The Roundup 2/15: 9th Wonder's Gameplan
Khrysis & Elzhi’s “Self Made” is the first single from Jericho Jackson, Jamla’s first album of 2018. It's another impressive release in what's becoming an exciting period for NC hip-hop's most-lauded independent label.
For a man whose address book spans from Jay Z to Kendrick Lamar, someone who collaborated with the likes of Kanye West and Drake as they ascended to stratospheric fame, someone who is often listed among the forefathers of contemporary hip-hop production, 9th Wonder isn’t one to beg for favors. As a label head, it shows. At Jamla Records/It’s A Wonderful World, which he’s been running since founding the label in 2008, he’s been admirably reserved and tactful when it comes to milking his almost unparalleled industry connections.
The closest we’ve seen to 9th flexing his phone book was on his 2011 album, The Wonder Years. By stacking some of his associated and label acts (HaLo, Thee Tom Hardy, Rapsody, Median) alongside major mainstream up-and-comers (Mac Miller, Kendrick Lamar) and underground legends (Blu, Murs, Warren G., Masta Killa) alike, The Wonder Years felt like something only 9th could have created, and something that IWWMG was possibly going to systematize and replicate in the years to come. In the (wonder) years since, 9th has largely spurned the “big producer” blueprint of jumping from one big song opportunity to the next, instead focused on his own roster, including Rapsody, HaLo, GQ, and the in-house production team known as The Soul Council.
And though he could surely access them, 9th has resisted any temptation to source work from the likes of DJ Premier and Swizz Beatz to break his new or emerging artists. Acts coming up under 9th are expected to make it the same way he did: on their own. You know how no matter how many resources G.O.O.D. Music throws at Desiigner, he can’t make a second hit to save his life? Jamla is the opposite of that. Slow, sustainable growth — so one day you’ll never have an embarrassing 50k RT challenge like this.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the NC Central and Duke professor is a stranger to wielding his influence when he wants to. The ensemble of collaborators that have hopped on songs with his flagship act, Rapsody — including, but not limited to, Kendrick Lamar, Busta Rhymes, Raekwon, Big K.R.I.T., Black Thought, Chance The Rapper, Musiq Soulchild, Erykah Badu — make that much clear. Rapsody is obviously a highly talented MC who has more than earned her own respect in the hip-hop world, but no other up-and-coming rapper, deserving or not, has enjoyed a more impressive supporting cast over the last five years.
With Rapsody now finally breaking out as a mainstream act and signed to Jay Z’s RocNation (there has been much promotion by Jamla of a logo for “JamRoc,” though it’s unclear what that means, if anything, beyond Rapsody’s deal), a new era could be on the horizon for North Carolina’s most established independent hip-hop label. Specifically, a surge of high-profile moves from a crew that has spent much of the last seven years working under the radar, often on acts that would end up departing or being dismissed anyway (Big Remo, Thee Tom Hardy, Add-2).
The release of Jericho Jackson, a joint venture between Jamla producer (and in-house engineer) Khrysis and Detroit rapper and Slum Village member Elzhi is the next step in that progression. It’s what Jamla is uniquely built for: quality producers (and sometimes rappers) utilizing 9th’s extensive rolodex to drop joint albums with highly respected hip-hop acts, and getting the recognition and attention they deserve.
It’s The Wonder Years all over again, but as a series of albums instead of a set of tracks. Of course, 9th is no stranger to the producer/rapper album arrangement, having done it six times with Murs, from 2004 to 2015. Then in 2015, he did it again with Talib Kweli, on Indie 500. Now we get a full album of Elzhi and Khrysis, and apparently, some time soon, 9th and Black Thought. What’s next, Nottz and DOOM?
Though this debut track is built on a fairly ubiquitous sample of “The Darkest Light” by the Lafayette Afro Rock Band, which listeners may recall from Jay Z or Public Enemy, Khrysis chops it in a new and interesting way, dropping it in and out at opportune moments to give El’s words the most punch. If this is what the full Jericho Jackson album sounds like, it’ll be in heavy rotation after the album drops on February 23.
On his birthday, Pat Junior gives us a Dilla-inspired beat tape as a gift.
Typically, our birthdays are days when we receive gifts, not give them. Pat Junior had it a little mixed up on his birthday this year, but since we’re on the receiving end of his creative largesse, we won’t make a fuss about it.
To celebrate his birthday, to celebrate the life of J Dilla, and to further his own journey as a producer and sound designer, Pat dropped four days before eleven, a tight, four-track beat tape infused with movie clips about time and space. An early favorite for me is “issa loophole,” which sounds like it could have been equally at-home on both The Roots’ Rising Down or Kendrick’s DAMN.
We need more work like this from Pat. Pssst — someone convince him he has 15 more birthdays this year.
Damaris Joi sounds like an even smoother, North Carolina Jhené on “Breathe”
Whether you know her or not, Damaris Joi’s music probably sounds somewhat familiar to you. That’s because there’s no mistaking the influence or affect of hip-hop go-to collaborator Jhené Aiko in her voice, though here, Joi sounds fuller and less airy than her more well-known doppelganger. The production by Chris Beatz, with echoing, muddled voices filling in the background, does a great job of assisting her too.
A singer/songwriter from Cary, NC, Joi put out her debut album, Two Ten, four years ago. If new work is on the way in 2018, we’ll be sure to keep you updated.
Treee City And Ace Henderson Are A Perfect Duo on “Tidal Wave”
Patrick Phelps-McKeown, aka Treee CIty, is not known as a hip-hop producer. His newest collaborator, Ace Henderson, isn’t a traditional rapper. And their new song, “Tidal Wave,” isn’t a rap song. At least, it probably isn’t considered one within a camp like Jamla.
But elsewhere, Drake, Anderson .Paak, Childish Gambino and Phonte, to name a few, have gone a long way to challenging what a hip-hop song is anyway. What do you get when you combine sing-rapped verses, muted synth chords and a driving bassline? What category is that?
Most listeners probably won’t concern themselves with the answer. Borrowing from the sonic textures of another genre-bending, pseudo-hip-hop act in KAYTRANADA, there’s no way of hearing this song and not calling to mind the Canadian producer’s work with Goldlink, or Vic Mensa, or Mensa’s self-produced “Down On My Luck” track from 2014.
“Tidal Wave” is a downright good time, and the kind of song that should bring more attention, well-deserved, to both Treee City and Henderson. If you’re not promoting this song, don’t ever complain about the NC music scene ever again.
Ryan Cocca is the founder and editor of Super Empty. He tried to quit writing about rap music a year ago, and failed. He needs help. Reach out at @youaintryan on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org.