When Hip Hop music made its meteoric rise to the top of the charts, several elements that propelled the genre to the mainstream were lost in the process. Among them, the one MC/one producer collaboration album. The current generation is barely of age to remember the cohesion formed by duos like Eric B. and Rakim, Gangstarr and Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth. In addition to these lost gems, Hip Hop went pop and your favorite MC took to working with all the hot producers of the time, often resulting in albums that sounded like a compilation of radio singles.
Enter 9th Wonder. The North Carolina beat smith is one of Hip Hop’s current anti-heroes. He makes “grown folks music” unapologetically, and his collaborations with Jean Grae and left coast Living Legend, Murs have restored the sanctity of the one MC/one producer album. His freshman effort with Buckshot, 2005’s Chemistry, was a breath of fresh air to fans who wanted soulful beats and thoughtful rhymes. The experiment went over so well with critics that the duo decided to do it again with the aptly titled, The Formula.
The intro features an assortment of voices speaking on “the formula” and Buck wastes no time tearing into 9th‘s sped up sample with opening lines that set the tone for the rest of the album: “I don’t preach, but I do teach/ my little homies in the hood how to outreach/ And how to use your mouthpiece/ cause a closed mouth never get invited to the feast.” With a career spanning more than 15 years, Buckshot plays the role of elder statesman, with much of album playing out like an MC/producer’s how-to guide to making a quality album. The duo shows out early on with “Ready (Brand New Day)” with Buck flowing effortlessly from verse to hook while 9th‘s infectious horns make for a track worthy of multiple repeats.
Buckshot and 9th Wonder avoid the sophomore jinx by simply being themselves. The Formula plays out like a fireside chat with a group of hard to reach young males, with the BDI Thug playing the role of mentor, carefully outlining life’s pitfalls (“No Future”), the ups and downs of pursing a female (“Be Cool”) and the life as a member of the BCC (“Man Listen”).
Without question–or very little debate–the album’s diamond in the rough (among many other gems) is the Talib Kweli and Tyler Woods assisted “Hold It Down.” Between Buckshot sounding the alarm (“Look, it’s hard enough being a black man or a brown man, right now we held down man, and you can tell we in hell now man, let’s get to heaven cause we hell bound man.”), Kweli answering the call (“Bible and the bullets inside of the night stand, pistol in the right hand bringing justice to the land…obstacles poppin up like spam”) and Woods‘ heartfelt hook (“We gotta hold it down/ I’ma put it on the line/cause it’s my life”), the track is a head nodder and a somber wakeup call all in one.
As much as fans are pulling for 9th Wonder and Buckshot to drop a classic, album title lays out the album’s pitfalls. “The Formula”, at times, turns out to be just that, the formula. The beats are dope, the rhymes are on point, but at the end of the day, neither man steps outside of his respective comfort zone. For the record, there are no intolerable songs on the album, but the listener may still walk away feeling like something is missing. Despite sticking to the tried and true formula, 9th Wonder and Buckshot crafted a solid album and provide a refreshing reintroduction to the long lost pairing of a single MC with one producer for an entire album.