Nines’ ‘One Foot Out’; cements his position in the upper echelon of UK Rap

Feb 17 2017 BY TP

One week ago, Nines released his debut studio album One Foot Out. As a UK rapper, in a country where the genre is on the ascendance, one may brush off the feat that he is on track to achieve – a top five album in the UK charts. However, this potential accomplishment cannot be overlooked. Nines has not marketed his album via any traditional media avenues. A low-key character, there have been no television appearances and very little, if any, radio presence (bar his ‘Fire In The Booth Pt. 2’). Social media posts, the release of visuals intermittently for songs off the album over the past ten months and news of his label deal with XL Records, were the only contributions to advertising his upcoming project. In addition, not one of the aforementioned releases can be considered a mainstream record to please the masses.

On completely his own terms, without compromising, Nines will have a top five album if he maintains his position in the charts. It is no less than he deserves – for the past five years, the Harlesden rapper has consistently blessed the streets with quality mixtape after mixtape, and when he decides to do a video, he normally gives viewers a cinematic experience, most notably with his greatest song to date (in my humble opinion), “Can’t Blame” Me. His strong core fan base have repaid him for the effort he has put into his music over the years, assisting him to reach a somewhat unfathomable chart position, but did his album live up to the hype sonically?

 

“I used to be a DJ all I wanted to do was buy decks, Then I learnt to whip now I’m mixing in the pyrex”

 

As a Nines fan, I’ve tried to be as unbiased as possible in my assessment. That being said, I haven’t been able to stop listening to his debut studio album for the past week. Although some may feel it is not on par with his mixtapes, I genuinely feel that he has put out a stellar project. He sets the scene with “Intro, instantly hitting on a constant theme throughout the project, whether blowing up in music will take him away from his roots. The piano-based instrumental produced by EY, is beautifully relaxed and showcases his talent as a beatmaker.

It also feeds in perfectly to what could be the next big single from the album, “Goin In. The hook cleverly incorporates lines from previous Ice City Boyz tracks, all referencing Nines, aptly leaving Skrapz’ line to cap off the chorus. The sample sounds uncannily similar to Franco Micalizzi’s Voices for Sadness Theme, used in Stalley’s “Fountain of Youth, complementing the skippy synths, and hard-hitting drum-line. He maintains momentum with the late Summer hit, ‘Trapper of the Year’, which follows the lines of ‘Goin In’ in terms of subject matter, but highlights his braggadociousness and ruthless streak, especially in the second verse.

 

 

“If my CD don’t do well in the charts, when I re-up they ain’t seen this much white, since the EDL march”

 

Love 2 The Game featuring up and coming North West London singer-songwriter, Hudson East, is similar to ‘Intro’ in that it looks at both sides of the chasm between Nines’ past hustle and his future in music. Like in all of his tracks where he mentions the music industry, he never fails to affirm his lack of need for the benefits that the traditional structure may bring, i.e. “I don’t care about the radio, they play me on the streets”. Whether independent musicians can relate to Nines’ music as a whole or not, they most certainly can take inspiration from his DIY attitude.

Getting Money Now”, was probably the lowest point of the album. The hook which opens the track feels very basic, and I feel that he could have recruited a singer with a smoother delivery. His flow feels rushed across the track, which seems to have a higher tempo than what he may be used to. However, he rebounds strongly on ‘These Keys’ with one of his best verses of the project. He also enlists Taylor Gang rapper, Berner, for a feature, and his trademark, concise style provides a nice contrast on the song.

 

 

 

He maintains his level of quality on ‘Stacey Adams’, which cleverly samples “21” by Delilah, and adds in a nice change to the hooks, by using a skit to break up the verses, documenting his issues with undercover police. He changes his subject matter on ‘Hoes’, focusing on the behaviour of overly promiscuous men and women. He reunites with Tiggs Da Author, who he collaborated with on ‘Yay’, which has a similar vibe and content to ‘Hoes’. The Tanzania-born artist deserves a strong mention on this song, as his powerful vocals are smooth, soulful, and perfectly layered to create a crescendo in the hook.

Nervous is a song for the ladies, but along with “Getting Money Now” it is another track on the album where I don’t feel Nines is at his best. It doesn’t help that the hook feels played out and unoriginal, with Nines’ verses generally feeling like filler lyrics to satisfy the overall vibe of the song. I understand the point of it, and the target audience, but Nines has the originality and his own style to not have to borrow too heavily from the Stateside in capturing that type of Rap/R&B vibe.

 

 

 

The softer “Nervous’” transitions to the hard hitting and gritty, “High Roller, which is conveyed in the bass heavy instrumental. I actually reviewed ‘High Roller’ (featuring future UK star J Hus) as soon as the visual was released, and on first listen I wasn’t too fond of the track. Having said that, it has definitely grown on me. I initially felt it was under-produced, but in fact, the beat is ideal for Nines to lace with his characteristic flow.

The production of the following track “Break Away, like “High Roller, allows Nines’ lyrics to breathe freely on the track, as the bass doesn’t kick in until the 13th bar. He returns to a more reflective mood, and also adds a philosophical element in his skits in between verses, calling upon the younger generation to aspire to be something aside from footballers or ‘trappers’. This sentiment continues into one of the best tracks of the album, “I Wonder”.

 

“Rocks in the ring, ain’t fighting Steve Austin”

 

It’s a song where we see a completely different side to Nines, and is possibly the UK’s answer to Jadakiss’ ‘Why’. It has Nines questioning many different aspects of his life and also the happenings of the world. I would never expect Akala to collaborate with Nines, but his feature is very important. He steps outside of the box, and looks at the situation of those in a deprived situation who resort to ‘trapping’. He questions how the drugs get into the area, the impact of your immediate environment on how you grow up and the decisions one makes. Who the real criminals are in the country. It is a welcome change from Nines, and explores an angle that I haven’t seen him use in his past music, but one I would definitely like to see more of going forward.

 

“I wonder how all these guns get into my area, Wonder why they care about celebs instead of Syria”

 

Fittingly, the opening lyrics of the Nav Michael produced, ‘Trap Music’, are “I didn’t choose this life, shit this life just chose me” following on from ‘I Wonder’ to an extent. The last really upbeat track of the album is a solid one, and Nines saves some of his best punchlines for this song i.e. “I just hit the booth, then it’s back to flip mode when I bust a rhyme”. The penultimate song, ‘Make It Last’, is clearly about a female, but unlike ‘Nervous’, Nines sounds more sincere in his lyrics and the tempo is at a good pace for him not be hurried over the beat.

Interestingly, the final song, ‘Outro’ featuring Shemzy, is arguably the best track on the project. Like ‘Intro’, Maschine Man Tim’s production focuses on classy piano chords with a gorgeous sample, evoking imagery of Nines kicking back on a leather seat as he raps his final verses. Shemzy, along with Tiggs, definitely has some of the best vocals on the project, and uses the opportunity to potentially remember Nines’ brother Zino. Nines’ second verse displays vulnerability, which is rare when listening to his material. It is reflective, questioning the happenings in his area, and his decision to become a full time musician. It is a great ending to a great album.

 

“‘Bout to go legit, feds hoping that I slip, Fam it’s cold on the strip, I’m too old for this shit”

 

With years of experience in the Rap game, honing his flow, delivery and lyrics on his mixtapes, Nines has put it all together on his debut album. Tracks like ‘Goin In’, ‘Trapper of the Year’ and ‘High Roller’, are more aggressive in production, whereas “Hoes, “Nervous and “Make It Last address different scenarios relating to relationships and females. ‘I Wonder’ is definitely a standout track, and hopefully will show Nines in a new light, as someone who analyses his situation from the outside looking in, willing to take certain steps to enforce change in an environment where it is certainly needed. The ‘Intro’ and ‘Outro’ provide brilliant bookends for the overall project, encapsulating all of the material in between. It is cohesive, and the track listing ensures that the album flows from song to song.

 

 

The production, although to some ears could sound repetitive, contained enough variation to hear distinct differences from song to song. If I have any criticisms it would be directed at “Getting Money” and “Nervous, and I believe both could be omitted from the project. However, One Foot Out, like all of Nina’s material, is easy to listen to and evokes vivid imagery through his wordplay and description of personal events. Despite his content sounding outlandish, you can’t help but believe that he is as authentic as he portrays, and really lives the life he consistently speaks about in his work. This authenticity has no doubt played into him having a strong fanbase and therefore charting so highly, an unlikely result for a “street” artist. Some may argue that it does not set a good example for such music to be in the mainstream spotlight, but an artist’s job is to portray their environment and depict their surroundings.

Does he have a responsibility to his listeners? That’s a separate argument entirely, but his collaboration with Akala in addition to certain lyrics in “Break Away certainly seems to show that he is going to take on the onus of showing the younger generation a better path going forward. XL Records along with the young but entrepreneurial Caroline SM, have a justified belief in him as an artist, and they have collaborated to produce a great initial body of work. With the power of XL behind him, his next project could even top ‘One Foot Out’, at least in terms of the diversity of production and collaborations which will be afforded to him from this connection. Regardless, his debut studio album is an excellent beginning to what could be Nines’ permanent move to being a full-time UK Rap artist, and one who could go down as one of the greatest to do it in this country…

 

By TP

Twitter: @T_P92