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24 October, 2007@3:13 am

After  9th Wonder split from his Little Brother brethren, people began to wonder how different their respective career paths would be. For 9th, his road to success has already began. After creating the soundscapes for the Little Brother debut album, The Listening, 9th’s stock began to soar. Cultivating mainstream smashes like Destiny’s Child’s “Girl” and Jay-Z’s “Threats” while still remaining true to his roots with full length collaborative efforts with Murs and Buckshot has made 9th Wonder the producer of choice these days. Snagging a Grammy award for his work on Mary J Blige’s The Breakthrough has further stamped 9th’s presence in Hip-Hop. So the question is raised as to what his Dream Merchant project would be. Would it be filled with mainstream artists like Jay-Z and Beyonce or would it employ the help of grimy underground artists like Sean Price and Saigon? The answer? A lil’ more grime than gloss.

Dream Merchant Vol 2 is chock full of gems with collaborations you’d expect and others that feel almost mandatory.  “Saved” is blessed with a airy production backed by the lyrical styling of Saigon and Joe Scudda.  Big Dho and Sean Price come quite correct on the butter smooth “Shots” as they both do enough to make sure the production doesn’t outshine the artists.

Sure, the album is a flag waving Hip-Hop release, but with the inclusion of Keisha Shontelle’s soulful “Sunday”, Vol 2 further proves that 9th can do just about anything.
The problem with Dream Merchant Vol 2 has nothing to do with 9th’s production, rather the various emcees featured on the project. At times the guests don’t bless the tracks like a Murs or a Jean Grae would and something feels a bit lost. Sean Boog gets completely outshined by Buckshot on “Backlash” while Big Remo and The Great Novej don’t really do “Reminisce” much justice.

“No Time To Chill” is solid, yet it isn’t the stellar, spotlight stealing effort you would expect when Phonte, Pooh and 9th reunite for that one last hurrah. A Camp Lo & 9th Wonder collaboration looks beautiful on paper but isn’t all its cracked up to be on the so-so “Milky Lowa”.  No need to worry though, when Mos Def, Jean Grae and Memphis Bleek cock their lyrical shotguns for the amped up “Brooklyn In My Mind (Crooklyn Dodgers 3)” everything makes sense all over again.

Dream Merchant came with lofty expectations that may not have been exceeded this time out. Regardless, it’s still an album worth copping simply to hear some more of that good ol’ 9th Wonder production. – Andreas Hale

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