9th Wonder – The Wonder Years | Album Review

Passing the torch has always been mandatory in Hip Hop. No matter how big their ego, a successful rapper, DJ or producer always wishes to find their sucessor to ensure their legacy carries on into the new generation. From Rakim passing the lyrical baton to Nas or Eminem’s co-sign of XXL Freshman Yelawolf, the trend continues, none so much so than in the producer field; namely one 9th Wonder. From carrying the same soulful blends as Pete Rock to constructing abstract drum patterns which channel DJ Premier, the genre’s greats have been quick to laud the praise of the former Little Brother member, not only for his remarkable sounds but for drawing out the superior artist within each individual he works with. As his collaborative effort The Wonder Years finally dawns, all ears will be intensely listening to hopefully discover whether the fusing of 9th’s luscious sounds with a range of vocal juggernauts results in a timeless project which will sit amongst the great works of decades past.

Without question, all the rapping participants on hand have an integral part in the album’s quality but the attention inevitably remains on the lauded North Carolina producer, who kicks off The Wonder Years with two archetypal arrangements. “Make it Big” featuring fellow producer/rapper Khrysis is built using a slow and stuttering soul sample, fused with biographical lyrics from Khrysis to start the album solidly.

Reuniting with his former Little Brother compatriot Phonte on “Band Practice” conjures up delicious offerings reminiscent of the group’s classic LP The Minstrel Show as Phonte (joined also by Median) go back and forth with ease, as if it were a typical jamming session.

Unsurprisingly, 9th Wonder’s fourth offering is devised of the trademark mix of deep fried Soul and blends of a variety of Hip Hop beats. Whilst the alumni of artists who have worked with him range from Destiny’s Child to Jay-Z, collaborations on The Wonder Years are made up of hungry up-and-comers and vocal greats of the present time. Wonder does bring out some talent of the past on “Enjoy (West Coastin’)” with West Coast vet Warren G teaming with underground grafter Murs and emerging Black Hippy Kendrick Lamar on a subtle head nodding track, Kendrick picking up the pace with his patented double time delivery which has won many over this year.

9th Wonder ft. Kendrick Lamar, Warren G & Murs – “Enjoy (West Coastin’)”:

Guest features stretch far beyond the sunny sides of the USA as New York’s Skyzoo brings his B.I.G.-inspired bars on “Hearing The Melody” to add some grit to the sun-drenched vibes on hand, with a sharp cameo from Fashawn. Also making an appearance on the catchy “Peanut Butter & Jelly” is transatlantic songstress Marsha Ambrosius whose harmonies blend deliciously with 9th’s instrumental – much like the winning combination of flavours in the song’s title.

9th Wonder ft. Marsha Ambrosius – “Peanut Butter & Jelly”:

Another highlight emerges as Masta Killa makes a surprising appearance on “Loyalty” alongside Halo, with the Wu Tang affiliate offering some ghetto romantic charm over the mature groove rather than the abrasive onslaught he usually dishes out.

Wonder’s ability to cross over from Hip Hop to enriched Soul and R&B ensures his calling card is picked up by those who don’t necessarily spit 16s; and on that note, with powerful production bearing resemblance to the works of The Supremes‘ “Now I’m Being Cool” is a brilliant offering as guest vocalist MeLa Machinko belts out powerful melodies on the ‘games’ people play when in a relationship.

Gliding back and forth between Hip Hop and Soul, The Wonder Years doesn’t lost any of its musical quality – mostly due to the consistency in 9th’s productions. Whether creating a cipher-like arena for rhymeslayers Blu and Sundown to cause havoc over on “Pirhanas” or bringing back the computer drones of Zapp on “One Night,” Wonder’s sporadic drum patterns and syrupy layers are all present, making each offering a musical feast.

9th Wonder ft. Blu x Sundown – “Piranhas”:

Like many producer albums of the past, The Wonder Years is slightly flawed by the range of lyrical talents who are on hand to season each track; although the majority of guests have previously worked with Wonder’s creations, a number of them fail to add any memorable substance to the eventful orchestration composed and sound lost within the four to five minute walls of sound.

An album which salutes the finer things in life, The Wonder Years is also unintentionally a toast to arguably the finest producer to currently remain behind the boards. A man of few words, 9th Wonder’s often grand and celebratory productions do enough talking not only just for him but also for those who join in the assembling of one of Hip Hop’s most anticipated albums of the year. Bearing not only shades of the musical past, but also ushering in a glimpse of the future, 9th Wonder’s ode to life and love encapsulates the innocence, fun and charm which the genre had somewhat lost during its rapid growth over the last decade. The Wonder Years not only plays its part in honouring the past but does more than enough to keep faith in Hip Hop’s future.

9th Wonder – The Wonder Years
Released: September 27, 2011
Label: It’s A Wonderful World Music Group/Hits & History
Buy: iTunes UK / iTunes US / Amazon UK / Amazon US

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