Album Reviews: North Carolina’s Day

by September 30, 2011


by Drey Wingate / @ProStatus85

It’s been a while since the world of hip-hop has had number of consistent, great albums released at one time. I’m not just talking mediocre projects from well-known mainstream artists, and great work on mixtapes from up-and-coming emcees. I’m talking about something actually worth going to buy.

I miss the days when I was anticipating buying a certain album so bad that I woke up early before the record store even opened to secure a copy for myself. We live in a generation now where music fans are very hesitant to buy albums. They’d rather wait and hear what everyone else is talking about before they get it themselves. There are only a handful of artists today that still have the creative power to keep their fans on the edge, patiently waiting for the release date to come.

September 27 has been a date constantly on the minds of true hip-hop fans, and has become a date to remember for the great state of North Carolina. Just a couple of days ago, NC hit the music world with the best triple threat ever.

J. Cole, Phonte (former member of Little Brother) and producer 9th Wonder blessed the world of hip-hop by releasing their projects on the same day. Any artists that had intentions of releasing their album on this particular date did themselves a favor by holding back.

9th Wonder—The Wonder Years

For starters, The Wonder Years has been talked about for a long time. Damn near everything that has had 9th Wonder’s name on it has been nothing short of spectacular. When he and David Banner came out with Death of a Pop Star, which was indeed a great work within itself, it only seemed like an appetizer of what was to come from the Grammy Award winning producer. The Wonder Years proves itself as a full course.

While he and his artists were on tour, I had the chance to shortly chop it up with 9th. When I asked him about his expectations for his album, he just simply said, “be prepared man.” He didn’t go into full detail or boast about how great of a project it was going to be. But just hearing him keep it so thorough in a short amount of words, gave me the premonition a classic was coming.

This album truly reconnects hip-hop with the soul and voice it seemed to be missing for quite some time. His production skills alone go without question, but you mix that with raw lyrics from the best players in the game and you got yourself one hell of a product. There are not enough words in the dictionary to describe exactly what this album is. You can easily call it good, above average, amazing or real hip-hop.

But I believe the best way to describe what 9th Wonder has put together is straight up powerful music. 9th makes you want to embrace the music. When you got features like Warren G, Raekwon, Marsha Ambrosius and Skyzoo (along with many others) it is very hard not to. The listeners can actually feel the passion being put into the project. Pop this joint in and literally just let it ride.  It’s like watching Jordan in his prime, you just can’t get enough.

Phonte—Charity Starts At Home

Like many others,after the era of Little Brother was over, I didn’t think we would hear from them again. I am very proud to say that I was wrong. Big ups to Phonte for reminding us why great emcees never disappear for long. Charity Starts At Home is not just an outstanding album, it’s an experience.

For this to be his first solo album, Phonte did exactly what he has been doing for years, and that’s providing truth. Truth about what the grind is, truth about how important it is to keep it real with yourself and others. With that being said, I would recommend this album to anyone that considers themselves grown, because this is definitely not something for the immature mind. Songs like “The Good Fight” explore the growth and realness of Phonte. I see it as a track for the common man, basically describing hard work as the main ingredient for real success.

Throughout the album, Phonte touches on a number of topics, one in particular being his days with Little Brother. He gets deep into that subject as well as other personal issues on “Everything Is Falling Down.” For those not familiar with the rap veteran, this is nothing new. It is just a new beginning with a very promising future.

J. Cole—Cole World: The Sideline Story

There’s nothing like having high expectations and exceeding them. Critics set the bar so high that at first you want to quit, but then when it is all said and done, not only did you become great in the process, you start to feel somewhat invincible. On an earlier mixtape track “Premeditated Murder,” this guy named J. Cole said:

The old me couldn’t buy you meals/not even a value meal/now I pay for everything, how ya feel?

Talk about a come up. Cole came into the game with the right attitude, trying to earn respect, and he did just that. Remaining humble during the process didn’t hurt either.

If you have been following Cole just as long as I have, I am sure you are familiar with his version of Jay-Z’s “Dead Presidents.” When he first came on the mixtape scene he did one version of the song, admitted he wasn’t satisfied with it, and came back and did another one (“Dead Presidents II”). Not only was that unheard of, but it went to show that he refused to be just average on such a classic track.

I have always viewed Cole as a great story teller, a formula that has worked perfectly for him since he came on the scene. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. I was anxious to see how many features he was planning on having for the album. For many new artists, sometimes having too many names on your project can look like insecurity in your own ability to make a good record. But the young gun kept it to a bare minimum, proving that he can hold his own and isn’t worried about the pressure of being the one known as Jay-Z’s protégé.

I will admit, I was surprised to hear older songs like “Lights Please” and “In The Morning’’ on the album, but their inclusion goes to show how much of an impact they had on Cole’s success.  However there are still fresh tracks like “Can’t Get Enough” and “Dollar and a Dream III” that gives the album a good balance. For this to be his first studio album, J. Cole is on the verge of becoming something more than just one of the greats. If he keeps the work ethic he has had in becoming what he is now, then hip hop is in good hands.

So, take a bow North Carolina, you should be proud!