I hate it when I’m wrong. While I have, in the past, labeled 9th Wonder as a J. Dilla/Pete Rock amalgam, an audacious thief who has pilfered shamelessly and gone unnoticed by rap neophytes the world over, I have also (on more occasions that I’d like to admit) surrendered myself to the irrepressible soulfulness and organic wholesomeness of his work. Today, my stance on the North Carolina wunderkind is a lot more forgiving than it was when The Listening dropped- sure, he’s derivative, but I’d much rather a producer paid homage to traditionally-minded East Coast thump than Scott Storch g-synth. Having developed a genuine appreciation for his output over the years, it was with great anticipation that I greeted this collaboration between one of my top 5 of all time (the beady eyed thug!) and North Carolina’s hype magnet. Alas, it appears that my magnanimity has been misplaced yet again, for this record is a FAR cry from what it could have been.
This record isn’t BAD, per se, just lukewarm, tepid, bland. To his credit, 9th Wonder sounds far less predictable than usual, sometimes opting for a slouching, skulking, slumping sound that is more “Leflaur Leflah” than “The Yo-Yo.” “The Ghetto” references Evil Dee with its lurching, lumbering streetwise bassline, while “No Comparison” comes off like a collision between the dirge-ish, graven bass of Dah Shining with 9th Wonder’s distinctively string-heavy, sample-driven sound. “Food For Thought” merges Pete Rock bombast with Premo sample-splicing, “U Woundering” synthesizes gunclap snares with whispering vocal loops and lead-footed bass and “He’s Back”, while slightly repetitious, exhibits a good deal of menace. Yet, while there are definite highs to be experienced here as far as production goes, 9th also offers some of his most confused-sounding work to date- I have absolutely no idea what’s going on with the “Badunk A Dunk” lite of “Out Of Town”, the soporific-to-the-point-of-drowsy “I Don’t Know” (marred further by a pretty horrid hook) or the highly befuddling “No Comparison”.
Of course, some of this would be forgiven if Buck offered a worthy performance, but somehow here he sounds drab and uninspired, his performance devoid of the vitriol and assured cocksureness of yore. Perhaps it’s the fact that there aren’t enough guest shots to offset Buck’s flow, or perhaps he’s in a somewhat more sedate mood since the last Black Moon long-player, but there is little here that hasn’t been presented in far more convincing fashion before. Make no mistake, this is Buckshot- the venomous enunciation, deliberately paced cadence and street-savvy swagger is here, as well as the penchant for sing-song hookery, but somehow his performance sounds hollow, forced and plastic. On “Food For Thought”, Buckshot attempts to sound insightful, only to come off as somnambulistic. “Chemistry 101”, meant to be a momentous introduction, is laden with redundant, tired braggadocio (“I’m the Neo of this Matrix shit”), Buckshot struggling to even come up with 90 seconds of worthwhile material. Elsewhere, the record is plagued with fatigued, sterile subject matter (Requisite “Oh you packin? No you actin’/ Slap him” rhetoric on “Now A Dayz”, directionless “y’all ain’t saying nothin’ new” diatribe on “Sidetalk”, etcetera), forgettable fare hampered further by listless delivery.
For once, I was absolutely willing to put aside my jadedness and snotty preconceptions with this record. I was looking forward to vanquishing my reservations towards 9th Wonder once and for all, but ultimately, I find myself overcome by ambivalence and indifference. It doesn’t entirely help that one of my longstanding favorite emcees has managed to put out something that rivals his last solo platter in sheer tediousness. My advice? Stick to the Monkey Barz record instead.