The fourth installment of our Lost & Found series gets serious and we catch up with Nine to find out who kidnapped him in 96. Nah, in all seriousness any real head from the mid 90s will remember Nine as the gruffed voice spitter, the precursor to cats like Jah Rule and DMX. Back in ’93 came on the scene with Funk Master Flex and Tragedy teaming up on a track called ‘˜6 Million Ways to Die. While that got the labels buzzing it was Nine’s “Whutcha Want’ from his much lauded first album Nine Livez that most heads will likely remember. In 1996, After another solid effort in Cloud 9, Nine pretty much vanished from to scene only to be heard on a few scattered tracks over the last ten years. The Halftime crew tracked him down to find out what happened and what he has in store for fans who have been patiently waiting his return.
Myspace Page: Myspace.com/nineix
Halftimeonline: Before we even get into where you’ve been can you give cats a little background on your career and how you got into emceeing?
Nine: I was a teenager in the 80s so I was a fan of hip hop music. I was in a bunch of little rap groups. I was in a group called Deuces Wild with Funkmaster Flex and Chuck Chillout was our manager. Eventually Flex and Chuck went to do radio but when we were together we did a song called ‘˜Six Million Ways to Die’ and it really was the beginning of the development of the Nine style. My name was 9MM at the time but I didn’t want to be just named after the gun so I dropped the MM and did the song with Flex. A lot of labels started calling but me and Flex weren’t really artists together. He would like certain things and I liked certain things but we could never nail down a project together. So I made my move and chose Profile Records. I picked Profile because they were the only label that wasn’t afraid. Around that time a lot of people were beginning to know me as Flex’s rapper and you didn’t really want to upset a radio DJ. Around ’92 and ’93 radio djs were really powerful so no one wanted to mess with me until I went to Profile. I knew ‘œWhutcha Want?’ was a good song. It could have been a much bigger record if I had been on a better label, but I knew it was a good song and that I could make move and make a name for myself. That’s basically how I got my start.
Halftime: How did you develop your style?
Nine: Well, I have a deep voice but [the voice I use on records] comes out mainly when I talk loudly. So I don’t generally walk around talking like that but I used to sing along to Buju and Shabba and the voice would come out and my man was like yo why don’t you rhyme like that? He was like why don’t you just flow like that and a light bulb went off like ding! At that time I was really trying to find myself because I didn’t really want to sound like nobody. It’s not a trick or anything it’s my real voice [so it doesn’t hurt to speak that way]. It’s just a gift that I have that I can change the octave of my vocal chords. I’ve always been able to do it.
Halftime: I knew you were on a song with Flex but I dint know ya’ll went back like that. Do ya’ll still get up?
Nine: Oh yea we came up together probably since we were 17. I’ve know him a long time. He’s still my boy. I still holla at him when I got that material. He’s been playing scattered Nine songs throughout the last six years especially between 2000 and 2003. I’d give him a joint and he’d spin a couple of weeks but he’d always tell me yo D man radio ain’t the way no more you gotta relearn this game because just playing the record on the radio ain’t gonna do it for you. It’s not gonna make people sign you, buy your record or be interested. You gotta do other things and the game has changed a lot. So I had to take some time to even relearn how to rhyme because to me rhyming is an art form and art should grow and you should change along with it. I think a lot of dudes who are considered great emcees but can’t compete today were too successful with their style. I never really saw that platinum success so I maintain a hunger that they probably don’t have anymore.
Halftime: Back in ’96 you came out with the track “Lyin’ King.” Was there anybody specific you were aiming at?
Nine: Just basically everybody. It wasn’t artists even that was big because I was still listening to the underground scene. So after B.I.G. started coming and Raekwon started coming [it was like] everyone was drug dealers and gangstas. Half of them I know and were on tour with and saw them tuck in their chains in L.A. around real gangsters. I saw dudes get smacked and niggas get robbed in their own hotel room so I’m like you not gangsta! I have seen dudes afraid to cross the road. I used to go to the bar of whatever club we were in without security or whatever because I’m not scared of my own people. But I’ve seen a lot of dudes that were really afraid and then I would hear some records and be like where did that come from? It’s like you ain’t never sold no drugs, or shot nobody and you tuck your chain in around real dudes but you a gangsta. It just started getting frustrating so I decided to make that track.
Halftime: Did anyone ever come up to you like yo son was you talking about me?
Nine: The bugged out shit about is that one time I was in Paris with Jesse West working on a 24/7 project for Loud records and Capadonna walked up to us and was like yo was you talking about Rae? And I was like come on man Rae is one of my favorite people. Outside of just being an artist Rae is a cool dude to me so I was like nah man I was talking to the other dudes. But he was the only one whoever said anything. He didn’t approach me like he wanted to fight or anything he was just asking. I ain’t one of those dudes that pose so if I was talking about him I would of said yea and? I’m from where you from and been locked up like you been locked up so I’m not afraid of you. Nowadays if a dude think you talking about him there is a possibility for violence which I think is stupid. I think it’s like that because dudes don’t even battle on a skill level no more. It’s like what’s the most insulting thing that I can say about you, your people, your family or your past. It’s not a test of skill no more.
Halftime: So what happened after Cloud 9? After that album you pretty much vanished?
Nine: They didn’t even promote that album they just put it out there and let it do what it did. They didn’t really care because right after that they kinda shut down the place. I don’t even think I ever went back up to the office after the last meeting I had with them about the album. It was crazy. What happened was Profile wouldn’t let me go. Then they got sold to Arista and it took four years for the deal to go through. Then the guy who was interested in all of the acts from Profile got fired in the interim. I think Profile was trying to keep the RUN DMC catalog and sell everything else but Arista wasn’t going for it. So they were negotiating. Then Arista wouldn’t let me go right away. They wanted to hear something first so I gave them some bullshit little demo. If it was the days like today where you just go up in the label and kick in the door I might have done that. I was tempted to do that but I felt I could just wait it out because I knew the skill wasn’t going to leave me. Then during that time period you had other people coming out sounding like me which kinda distracted from the whole point of it but nowadays biting is cool. Now labels look to sign you if you sound like somebody else. Oh you sound like Jada sign right here. It’s a business though and I really took my time out to learn the business and make sure that this time around it’s gonna be a whole lot different.
Halftime: During that stint did anyone come up trying to buy you out or offer you a different option for another label?
Nine: Not really man. I’ve always been a stepchild of this game. I didn’t have too many friends in the industry and I still don’t. That was partially my fault because I didn’t go out or search out people I just accepted the situation. To do anything else at that point would have been panicking. My mentality was never I want to join this group or get this rapper to help me. That was never my mentality so it didn’t change when I was hurting. I just sat it out. I got kids and found other things to do. It’s a real bugged approach but I’m being honest.
Halftime: So between then and now what have you been doing to maintain?
Nine: I was hustling baby! You gotta do what you have to do to stay alive. I did Lugz commercials for Flex. I did beats for a couple of those. I did some Burger King joints. I did some voiceovers. I was working with other artists. There are some cats I started developing and producing. I was doing little things behind the scenes that people probably don’t know about.
Halftime: What about the Jeep commercial?
Nine: Nah, see that’s a whole different story. There’s a legal issue going right now concerning that.
Halftime: Haha, ahh man they tried to jack?
Nine: They tried to get slick nahmean. I can’t even talk about it until they settle it out.
Halftime: Aiight but yo what was your first reactions when you saw the commercial and it was like ‘˜steady bouncing in jeeps on the NY streets?’
Nine: Haha! I started smiling like finally my turn. 1-800’“I-GOTCHA. My man Finesse got paid off lovely, my man Chuck D got paid crazy from St. Ides for jacking his record, so I was like finally my time. I knew somebody was gonna get stupid. It was just a matter of time. I think what it was is they just had this thing someone sampled and they didn’t realize it was from a song put out by an artist. That’s as much as I can say.
Halftime: So you were mainly doing behind the scenes stuff until you were ready to comeback?
Nine: I don’t want it to seem like I had a label job or anything like that. I was doing little stuff but between ’98 and 2000 I just walked away from the whole thing. I didn’t really want any parts of it. Then I started doing little scattered things to get paper. The commercial game pays well so I would do that strictly for the paper but I wasn’t thinking about being a music exec. I would help other artists develop and started getting into production. It wouldn’t even be industry related. Then about a year and a half or two years ago I decided I wanted to come back into it full force. I started writing again because I don’t even think I wrote any lines from 2000 to 2004. I wasn’t even trying to write because when you write for so long it’s just nothing to say. Then when things start changing you gotta sit back and become a fan again so if you decide to come back you come with a fresh ear. By then that old flow will be out of you. A lot of dudes don’t want to let goof that old flow and that old flow is what killed them.
Halftime: I heard you on the new Juggaknots album is that the new flow? It’s not the usual ‘œWhutcha Want” Nine flow people are used to.
Nine: Right, what happened with that was that it was a deadline thing. I was in the booth and I did that song a long time ago with them. I just threw it up there and I was running through the words. I wasn’t whispering but I was talking really low on the track. I had done another song with them but it couldn’t get cleared so at the last minute because of a deadline Breeze had to go put his vocals behind what I had laid down because that’s all they had of me on there. I told them people aren’t even gonna believe that’s me because it don’t sound like me. As far as the flow maybe apart of me was like saving it like that’s for me, haha. I haven’t been heard in a minute and I’m not trying to come back and just survive. I want the crown. I want to come in the game and take it and then make some history at the same time because I don’t think anyone has done what I’m about to do. I’ve never seen someone be out for ten years and come back and be successful. But during those ten years I haven’t put out anything. A lot of dudes continue putting out albums under the radar and they hear you so much that they don’t trust you no more or they hear too much of you. However, if you just stay away and then comeback there will be a new story to tell.
Halftime: So what got you to the point where you were ready to comeback?
Nine: I needed a reason and over the last year and a half it’s been eating at me. I can’t let the chapter close like that. It’s not gonna end like that. I have to show people that it’s nothing. There’s nothing special about half of these cats that are spitting. It’s now how it used to be. It’s not like I want to make it how it used to be but we need a little bit of substance and originality. That’s what really sparked me to do something at this time. I knew I was gonna do something eventually but I wasn’t really concerned. A lot of people were telling me you’re waiting too long, you’re getting older and people are going to forget who you are, etc. but it didn’t phase me.
Halftime: How did you get down with the Juggaknots?
Nine: Oh that’s my family. My cousin Shawn grew up in the same neighborhood as them. I was in a club once around ’97 and he introduced me to Buddy Slim from the Juggaknots and was like this is the dude I was telling you about. Then I met Breeze and they was cool so we hooked up like six months later at 3rd Eye’s (Jesse West) house and we just started talking. Ever since then we’ve been cool. We’re like family. I was just at his house last night. We’re still close. I support them in anything that they do and I’m proud of their album. They stick to their guns and do what they do rather than conform.
Halftime: Do you still mess with Jesse West and Rob Lewis?
Nine: Nah, I haven’t seen Rob in like five years. I ran into him once but Jesse West is my man. He runs the studio in the Bronx that I record in. He’s like a pro tools master now. He’s a producer and he has some artists coming out. He’s still nice but he is more of a producer/engineer now.
Halftime: Does Froggy Frog still chill on his lillypad?
Nine: HAHA! I have no idea.
Halftime: So what are the things you’ve noticed that have changed in hip hop?
Nine: I think mainly the delivery of what you’re spitting. People used to emcee and show you that they can rap, then they used to rap at people and now they are talking to you. If you’re making a record today you have to be talking to people. People always want a new approach and I think that’s why the south is successful right now. They’re just talking basically. I’m not trying to dis them or anything but I don’t think they really sit down like I’m gonna put this in this bar or change the rhythm here. I was reading the interview ya’ll did with Rakim explaining how he broke his rhythms down, nowadays people would be like what? He went through all that? He cared about what he was giving to you. He wanted to show you that the last two did this but now I’m gonna do this just to be different. Nowadays, when you buy an album you’re gonna hear what you heard on the next dude’s album and you’re probably gonna hear the same guest artists.
Halftime: What adjustments do you plan to make in your music in order to be successful? I know you don’t want to just cater to the masses.
Nine: I think I’m just a lot better. The production is better and I have something to talk about. In ten years a lot of shit has happened to me that I can talk about and now I see how to deliver it. It’s not about appealing to the masses because I still believe that your originality is what appeals you to people and I believe that people are sick of hearing the same thing. They gotta be sick of it because it shows in the record sales. You have to pull some tricks to sell records now. You gotta retire and then un-retire. You gotta punch him in the face or battle with him. It’s like you have to pull tricks to make people go to the record store now. People are bootlegging and it’s as much the artist’s fault as it is the bootlegger. People don’t even trust spending $10 for an album when they think they are only going to like 2 or 3 songs. I don’t trust it. I don’t buy nobody’s album if I don’t trust them.
Halftime: How has your approach to writing songs changed?
Nine: Nowadays I gotta hear a track. I’m at a point where I can’t write rhymes just for the sake of writing rhymes. I gotta hear the track and the track will immediately tell me what to do. It’s scary to me sometimes because I’ll know exactly what to do. I’m not like Jay, I won’t just sit there and make up a song in my head. I enjoy writing. The most exciting part to me is creating a song out of nothing. If I don’t get anything after listening to the track for five hours then I’ll move on. A lot of people think that you can rhyme over anything but I don’t think you sound good over everything. Certain tracks should be catered to you and I think the artists that rhyme to the tracks that they sound best on are the most successful.
Halftime: What are some topics you plan to be addressing that you witnessed during your ten years out of the mix and how will it be different from your previous work?
Nine: Well, on Nine Livez I was just having fun lyrically expressing myself. But on Cloud 9 I was just an angry black man. I felt the pressure when I did Cloud 9. It is not my favorite body of work which is why I can’t let it end that way. I was going through a lot of things after Nine Livez about the subject matter and how the voice was a gimmick so I think I overshot myself on that album trying to prove things. A lot of songs didn’t make that album. I hated my label. I was doing shows with dudes where the place is sold out and everyone is telling me how much they love the record and my pockets weren’t reflecting that. My deal was terrible and my publishing was horrible. Everything I got I had to go out and get on my own. This label wasn’t really doing anything for me so the second time around when I saw the same things happening I couldn’t focus. I was just angry. ‘˜Lyin King’ was actually the last song I did for that album. The only reason that happened is because the label said they wanted a radio song so I did it. Then they were like why don’t you do a bunch of these and I was like why man for what?
This time I’m a grown man and my songs will reflect that. I’m not gonna be preachy but there is a reason for anything that I say. I’ll be talking about basic things like everyday life. That’s where the public is pointing too. People’s attention spans are shorter and they want something where it’s like you’re right man that’s true. They want to nod their head in agreement or disagreement with you. If they don’t know what you’re talking about I don’t think they have the attention spans to even want to try and figure it out. You gotta dumb it down.
Halftime: Yo a lot of cats are starting to say that man. Jay and now Nas what’s up with that?
Nine: You don’t rap for other artists you’re rapper to the guy that does not rap and does not want to be a rapper. He works all week long and gets in on Friday and then busts his ass all weekend. He doesn’t want to put a CD in and be like.. huh what is this dude talking about? He doesn’t want to hear that shit when he can just throw on ‘˜Shoulder Lean.’ He just wants to chill out. He don’t want to hear you getting all complex and shit. He’s like nigga please I got bills. Talk about them bills nigga! Fuck your universal, international flow I want to know how would you handle this situation? You have to talk to people about what they are going through. I’m still blue collar so I’m of the people. I was in the Bronx all day. I live in Harlem now and Harlem really gave me my swagger back. I’ve always liked Harlem but I never lived here and I’ve been here for about a year and a half. Everybody here is really trying to get it and having that around you really fuels you.
Halftime: Business-wise how will you approach things differently without the labels behind you?
Nine: It’s just a do it yourself mentality. I’m gonna set it off with a mixtape so people can go to my myspace page and cop it. I’m putting out an album of unreleased songs that were recorded between 2000-2003. The CD is gonna be called Return of the Hardcore and people are gonna be blown away when they hear it. People haven’t heard me in a while and they definitely haven’t heard me in the form I’m coming in. I’m basically gonna make the labels come to me. I’m not gonna chase them around and shop demos. I’m past that point. I’m basically taking lessons from what I see dudes doing. I know a lot of mixtapes are out there but just like albums they are not quality. Anyone who actually puts out quality mixtapes it does something for them especially if you already have a name. I know people are curious so all I have to do is satisfy that curiosity. I’m gonna surprise a lot of doubters. I feed off of that.
Halftime: Who are some of the cats that inspired you and do you listen to today to get inspired?
Nine: Some of my inspirations for rapping back in the day were people like Rakim, KRS, Public Enemy and heads like that. As far as today I’m not inspired by anybody so I don’t even really listen to rap. I did enough listening the last couple of years to know where it’s at. There’s a very selective few that I’ll listen too. I might listen to 50 if I feel like I want to crack somebody’s head open or if I want to lay back I might throw Snoop in. I have certain people that I listen to but I don’t get inspired by anybody else because they have been inspired and I know where they got it from. So they’re not original for the most part. I mess with the cats that sound different but the creativity is gone. I think 50 is creative based on the way he approaches his melodies, Kanye is kinda creative, Jay-Z is creative because he comes with different flows but these are veterans or students of the game that I’m talking about. I like T.I. I think he’s nice. I always thought regardless of where you’re from nice is nice and to me he’s nice. Ludacris is just nice to me. I enjoy listening to them as well. You gotta be nice and that does take creativity. I think those artists are creative because they have skill to rely on but 80% of these cats don’t have skills they just have character. Character is good because in today’s business that can carry you a long way.
Halftime: So what would you like to see changed in hip hop?
Nine: I would like to see dudes really step it up. If a guy makes an album you like don’t go and try to make an album just like that. You don’t have to be left field with it just have your album stand by itself. If I bought an EPMD, Rakim, Kane and a Public Enemy album none of them would sound the same. I’d be in the mood for what I’m in the mood for. The music is really for the people not even the artist. I just want to be able to satisfy a part of someone’s mood. I don’t expect them to listen to me all day everyday or even like every song that I make. I miss that in hip hop that I can’t get albums for my different moods. Now I can just turn on the radio and it’s all the same.
Halftime: So when can we expect some new material?
Nine: Well, in about three weeks fans can go to my myspace page and hear some new material. They’ll be able to go on that page and pick up ‘˜Return of the Hardcore’ through paypal. I’ll be putting out another mixtape mainly in the streets of New York. I’m trying to get Mister Cee to host it even though I know he don’t really do that. That’s my man though. The mixtape is done already but I can’t really sell that because it’s copyrighted music that I’m spitting over. There will be original songs and all that on there. I’m just gonna keep pumping these mixtapes out and I’m talking to a few people about putting a package together but I really want to grind out for a couple of months. A lot of people might be surprised who I may end up fooling around with or what clique I might be apart of. We’ll see what happens. I’m just gonna get my feet wet again. I have a few shows coming up out of state. By February we should have something in place.
Halftime: When’s the last time you did a show?
Nine: Ahh man I turned down a lot of shows. I was getting a lot of requests between 2000 and 2004 to do “Whutcha Want” here or do this there and I just didn’t want to. It wasn’t even about the money I just didn’t want to. Now I want to plus I got new material now and I can pump out these mixtapes. There were also personal reasons outside of the business that I didn’t want to be out there like ‘˜Whutcha Want Nine!, yea whateva’¦’
Nine: I don’t even want to hear that shit. I’ll do a verse because I owe a lot to that song. I probably wouldn’t even be talking to ya’ll if I hadn’t made that record. That record was one of the best things to ever happen to me so I’ll never disrespect it but I’ll be honest I have to relearn the words. I don’t play my old music around the crib because I don’t want to hear it. I used to spit like that and now it’s a new thing so I try and keep it fresh.
Halftime: Taking all the things you’ve learned what advice would you have for other artists coming up?
Nine: The advice from my heart would be try to be original, stick to ya guns and do your thing. The brain in me says make sure motherfuckers can do two things to your record dance and sing along. If they can’t dance or sing along they don’t want to hear that shit. Do your homework, keep spitting and try your best. My heart tells me that if you got talent and believe in yourself then you’ll be successful. I give advice to both cuz its different things when you talk to artists because today there are emcees and rappers. Emcees know what they are doing they don’t need any advice. They have skills that will develop and turn them into what they are supposed to be. A rapper needs guidance on how to make a song and be shown what to do. The best advice I can really give is figure out which one you are.
Halftime: What do you want to say to all the cats that have been wondering where you at and been pumping your music over the years?
Nine: I want to say to them thank you because you’re part of the reason I still want to do this because people are like yo what’s up what happened to Nine? I’d like to thank them for that and let them know I wont let them down again especially to the Bronx. I apologize to The Bronx I will never let you down again. I also want to give a shout out to Nas. I never even met Nas and he has a song called ‘œWhere are They Now’ and he says ‘˜I’ll always remember them, Lakim Shabazz, 9 double M.’ that was cool. I’d also like to thank you cats for giving me a platform where I can talk to the people.