This week saw the release of several notable albums that are sure to be on the top of a lot of people's 'Best Of' lists at year's end. And, another cool thing is that three of the artists are from North Carolina. That's something when a single state can dominate a week with three highly anticipated releases. Of course, I'm talking about 9th Wonder, Phonte, and J.Cole.
9th Wonder's project The Wonder Years was probably the most impressive to me. It definitely had 9th's signature production sound. But, it also had range. It had depth. He tried new things, and really built on what he has done in the past to make the most cohesive project I've heard all year. 9th hosted an impressive array of talented MCs and singers, and did a really good job of strategically sprinkling in his Jamla artists throughout. What really put The Wonder Years over the top for me was 9th's work with Terrace Martin, whose jazz sax added the perfect element to 9th's musical backdrops. On the negative side, I still have to say that I don't get Mac Miller's appeal. He shows up here spitting rhymes that I find boring and forgettable.The good news is that even though this track didn't hold up lyrically, the beat and vocal arrangement still make it bearable.
Phonte's Charity Starts at Home is another great album from one of my favorite MCs of the last ten years. His flows are dope, his rhymes relevant and relateable, and the beats are always hittin' whether they come from 9th, Khrysis, Nicolay, or anyone else. Te has an ability to understand how words relate to each other which few can match. My complaint with this one? "New Tiggalo, New Tiggalo, New Tiggalo, New Tiggalo". That little saying was humorous the first time or two, but got extremely old after hearing it on every track. It even wound up coming off as a little pretentious in my mind.
The collaborations between Phonte & 9th Wonder on this and The Wonder Years just make it that much clearer to me that Little Brother needs to continue existing as a unit even though the members also pursue music individually. I felt Pooh was missed on these projects and it would have been nice to have them all on at least one track between the 2 albums.
I was also anticipating the debut album from Jay-Z's NC investment, J. Cole, especially since his verse over Kanye West's "Devil in a New Dress" ("Villematic") last year (or, was it earlier this year?). Cole seemed to get off to a slow start on Cole World to me, new tracks that were just ok and didn't really stick out to me were placed in between more well-known songs from previously released mixtapes.I like Cole because he spits like a young guy, but still has a depth to his content that makes him interesting. I didn't see this throughout like I did, on say Fashawn's debut. The deeper layer seemed to not appear until the later part of the album. "God's Gift" and "Breakdown" were solid, but was it weird for anyone but me that he referenced old Bone songs on two songs back to back like he did on these two? Was it weird for anyone else that he sang Paula Abdul lyrics on the next track "Work Out"? All of these things just made the album less than impressive to me. Not to say there isn't good stuff to be found here. I just hope it gets better the next time around.