Whoever coined the phrase “change is good” never met 9th Wonder. Whether
providing the soundtrack for Little
rise through the Hip Hop ranks, or crafting beats for industry
heavy weights like Jay Z (Threats) or Destiny’s Child (Girl and
Is She the Reason), 9th has remained true to his

As a student of the old school and the oft-forgotten boom
bap era of Hip Hop, he’s brought soul back to the rap game. If you’re a
Doubting Thomas, just check the North Carolina Central University professor of
Hip Hop’s resume–which includes collaborative albums with Murs (3:16 the 9th
and Murray’s Revenge), Buckshot (Chemistry) Skyzoo (Cloud 9: The Three Day High) and Jean Grae (the highly bootlegged Jeanius). After a highly publicized, yet
drama free split with Little Brother,
9th is going for self
with Dream Merchant Vol. 2.

Without question, Merchant
is how Hip Hop is, and how it could be, boasting 18 tracks of a purists or
backpacker’s dream–emcees spitting over dope beats. In the words of former
partner Phonte: “Dope beats, dope rhymes, what more do y’all want?”

While the album is undeniably dominated by the art of
sixteen bars, the brief departure to the R&B side turns out to be a
standout track as Keisha Shontelle delivers a catchy serenade to the weekend on
Sunday with an assist from Chaundon.
The song is sure to have fans reminiscing on the care free days of music,
before the proliferation of violence and bling eclipsed the feel good
summertime anthems.

No Time to Chill
may be one of the last times fans hear Little
as a trio with Phonte
and Big Pooh coming correct over 9th‘s up tempo, bass heavy
production. Pooh steals the show
during the song’s opening bars, going hard in the booth with lines like, “my pen
packing the venom, heart pumping the sound/Mind pimping the system/my catalog
is the harem…/niggas spitting that fiction, addicted to my diction/ wanna know
what I’m fixin, try peepin the kitchen.”
The cats originally deemed “too
intelligent” for BET make it so hard to say goodbye.

Most of the emcees bring their A-game, including Strange
Fruit Project and Median (Special (Remix)),
Sean Boog and Buckshot (Backlash). In
an act of unselfishness, 9th allows several relative unknowns their time
to shine as Big Remo and the Great Novej do not disappoint, making
the Barry White and Love Unlimited (Walking in the Rain) sample their own on

Unfortunately, the album is not without its
missteps. At times, 9th
production is almost too
good, taking the listeners away from the lyrics of the songs. Such is the
case with the Saigon and Joe Scudda featured Savin, which flips a Snoop Dogg‘s Murder Was the Case. Other examples of
beat dominance include Thank You and It Ain’t Over. Roc-a-Fella representer Memphis
sounds out of place next to Mos
and Jean Grae on Brooklyn on My Mind and by the tracks
end, listeners will wish that somebody–anybody replaced Bleek on the track.

When all is said and done, Dream Merchant Vol. 2 is a collection of good songs, better suited
for a mixtape than a full album. However, if the beats are any indication, the
best is yet to come from North Carolina’s native son the album is another layer
of cement on the 9th Wonder’s
legacy. Sweet dreams indeed.