9th Wonder

The Wonder Years

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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. Wonder’s soundscapes cover this spectrum splendidly, but he never covers up the vocalist, going so far as to dabble in Wu-Tang murkiness for Raekwon and mothership-connected G-funk for Warren G. That down-south Dilla style remains the base the whole time and anyone thrown by Wonder’s futuristic David Banner collaboration (2010's Death of a Pop Star) will find this one comparatively steeped in soul. Loyal fans of underground hip-hop already know he’s earned that crown on the cover, and with this purposefully packaged showcase now in place, the uninitiated have no excuse.

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