Those familiar with 9th Wonder know his extensive production résumé: Jay-Z, Jean Grae, De La Soul, Sean Price and many others. Some may even know of his rapping alter-ego, “9thmatic.” Fewer still are aware of the stable of artists 9th Wonder has begun to cultivate and develop for this music label imprint, Jamla Records. With artists like Thee Tom Hardy, Tyler Woods, GQ and several others, 9th brings us 9th’s Opus: It’s a Wonderful World Music Group Volume 1 as his method of introduction.
“Monsoon” serves as the opener, and at over six minutes, its plodding, military aesthetic gets tiresome at about the halfway point. Actual Proof and Halo do little to make the track stand out, with Halo being the biggest culprit (he literally just talks in rhyme). Relying on Bob James’ oh-so-sampled “Take Me to the Mardi Gras,” “I Will Always Be Down For You” is strictly a ladies’ affair. Heather Victoria waxes soulfully (not unlike Mary J. Blige) about love over the silky track, while Rapsody turns a few clever phrases on the subject: “I’ll be damned if I’m leavin’ like beavers is.”
“Trouble Man” kicks it into high gear with a distant vocal sample and eccentric keys coupled with GQ’s presence on the mic eclipsing anything heard on the album thus far: “Nigga what’s happenin’/ Do it like knuckles and get it crackin’ / ‘Bout to take a ride, get your seatbelt fastened / Smashin’, you could see the Trouble Man passin’ / Pedal to the metal, full-speed I’m gassin’ / Nigga-I’m-nigga-I’m-nigga-I’m trouble / Nigga-I’m-nigga-I’m-nigga-I’m trouble”
“College” is a tongue-in-cheek ode to what many consider are the best years of one’s life, over a purposefully-cheesy brass sample. The pairing calls to memory some of the work Del Tha Funkee Homosapienx used to do with Dan the Automator. “I’m Grinnin’” is a smooth and soulful fuck-you to haters courtesy of Thee Tom Hardy: “My friends, I’m finna launch like blast off / They said I rap like OutKast: fact or false? / I take it like a diss and a compliment / Then I spit a verse and they start to shake like Parkinson’s / Got Pocahontas takin’ off her moccasins / John Smith got change – ya’ll pocket lint / Isn’t it funny how (what?) they tell me I got a funny style? / That’s a sneak diss, cut it out / Nineteen but I’m hungry like I’m runnin’ out / Of time, Tryin’ to nickel-and-dime / But I’m sick outta my mind, Tom Hardison / If you don’t like the way that I’m rockin’, then you can pardon it”
There’s a fine line between cohesion and homogeny, and a common criticism of 9th Wonder’s production is that he too often leans toward the latter. The same is true with 9th’s Opus. That being said, you could throw on just about any one of these cuts and enjoy it. So the issue here isn’t quality. It isn’t even really a matter of talent – though uninspired emceeing a la Halo 9th can do without; rather, it’s a matter of range. With each release, fans hope to hear 9th Wonder step out of his comfort zone, and he just doesn’t do it here. Instead of providing clarity on the matter, 9th’s Opus will instead fuel both sides of the 9th Wonder argument: is he a brilliant producer, or a one-trick pony? Though Hip Hop heads will point one way or another, the answer likely lies somewhere in between.