Since 2016, producer 9th Wonder has been blessing our ears with a new yearly installment of his beat tape series, ZION. Although each release remained primarily a collection of 9th’s soul-drenched instrumentals, he seemingly began to add more guest appearances with each annual drop. With the release of 2023’s installment, ZION VIII, 9th Wonder delivers even more guest spots than before, collaborating with Moonchild’s Amber Navran on a handful of bangers while staying true to the series’ roots.
9th loads the front end of the album’s 40 tracks with features from Amber and a trio of rappers. The multi-instrumentalist brings her velvety vocals and smooth horn and flute sounds along for the album’s first six songs. It’s the duo we never knew we needed as Navran seems right at home over a 9th Wonder track. Even when joined by rappers King Draft on the songs “Workin’” and “I Remember You,” The Musalini on “Take My Time” or Swank on “Be Mine,” she holds her own, lending an additional layer to the quiet boom bap that permeates each song.
The remainder of ZION VIII is packed to the brim with the rich, soulful tracks that have made 9th one of your favorite producer’s favorite producers. The result is over an hour of sound that’s perfect for just about anything, whether it be riding around with your friends or just vibing out at the crib. Wonder’s knack for chopping up a vocal sample is sure to continue conjuring up comparisons to the late, great James “J Dilla” Yancey without feeling like a cheap imitation of Dilla’s style.
Instead, 9th Wonder delivers a fully, formed vision on ZION VIII that picks up where his other ZION volumes have left off without retreading over the same sounds while proving that the hype and accolades have definitely been well-earned.