9th Wonder & Buckshot - The Formula

Posted May 4, 2008

Every artist uses a formula. If you hear a track built around slow-paced percussion and a...

The Formula Album Review

Every artist uses a formula. If you hear a track built around slow-paced percussion and a high-pitched vocal sample, chances are you’re listening to Kanye. And at this point it takes about half a second to recognize a new R. Kelly song. How is it that easy to pick out a Kells joint, even before he opens his mouth? Because his formula is so distinct it’s immediately recognizable - it’s like his audio fingerprint. On that level there’s really no difference between the rapper who only rhymes about cash, and the MC who only rhymes about how wack materialistic rappers are. But there is a difference between following a formula and writing your own. Between using a formula and letting it use you. And that difference, my friends, is the difference between hot music, and hot garbage.

Just take Buckshot and 9th Wonder. In an era when hearing a one MC and one producer album is rarer than spotting Britney Spears at a library, the dynamic duo is back for the very second time, following the success of their 2005 album Chemistry. That first collaboration proved the two underground heroes could combine to form a formidable musical force, like some sort of hip-hop Voltron (old school reference alert). Now they’re back with The Formula, an album that uses the same…um…formula that worked so well the first time around; Buckshot’s mellow rhyme style over 9th’s soulful production. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Buckshot is one of those MCs who has floated just below household name status for years, gaining a devoted following from his Boot Camp Click work but never quite making the leap into the national consciousness, probably because he rhymes like a man who’s allergic to fronting. As he says on the deliciously smooth track No Future, “I don’t do raps, just facts and stories.” But don’t take Buck’s refusal to shine as proof he can’t bring verbal heat when necessary. Just moments before that last line on No Future, we’re hit with, “new ways to work the body, plus the mind is shakin’ like I’m jerkin the shotty.” Sound soft to you? They say the guy who yells the loudest is the most afraid, and if that’s true than Buck is fearless. He spits every line with a carefully measured cadence that can fade into background noise over the course of an entire album, but on a track-by-track basis never disappoints. I’ve been pouring over The Formula looking for an example of Buck raising his voice, but apparently the man is just relentlessly calm. The Talib Kweli assisted Hold It Down comes the closest, with Buck drenching his vocals with a quiet desperation, but even then he’s only a few notches above normal speech. If you’ve never heard Buck before I’ve devised a little formula that should explain his style: Busta Rhymes minus Buckshot equals Jay Z. And my teachers said I was no good at math.

By contrast describing 9th Wonder’s production style is simple: the man only makes perfect summertime cookout music. Nearly every beat the man has ever crafted is soaked in warm 60’s and 70’s soul, and his work on The Formula is another warm weather classic. In fact Be Cool might just be the first anthem of summer 2008, at least the first non-radio anthem. On Be Cool, 9th lays down several layers of vocal harmonies, sharpening their edges with snapping snares and the occasional horn section blast, and retro effect is only amplified by Swan’s hovering vocals on the chorus. It’s the kind of song that makes you nostalgic for a time you never knew. Come to think of it, just take the last three lines, change a couple details and you’ve got a pretty accurate description of nearly every song on the album. Wassup With U, the most female-centric track on the album, is overflowing with summertime vibes, as is Go All Out. Even the slightly darker songs on the album, like the melancholy Throwing Shade and the more electronic Just Display, are block party material.

So there you have it, if you hate sitting under a shady porch in July with only a cold beverage and some hip-hop to keep you company, then you’re going to hate this album. And if you can’t think of anything better, than your album collection just got a little bigger. That’s the great thing about a well-executed formula, you always know exactly what you’re gonna get.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted May 4, 2008
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