A long time coming, 9th Wonder’s The Wonder Years is the North Carolina producer and former Little Brother member’s first high-profile solo effort and it’s a glorious whirlwind of true hip-hop and neo-soul. Add a truly great guest list and the loyal fans are already on board, but this is also an exquisitely built album with a natural flow from beginning to end, packed with crossover appeal on the glorious highlights and anchored by those deep cuts that reveal themselves as vital on return visits. Check the masterful, uplifting “Now I’m Being Cool” as it spins like a hip-hop Ferris wheel with nostalgia and soul, or try the paranoid street monster called “Piranhas,” where Blu and Sundown convincingly speak on back alleys and socks filled with crack rocks.
It’s a bit ironic to hear 9th Wonder distance himself from the burden of describing his own legacy in the opening monologue of his third official solo album, The Wonder Years. “I don’t think we define our own legacy,” he states plainly. “When you leave the game or you leave this Earth, people will decide the legacy for you.” The Grammy winning producer sounds earnest, unabashedly humble almost.
Few in underground hip-hop have Rolodexes that can compare to North Carolina beatmaker 9th Wonder’s, and with good reason. His signature sound—a sort of updated synthesis of the smooth, blunted boom-bap of Pete Rock and Da Beatminerz—has made him the go-to guy for mainstream rappers when they want to co-opt the sounds of realness, as well as (partially due to his involvement with seminal N.C. hip-hop crew Little Brother) the template for a new generation of old-school devotees.
A producer worth celebrating, justly compared to J Dilla, DJ Premier and Pete Rock. Ele Beattie 2011 "I don't think we decide our own legacy. People gonna decide that for you, you have no control over that." So muses the under-celebrated producer 9th Wonder on the opening of The Wonder Years. What initially appears as a disclaimer for this long-awaited solo masterpiece – it was originally due in 2008 – is quickly overwritten with the straight-forward Make It Big.
What a week for North Carolina hip-hop. Impressive, to say the least. Alongside J. Cole’s coming out party and the release of Phonte’s solo venture, producer 9th Wonder looked to make a splash of his own with the highly anticipated LP, The Wonder Years, a collaborative record infused with 9th’s trademark soulful sampling and robust melodies.