along with Phonte and J. Cole’s. This fusion of Hip-Hop, jazz and R&B provide moments of bliss (and admittedly mundane points) worth checking for. 9th’s obvious passion for creating music that crosses over into several genres is proof that while his more memorable years may be behind him, the future isn’t exactly dim either.
Label: It’s A Wonderful World Music Group | Producers: 9th Wonder
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