For the best part of ten years, Church Road’s own Nines has managed to maintain a buzz that a few other of his rapping peers can attest to. The North-West London star has built a brand as authentic as they come through his candid storytelling and unique wordplay, along with a loyal fanbase who pine for new music whenever he steps away from the mic. With the release of his third studio album Crabs In a Bucket, Nines solidifies his status as one of the UK’s leading names in rap, teases new ventures, and blends in exciting new talent with the same laidback sensibilities that put him on the map back in 2012.
Since the release of his seminal mixtape, From Church Road to Hollywood, Nines has grown into the superstar role he carved out for himself. He is aware of his leading position in the game as he claims on hard-hitting pacesetter Energy, that he and long-term collaborator Skrapz are “the hardest rappers in the world.” It's this kind of confidence in his ability that saw him deliver back-to-back UK Top Ten albums with One Foot Out and Crop Circle, and his latest effort guaranteed to repeat the feat.
Nines manages to strike the perfect balance when it comes to the features on this album. The ‘Ice City Boyz’ headliner is prolific in selecting diverse collaborators that mesh well with his sound. Producer Show N Prove’s whooshing strings in NIC are perfectly complemented with Tiggs Da Author’s crooning vocals, and on Realist, Nafe Smallz delivers an infectious hook over a spacey Quincy Tellem production. Whilst the roster of All Stars 2 fails to live up to the heights reached by its predecessor, Nines’ otherwise measured approach to collaborations ensures that when enlisting the help of international artists such as Cherrie, in Stalker Interlude, they enhance rather than detract from his message. Amidst the sea of different influences he brings into the album, Nines’ core sound stays afloat.
The rapper's rhyming technique strays from the contemporary flows of today’s chart-topping rap superstars, and whilst his languid cadence is beloved by supporters, it isn’t for everyone and critics can be forgiven for leveling disapproval as he monotonously drawls through the album. Throughout his career, the I See You Shining rapper has reminded us that music is a part-time venture for him; a means to “wash up all this dough,” he explains on Outro. Tracks such as the jubilant Airplane Mode, (featuring what feels like an ever-expanding NSG lineup) perhaps highlight the ‘bare minimum’ approach that critics have noted. The anthemic track is catchy with stellar production, but is crying out for an additional verse from Nina. It almost feels like NSG ft. Nines rather than the other way round.
A quick glance at the comment section of any Nines music video further reveals this general perception of his musical output. To the casual listener, it seems like the Ice City Boy tends to ‘drop an album and ghost for 4 years,’ but this is far from the truth. In reality, Nines has been one of the most consistent rappers in the UK, with his latest release serving as his seventh full-length offering in the space of 8 years. It is a testament to the quality control exercised by the rapper and his camp that his name is still brought up in conversations. Nines resists the pressure to fill in the gaps of his absences with singles that get lost in the eternally-spinning wheel of new music; his projects are more coveted as a result.
With ten years in the game under his belt, as with any other artist who has enjoyed similar longevity, Nines has one eye on the next step in his career. He gives the listener an insight into his love for cinema on smooth rider Movie Knights, alluding to Rico’s betrayal of Mitch in the film, Paid in Full or probably the 100th time. But most importantly, his last reference relates to his starring role in Crop Circle, the tie-in short film released alongside the eponymous album. Nines now boasts three directorial credits and three starring roles; it is safe to say that his endeavours in the cinematic space will continue. With the help of his team, the rapper is finding new ways to express his creativity, letting us know that alongside Ice City Films, Ice City Books and Ice City Clothing are on the way.
The attention to detail with which Nines packages his work is second-to-none in the UK Rap scene. At this stage of his career, it’s difficult to envisage his sound becoming any bit more expansive, but you know what you are getting when you hear the all-too-familiar ‘Zino Records’ tag; pensive bars and lavish production as part of a well-rounded record.