From the start, 9th Wonder has never been the average musician. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be right if this super producer (Mary J, Erykah, Jay, Little Brother, Lil Wayne, it doesn’t stop) just delivered his highly anticipated album for his fans and the masses to enjoy by itself, so he also releases an impressive film documentary to complement his audio works as well. On top of producing his own doc, his three previous albums and releasing a consistent stream of successful mixtapes and collaboration albums, it seems as if this Grammy Award winner (who also does work as a university professor by day) has been busy constructing and developing a strong musical repertoire within the industry. As a result, 9th is able to pull some rather impressive talent for cleverly titled The Wonder Years, an album/instrument used to tell the story his intriguing ascension within the music industry, what he’s been up to for the past few years, and a platform for some of the best in hip-hop/soul to shine.
Fifteen-plus tracks, 20-plus cameos, and songs touching on topics from life, love, and his place in hip-hop keep this project entertaining throughout. The album begins with the condensed version of his life over the last few years and his legacy in the “Make It Big” intro, which features an impressive turn from Khrysis. 9th Wonder — better known as 9thmatic when he’s rappin’ — composes well-crafted drum beats and uses his trademark soul/hip-hop samples as the background for some great storytelling. Tracks range from tackling breakups to makeups and rejoining with Phonte on “Band Practice” to letting Tanya Morgan and Actual Proof tell their evolution through hip-hop on “Streets of Music”. Then, 9th lets Kweli and Terrace Martin profess their eternal adoration on “Never Stop Loving You” while the producer later makes traditional “cuffin’ music” with “One Night/Your Smile”. Not only that, but you have the ever-impressive Rapsody shining on his flip of Erykah’s “20 Feet Tall”. The vast variety of appearances and music basically ensures there is going to be something on this album you will enjoy.
This truly is a good time for North Carolina hip-hop and for hip-hop music in general, with recent (or pending) releases from the Away Team (Khrysis and Sean Boog), Phonte, and 9th. There’s very little to nothing wrong with this album, although the theme of (or something about) “Peanut Butter and Jelly” didn’t sit with me the right way. Although, it was the only song to do so. In the end, while 9th’s production was nice as always, I encourage him to stay on his grind, continue to challenge himself and update his sound. The key to longevity is evolution, and it will be interesting to hear what this man can come up with next.