Or at least that's what I said to myself midday last Wednesday as I was standing in the parking lot of the Cat's Cradle, mingling with some of the artists who would later take the stage to support 9th's just-released sophomore album Dream Merchant Vol. 2. He was passing out freshly printed T-shirts for the album, and he didn't bother to offer me one.
Later that night, they all arrived in a cavalcade of three separate stretch limos, steppin' out onto a red carpet Hollywood-style, waiting to be photographed and interviewed. It looked like a scene you'd see at The Source Awards, and 9th Wonder executed the whole sequence perfectly. The roster of performers was almost long enough for a weekend hip-hop festival. For 9th to successfully squeeze more than a dozen acts into a two-hour bloc was an impressive lesson in micromanagement. Sure enough, the role of seasoned overseer seems to be a role that 9th has pridefully adopted lately—as discmaker, N.C. Central professor and now label head. It showed beautifully when 9th's newest addition to his It's A Wonderful World imprint—the five-man crew called M1 Platoon— offered a charismatic lesson on playground-infused B-boyism.
Later, 9th's new female threat Rapsody (imagine Jean Grae reincarnated as a bratty, Southern B-girl with a raspy drawl) proved to the near sold-out crowd why she deserved the several segue spots she takes on Dream Merchant. Tight Man and Big Treal—two N.C.-bred hip-hop neophytes who are redressing the cool component of Kackalack swagger—performed the silky "So Sinsurr." Frequent Justus League lady-of-honor Keisha Shontelle and attitudinal Justus League pillar Chaundon ran through "Sunday," switching the dominant hard-rock mood to one you might find at somebody's July 4th barbecue. Finally seeing Shontelle on a stage for the first time, "flossing" that svelte soprano she's always pillowed lovely for 9th's bruising soul-aesthetic, could have even made D-Bo blush.
Jean Grae, every underground enthusiast's favorite slick-mouthed hip-hop hottie, served as the show's host alongside L.A. representative and two-time 9th collaborator Murs. After the set, 9th spun classic soul and hip-hop joints, the stage and floor eventually becoming flooded by attendees dancing out their stiff concert knees. A party ain't a party without the Electric Slide, right?
At the close of the night, it seemed that 9th Wonder must be onto something again, as if the whole Little Brother/9th divorce heightened his musicianship and upgraded his profile from just a producer to a sophisticate and true-school hip-hop ambassador. But still, the nerve of this guy, right?