Peanut Butter and Jelly isn’t just the title of track number 10 on 9th’s latest album, The Wonder Years; it’s also the perfect way to describe the album. Peanut butter is an ingredient that is good on its own, but can be augmented by being partnered with other equally good or better ingredients, and conversely be diminished if partnered with something that’s not as tasty. 9th’s production is the peanut butter, the foundation of the album, and the artist’s contributions the jelly, the “sweet stuff,” the thing that compliments those banging beats and helps you to continue devouring the album. When those contributions are particularly tasty, the album is most delicious, but when they’re lackluster or completely awful the album suffers. Thankfully, the album is more off than on and delivers a great listen overall.
To be completely honest, I pressed play on The Wonder Years preparing to be disappointed but when Make it Big began to play, I felt my fears begin to dissipate. Phonte does his thing on Band Practice, followed by Murs completely ripping Enjoy but it’s not until One Night that I hear “that something special” from 9th. To be fair, 9th brings some heat on this album and does a great job of selecting females that sound dope over his tracks: Mela Machinko sounds so perfect on Now I’m Being Cool that I had to check and make sure she wasn’t a sample, and Marsha Ambrosius sounds terrific on the previously mentioned PB&J. The combination of Terrace Martin, Phonte and 9th, though, is where you would expect to hear 9th 9 years after The Listening. It’s an iron sharpening iron moment for sure, 2 great producers and a dope MC crafting an outstanding track that sounds unlike anything on the entire album.
Terrace Martin, however, got more attempts than anyone else, a total of 3, to create a banger with 9th and thankfully, he pulled out One Night because Never Stop Loving You and A Star U R are good, but they’re just that, good. The Wonder Years has one of the best skip/play ratios on an album I’ve heard this year, with only 2 of 16 tracks being skipworthy (Streets of Music, Hearing). There’s also the matter of Erykah Badu’s previously released 20 Feet Tall. There’s nothing wrong with it, but with essentially only a rap added to the composition I fail to find its relevance on the album.
I know the heads will enjoy the unlikely pairing of Rae and Remo on No Pretending and the ladies are gonna love Your Smile. The Wonder Years s very cohesive and sounds best when played top to bottom, an anachronism on producer albums. All in all, the strengths and weaknesses of The Wonder Years depend on its collaborations and luckily the Grammy winning producer gels well with the artists he’s selected.