Ccollaborations between MCs and producers have given birth to some of hip-hop’s most classic albums. Eric B. and Rakim’s Paid in Full and Boogie Down Productions’ Criminally Minded, both released in 1987, set the template, and the method was followed in the ’90s with Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Gang Starr, and Outkast’s 1994 debut, Southernplayalisticcadillacmusik, which was produced by Organized Noize.
By the late ’90s, a new album blueprint, pioneered by Biggie and Pac and perfected by Nas, Jay-Z, and others, made it a staple for rappers to solicit several producers on one album in order to prove dexterity and comfort over different sounds. Aside from a few gems, such as Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek’s Reflection Eternal, the MC/producer-collabo albums became hard to find.
Within this evolution, a certain quality was lost: a signature sound, a distinctive feel, a consistency. When Eric B. and Rakim first dropped, the album’s advanced programming techniques mixed with Ra’s complex rhyme schemes became a cornerstone of hip-hop history. As KRS and Scott La Rock joined forces on Criminally Minded, the sound of the Boogie Down was born, the template for hardcore rap set up. Primo’s jazzy loops and scratch choruses giving a backdrop to Guru’s smooth voice became a landmark of East Coast hip-hop. Organized Noize, with their funky, bass-heavy production, was the foundation for Big Boi and Andre’s reflections on the lifestyles of pimps and gangsters, also paving the way for Southern rap. These devotions to loyal collaborations were fruitful because they followed a formula.
Whether 9th Wonder and Buckshot’s The Formula stands along the aforementioned albums isn’t yet clear, but this record does share similar qualities that bring light to yet another fruitful MC/producer collaboration. Buckshot is a veteran rapper, one of the last of a dying breed, managing to stay relevant as an independent artist for fifteen years. 9th Wonder is similar in his own domain although not as experienced, and his timeless sound bridges the gap between ’95 and ’08 for the not-so-seasoned listener.
The chemistry between them, first displayed on 2005’s Chemistry and now on The Formula, is consistent from song to song. 9th Wonder’s heavy soul sampling and melody-driven production brings the deepest stories, reflections, and accounts out of Buckshot. Melancholic flutes, violins, and horns come together on “Hold it Down,” and he reflects on the fate of black people, with a helping hand from Talib Kweli. The beats on “Throwin’ Shade” or “Go All Out” lift up the energy of the album, and that’s when Buck rhymes start to attract attention.
Every concept and feeling in the album is conveyed by the way the rhymes and the beat work together. That makes each song say something — with the instrumentals being the body language and the raps as a mouthpiece.