9th Wonder is many things to many people. Some recognize him the beatsmith behind one of the more successful hip-hop groups in recent memory, Little Brother. Others see him an underground producer that was able to crossover without changing what made him, him. 9th has crafted beats for everybody from the Cesar Comanche to Mary J. Blige, dropped classic collaborative albums with Buckshot and Murs, and brought us memorable remix albums, including the incredible God’s Stepson and Black Is Back. With his newest release, The Wonder Years, 9th brings us his fourth official solo release, following 2010′s 9th’s Opus: It’s a Wonderful World Music Group Vol.1 and Dream Merchant Vol. 1 and Vol 2. And with The Wonder Years, the catalog continues to grow.
Producer, beatmaker, DJ, professor and Grammy winner, Pat Douthit has come a long way.As it starts The Wonder Years, comes across as an autobiography of sorts as 9th discusses his legacy at the beginning of “Make It Big”, which later finds 9th chronically his development from 6th grade to Grammy award winner. While 9th is still new to the role of rapper, the track is cool and a nice journey through the producers career and serves also as a ‘producers revenge’ as fellow beatsmith Khrysis joins 9th on the track. The “original” Little Brother is featured on the track “Band Practice Pt. 2″, as emcees Phonte and Median fill their roles. As the story goes, Median was originally supposed to fill the spot eventually taken by Rapper Big Pooh and “Band Practice Pt. 2″ is a nice snapshot of what could have been.
9th Wonder’s production has become very recognizable in a hip-hop world where “recognition” can be a positive and a negative. In regards to 9th, “recognizable” has become almost pejorative especially when discussing his drums, with critics focusing on 9th’s patterns and drum samples. Critics need to do nothing but look at tracks such as “Enjoy (West Coastin’)” , “Hearing the Melody”, “Piranhas”, “One Night”, “Your Smile” and the standout “No Pretending” to eat their words. “No Pretending” features Raekwon at his best and had this critic craving a full 9th Wonder/Raekwon collaboration album.
Unfortunately, overall the rest of The Wonder Years doesn’t do a lot to blow listeners away. While the production is okay, there aren’t a lot tracks that are particularly memorable. Don’t get it twisted, the production is solid, but for who 9th is now, we as listeners expect more. Tracks such as “Loyalty” (feat. Masta Killa), “Now I’m Being Cool” (feat Mela Machinko & Median) don’t do much, while “Never Stop Loving You” (w/ Terrace Martin & Talib Kweli) and “That’s Love” (feat. Mac Miller & Heather Victoria) are somewhat disappointing. As the album winds down, it falls flat as “20 Feet Tall (Remix)” (feat Erykah Badu & Rapsody) does nothing to pick the listener up.
Overall, the The Wonder Years is a solid, but unspectacular release that in it’s strengths and weaknesses is similar to the 9th’s Opus: It’s a Wonderful World Music Group Vol.1 and The Dream Merchant releases. In a way, The Wonder Years have passed, but North Carolina’s most famous producer has built a legacy that still has fans reaching for their headphones.
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