As rap music ascend further into prominence, there is a duality suffered by those rising stars on the brink between underground success and mainstream fame. Towards the end of 2016, Nines, key figure on the scene since dropping his 2011 mixtape From Church Road To Hollywood, was signed by major label XL Recordings.
The Harlesden rapper follows his 2015 mixtape One Foot In with this twinned title, perhaps representing his position on this threshold. He may not be there for long, though, considering that on release One Foot Out sailed straight to number 2 on the iTunes chart.
And listening to it, it’s clear to see why. This record is comprised of solid hooks, spacious production and head-bobbing beats. The bars are standard Nines (drugs and girls, largely) though cheeky allusions to politics on “Intro” (“If labour wins the next election/I hope they don’t tighten up the borders“, “They ain’t seen this much white since the EDL march“) pepper this with a bit of topicality.
Despite the tendency towards typical trap themes (albeit delivered with candour), deeper topics are explored; “I Wonder“, featuring Akala, is a sociopolitical musing that samples an Akala interview to encapsulate the track’s gritty realism. Tundra-like frostiness in the production achieves a pensive vibe and the brooding nature of the lyrics is amplified by their deeper delivery.
The pulse of the interview snippet fits so satisfyingly into the beat behind it, whilst musing on the “real criminals in suits and ties“; as the beat fades away dreamily, it seems Nines is being shaken out of a trance, presumably ‘wondering’ about all this stuff, by someone going “Yo, NINES!” (a nice touch that adds to the realism of the track).
Although the bars are largely not standout, this record kills on the basis of its musical and production quality; in terms of sound palette used, it’s a winning combination of ethereal high-end synths offset with fat trap beats and bass, marrying hooks that are executed perfectly. “Love 2 The Game“, featuring London-based singer-songwriter Hudson East, is dragged along by its insistent nagging vocal sample and reluctant beat.
“These Keys“, which features a verse from Berner of Taylor Gang, is propelled by a spacious bell-infused sample, whilst I am drawn in instantly by the pitched-up baby-voice intro on “Stacey Adams“, and remain drawn in when these are offset instantly with the gruff depth of the beat that ensues.
Featuring East London rapper J Hus, “High Roller” features some nice vocoder action at the start creating a spacey atmosphere alongside some granulated/reversed samples, the combined effect of which puts you in a trance of the best kind. Its celestial underwater vibe is emphasised when juxtaposed with cheeky bars like “You wouldn’t know money if it slapped you in the face“.
Meanwhile, “Make It Last” is a sparse, spacey slow-burner with smooth vocals and a notably more subdued delivery of bars. There’s a great moment where the beat suddenly goes ditzy and pitched down samples shift and shimmer either side of my speakers and shake in the refrain – altogether this is the most bleakly atmospheric track on the album.
Though the record is about 90% frosty beats, there are bursts of warmth in the production; “Hoes“, featuring Tiggs Da Author, has a melodic, sunset feeling provided by groovy guitar licks and fills and tongue-in-cheek bars (“She don’t like boys her own age, only them fly olders/In expensive clothes, don’t get it twisted though/Some of the coolest bitches I ever met was hoes“).
Admittedly, all-killer-no-filler this ain’t. The only tracks that slightly disappointed were “Getting Money Now” and “Nervous“. Perfectly good trap tracks with nice melodic lines and okay lyrics, but in the light of the brilliance of the rest of the record, they fell kinda flat.
Altogether, though, this is a highly impressive record – I’m left wondering when the next record is coming out, and wondering what it may be called, with both feet spoken for. Either way, I have faith it will continue Nine’s legacy: wavy, textural trap music at its best.
Nines One Foot Out is out now via XL Recordings, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Hannah Bruce