In the same way that rap in the UK has always started out by borrowing its aesthetic qualities from the US before segmenting into its own domestic subcultures, Nines has come a long way since embarking on a career as a road-rapper.
With each mixtape and album release, the Ice City Boyz frontman has steadily developed an ear for crisp production and hit-making, alongside the multi-channel development of his personal brand on social media and in music videos. Having now spent over a decade in the game, there’s a clear, traceable musical evolution to Nines’ trajectory. From troubled hoodstar to community leader, we look back at some of his most significant tracks – and, because this is Nines we’re talking about – highlight their standout punchlines.
Nu CrackBut you can still find me on the block / With some Air Maxes you won’t see in the shops
Whilst Giggs was pioneering the definitive London road-rap sound, a 17-year-old Nines introduced his smooth flow to the world. It’s interesting to hear how little his style has changed; Nines’ calm, mumbly raps about life in Church Road have remained fundamental throughout his music career. The beat – a smooth hip-hop joint originally used by Outkast for Two Dope Boyz on their album ATLiens – is fitting as an introductory step for laying down his thoughts, and is suggestive of Nines’ subsequent success as a master of the laid-back, late-night rap anthem.
My HoodImport my CD to your P3 / Soon see me and PG on your TV
Who else would frame an entire music video concept around handing turkeys out to local residents at Christmas? Four years after his older brother Zino was shot dead (note the first line: “Zino in my veins”), Nines would soon set out his forward-looking, aspirational motivations for commercial acclaim with the release of his mixtape, From Church Rd To Hollywood. Here, in whose video has over the years become a cult visual alongside bar after bar of cryptic raps about various scales of drug-dealing and the protectionism of his group of friends, Nines cements his place as a bold, glitzy creative as well as a man-of-the-community.
Fire in the BoothI got this Fulham chick I known her for time / Before all the ice when I was reloading on 9s / Saw me go from bread and water to lobster and wine / That's why I never air her calls when she hollers my line
Nines was, in fact, sat in prison when his first Fire in the Booth dropped, and it can now arguably be seen as his first high-level achievement of online visibility. Accruing over one million hits on YouTube upon its drop, it’s now just short of 12 million. The acoustic-and-female-vocal riff in the first instrumental forms a backdrop for his cheeky raps about different women in his life, similar to Jay-Z’s style in the classic Girls Girls Girls. The latter half of the freestyle explores the complexities of trust and loyalty in his social network.
Money on My MindWhen them paigons tried to slide through / I was in the dinger hangin’ out the window with a big mac like a drive thru
Nines had been and gone to prison, embarked upon several years of lyrical development and become a respected, city-wide hoodstar by this point after the explosion of his Fire in the Booth the year before. His boosted persona is on show here: from the the sheer quality of the song’s production to his even slower, even more confident raps about the chase for, and material demonstration of, wealth. As has become the norm in his commentary, he makes references to clothing brands, travelling overseas and courting women through trademark punchlines and playful innuendos.
Can't Blame MeI shot pies, baby I don’t rob guys / Michael Corleone’s wardrobe ‘cause I got mob ties
In 2015, few music videos had used drone cinematography, let alone in such HD quality, until Nines’ Can’t Blame Me dropped. Continuing to explore the same themes of social mobility and providing commentary on life in Church End Estate, this was the lead single from Nines’ acclaimed mixtape One Foot In. The tape’s name suggests that despite his rising musical successes, in a contradiction that still seems to plague him to this day, Nines saw himself at the time as being caught between two worlds: one of commercial fame and the other of illicit, underground wealth. The catchy hook by WSTRN’s high-pitched Haile adds soulful colour to Nines’ verses.
YayShe said she never trust a guy so I must be high / Thinking I can turn a caterpillar to a butterfly
Male MCs do not always deal in ego. Like Tupac’s Brenda’s Got A Baby, Dizzee Rascal’s Jezebel or Asher D’s Andrea, Nines’ Yay is a rare, tragic account of the life of a young woman in his community. Taking a break from recounting the glitzy experiences of his own life alongside a melancholic chorus from Tiggs Da Author, instead Nines turns to tell the deeply personal, downward spiral story of a modern day cocaine addict.
Trapper of the YearSince year nine I always knew I’d be shining / Like Bart Simpson cah after school I was grindin'
The first single off his highly acclaimed 2017 freshman album One Foot Out – appropriately named after his previous mixtape and having only recently been signed by XL Recordings in late 2016 – is Nines’ ballsy claim to London as his kingdom. There is zero ambiguity here about his continued rise to stardom, and his allusion to being the most successful shotter in the city, every trapper’s trapper, can also be taken as a metaphor for being every rapper’s favourite rapper. This is Nines at his most fierce.
Oh MyN*ggas act hard all on the net, when that gun blast you better run fast / Got my first cheque and like Spike Lee, I did the right thing I gave my mum half
Probably the bounciest, most danceable song Nines has created, Oh My is one of the standout tracks from his recent sophomore album Crop Circle. It features playful verses from teenage south London driller SL and Yung Fume, and another chorus from loyal collaborator Tiggs Da Author, with its harp-infused instrumental laying down a smooth foundation for what ought to be a second single and music video from the album.
I See You ShiningThe streets know me for getting P / My daughter had her first Rolly when she was three
The title of this song, which is Nines’ uplifting catchphrase, is symbolic of both his commitment to empowering people around him – members of his community, collaborators and fans – and of the upbeat, celebratory tone that his career has acquired, despite his setbacks. It has already become slang used by kids and adults alike across London. Emboldened by men-of-the-moment producers Steel Banglez and Zeph Ellis, it’s no surprise that the first single from Crop Circle is now a certified summer anthem.