Dream Merchant Vol 2
Whoever coined the phrase "change is good" never met 9th Wonder. Whether providing the soundtrack for Little Brother's 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 roots.
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 Edition 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 Brother 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 Reminisce.
Unfortunately, the album is not without its missteps. At times, 9th Wonder's 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 Bleek sounds out of place next to Mos Def 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.