While producer 9th Wonder and rapper Murs have taken different paths throughout their careers, they've both emerged near the top of the underground rubble. The latter slung his everyman, confessional lyrics for years in his San Francisco Bay Area basement before signing to Def Jux in 2003; the former was catapulted to fame after premiering the calculatedly nostalgic sounds of hip-hop trio Little Brother on the Internet message board Okayplayer.com, thus capturing the ear of Roots drummer ?uestlove. Little Brother was quickly signed, and like a cyber-Cinderella, 9th found himself making beats for Jay-Z's swan song, The Black Album. Although they may have traveled different roads to success -- one through the streets, the other through the Internet -- the artists' intersection on Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition proves enjoyable, albeit old-fashioned.
On 3:16 Murs is alternately confessional, contradictory and confrontational. "And This Is For" finds him taking on racism within the hip-hop community: "What's the reason that my album doesn't sell like his? / Don't front like you don't know why the hell that is." And while many modern MCs flaunt their contradictions, Murs revels in paradox more than most. On "The Pain" he confesses his shortcomings with the ladies, admitting that he's "more Coldplay than Ice-T"; while on "Freak These Tales," he comes "off tour and got some stories to tell," namely about groupies. Still, Murs seems genuine despite the apparent inconsistencies, and his rarely wavering flow and throwback style -- which favors emotional and narrative nuances over acrobatic linguistics and enunciation -- are compelling.
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9th Wonder's production occupies the sweet spot between DJ Premier's chopped-up technique and Pete Rock's fuller soul loops, although on 3:16 he seems to increasingly drift toward the former. The hard drums and shivering atmospherics of "The Animal" sound cold and looming, while "H-U-S-T-L-E" and "Walk Like a Man" swagger with a delicious funk step. Most important, 9th's production perfectly matches his MC's technique, and Murs's sinner/saint pose even bears a close resemblance to DJ Premier's Gang Starr partner, Guru. Truth be told, 9th and Murs are the equivalent of hip-hop comfort food: familiar and easily digestible. But 3:16 is evidence that old formulas still work.