track-by-track: nines’ official debut, one foot out
The surprise best-seller further cements the appetite for UK rap.
Following 2015's One Foot In mixtape (his fifth), Harlesden rapper Nines' official debut exceeded expectation when it dropped earlier this week. Announcing its release on the day itself, One Foot Out is the most streamed album of the week, shooting straight up the iTunes chart to land at No.2 - just behind sales bulldozer Rag 'n' Bone Man - and it's currently number 4 in the Official Charts' midweeks. The video to High Roller, featuring east London's J-Hus has already racked up 1.1m views in a week, adding to Nines' collective 32m+ YouTube views to date. For a relatively unknown rapper, these are hugely impressive figures, further underscoring the power of independent British rap and grime. Nines has quietly built his fanbase over the last six years, and the hard work is now paying off. There's a following, and the following is prepared to invest. A new signee to XL, the label has allowed Nines, AKA Courtney Freckleton, to do what he does best; sharing his sinister street dreams over foreboding beats by the likes of Jevon and the almighty Menace. Securing features from Akala, J-Hus and old pal Tiggs the Author, One Foot Out is as uncompromising in its delivery as it was its release; we already know the script, but Nines manages to rewrite the story by balancing One Foot Out's initial bravado with plenty of vulnerability as the album progresses.
i-D presses play on One Foot Out to deliver a track by track analysis of the 15 track album.
Sounds like: Melancholia.
In his trademark laconic flow, Nines reflects on darker days, utilising screen similes from Game of Thrones and James Bond.
Standout lyric: The pies come over the water/So if Labour wins the next election, I just pray they don't tighten up the borders.
2. Going In
Sounds like: 90s-era scratch rap.
Featuring an exultant intro by Ice City, Nines picks up the pace over this powerful piano-led paean to the trap.
Standout lyric: Since school days I rolled around with teks and mags/I had machines since a kid like Dexter's Lab.
3. Trapper of the Year ft. Jay Midge
Sounds like: Your favourite trapper's favourite trapper.
A summer 16 anthem produced by X-Supply, the video is currently tipping 10m views on YouTube.
Standout lyric: How come I'm making more of ami than they're making off white?/Them man there come like Andy Cole, the way they're playing with the white.
4. Love 2 the Game ft. Hudson East
Sounds like: A deserted car park late - very late - at night.
With Hudson on the hook to lighten Menace's menacing music, Nines relays rhymes wrought with imagery as he stands on the periphery of illegal and legal living.
Standout lyric: All I used to do was unwrap packets/Now I'm 'bout to be in the 50 percent tax bracket.
5. Getting Money Now
Sounds like: Young Thug and DJ Khaled.
This 5ive Beatz track opens predictably enough - If you had my chick you'd probably never cheat, but I be smashing groupies on these Fendi sheets - but the 27-year-old later offers a little more substance to his stunting, querying his guilt flying business after seeing starving people during a trip to Africa, and observing his own ambivalence to his new-found riches, as he struggles to swap the street for spitting.
Standout lyric: Hoes and dough n***a, that's all I get/Wasn't like this when I was wearing Sports Direct.
6. These Keys ft. Berner
Borrowing from JMSN's Alone, Nines and Taylor Gang's Berner continue the theme, contemplating the love and lure of the streets, as they risk everything to remain top of the trap.
Standout lyric: They don't play me on the radio, but I don't give a fuck/I've buried P, went broke then I had to dig it up.
7. Stacey Adams
Sounds like: A winter warmer.
In which Nav Michael and Karlos sample Deliah's 21, while Nines ridicules the police's terrible attempts at undercover. "You really think them man came to paint the lamppost?" As for the title, Stacey Adams, possibly, refers to a porn star.
Standout lyric: I'm loyal to the soil, mumsy raised me right.
8. Hoes ft. Tiggs da Author
Sounds like: A feminist anthem.
Ok, it doesn't, but somewhere in there is an elevating, uplifting message. You just have to delve deep to find it. Perhaps it's in the fact that in verse two we see Nines ponder the fate of the male ho. Equality is everything.
Standout lyric: Drives a nice car looks like the n***as winning/But he's got bad karma cause he's always trickin' women.
Sounds like: Nines does have a heart after all.
A love song, of sorts (though the bridge suggests otherwise), a nervous Nines proposes all he has to offer to the girl of his dreams - a Porsche, a penthouse, £500k, an Audemar - consciously, or unconsciously, revealing some self-confidence issues. Nervous is ultimately endearing, especially when he offers to take off the girl's sports bra. Let hope she showered after that sweaty gym session.
Standout lyric: No more Nando's, we can eat at the Shard.
10. High Roller ft. J-Hus
Sounds like: The money shot.
Continuing the close relationship between UK rap and UK afrobeat, Hus and Nines pair as perfectly as Abracadabra and Kojo Funds, Mostack and Mist. Litty.
Standout lyric: I'm the high roller, bipolar, in the motor.
11. Break Away
Sounds like: Regret.
Jevon and Fwdslxsh come on board with solid mid-tempo boom bap, as Nines reflects on the futility of the game and his own part within it.
Standout lyric: I'm way too ambitious, you do nothing with your life/Came a long way from seven grams on the scale/Feels like yesterday I was in jail.
12. I Wonder ft. Akala
Sounds like: A highpoint.
Here we have the album's unadulterated Sliding Doors moment, as Nines and Akala - one of London's most eloquent activists - wonder what might have been if he'd grown up in Hampstead, not Harlesden. A record of real power.
Standout lyric: I wonder how all these guns get into my area/Wonder why they care about celebs instead of Syria.
13. Trap Music
Sounds like: Business as usual.
As the record rolls on, Nines appears more at ease with himself; though you might think you know what to expect from Trap House, he instead continues to expose more vulnerabilities, revealing the realities of road life, creating a colder, more lonely lyrical retelling of those times in the trap.
Standout lyric: Still can't believe the industry let a hustler shine.
14. Make It Last
Again opening up the door to doubt and regret, Make It Last delivers balance to the earlier bravado-laden beats. We see Nines go from insatiable young man with groupies on Fendi sheets, to a father thinking of the one he let go.
Standout lyric: I should have known you were that chick from the start/Fuck an Instagram like, I'll give you my heart/Should have been with you instead of entertaining all those freaks/Only you and music can take me off the streets.
Sounds like: It ain't over quite yet.
Mashine Man Tim closes the record out, and does a great job, providing Nines with one more mellow musical moment that allows him to bear heart and soul. The Outro allows a keener understanding of Nines, the man, as opposed to Nines the rapper/ trapper. It's a powerful end to an impressive debut. Lets hope Nines finds both feet firmly on solid ground soon.
Standout lyric: I still walk around like I ain't got a care in the world/ Rapping all these words that I can barely spell.
One Foot Out is out now
Text Hattie Collins