Music

What Went Right With… Nine?

What Went Right With... Nine aka Derrick Keyes?

Before ZillaKami, before Meechy Darko, and before DMX, there was Nine (real name Derrick Keyes) a gruff-voiced rapper from New York who injected a lively and energetic style into the Hip-Hop genre. Like the episode “The Mark Of Satan” in Hammer House Of Horror, the number “9” appeared everywhere to Keyes, and he used the digit as his stage name. In the intro to the remix version of his most famous track “Whutcha Want?”, Nine says “My name is ‘Nine’ for a specific reason; ’cause I was born on the 9th month, the 19th day, in the year 1969, I wear size 9 shoes, my mother went into labour at 9 o’clock, it just goes on and on…”.

The Bronx-born rapper (who was originally called Nine Double M) came onto the scene in 1993 with his track “Six Million Ways To Die” with Funkmaster Flex…

This led to the creation of Nine’s first album Nine Livez, his most well-known release, mainly because of the lead single “Whutcha Want” which made great use of a sample from the Staples Singers’ version of “The Dock Of The Bay”. This video takes me back to the heyday of Yo! MTV Raps every time I see it…

Nine’s debut LP which was released in 1995, contained memorable tracks such as “Redrum”, “Da Fundamentalz”, the aforementioned “Whutcha Want?”, “Fo’eva Blunted”, “Tha Cypha”, and “Any Emcee”. Here’s two of the album’s singles:

“Any Emcee” which incorporated a line by Eric B. And Rakim (“My Melody”) during the hook…

And “Ova Confident” which used KRS-One’s line from Queen Latifah’s “Rough”…

This LP also included Nine’s hilarious alter-ego Froggy Frog in “Hit Em Like Dis” (and the unreleased “The Macadamia Nuts”), a Snoop Doggy Dogg-esque named, rap parody who inserted “ribbit” in-between his lines. With its Jamaican-tinged and throaty delivery coupled with bass-thumping, Boom Bap beats, Nine Livez was undoubtedly a great golden era album from a very distinctive MC.

That being said, Nine’s albums were unfortunately underrated and overlooked. A year after his debut Nine Livez, his follow-up LP Cloud 9 was released. This album was arguably better than its predecessor but it went without any recognition at all (in this case most likely due to the lack of promotion by label Profile Records). Cloud 9 contained “Know Introduction” with King Just, “Every Man 4 Himself”, “We Play 4 Keeps”, “Tha Product”… in fact, the entire album was filled with fantastic joints. The LP is a classic which makes it all the more regrettable that it was ignored when it was first released.

“Lyin’ King” was one of the lead singles and it spoke about fake rappers…

The album also contained the brilliant “Make Or Take” featuring the criminally underrated Smoothe Da Hustler…

And songs such as “4 Chicken Wings & Rice” proved that Nine was able to write something emotional and personal: a Hip-Hop Blues track. Check out some of the lyrics:

“Get up in the morning and I take a bath
Count my cash and, wash my ass, and
Think about the days when I was broke, no joke
Lighting up cigarette butts just to get a toke
Starvin’ Marvin I need a meal
Putting salt and pepper on a banana peel
I used to put the ‘S’ on Skittles from 9 to 5
Do whatever I got to do to stay alive
30 cents away from a quarter
Going to the store for a forty of water
Hungrier than Jack, dreaming of a Big Mac
Two all-beef patties, special sauce and all that
But I can rap, I’ma get mines and blow up fat
But the landlord don’t want to hear that
I’m Nine Double M, I’m gonna be a star
He said pay your rent I don’t care who you are
Disgusted and busted, couldn’t be trusted
Forget the hot-dog all I had was the mustard
So much pain, so many tears, so many years
My pockets had rabbit ears
But now I’m paid, I got money to burn
You had your turn, now it’s my turn
To make mad ends, to spend with my friends
And to cruise in the Benz with the hens
Now I can eat lobster, three times a day
And not care about the price, but I remember
The four chicken wings and rice”

After Profile Records became defunct, Nine was pushed further into the underground. Then, a decade after the overlooking of Cloud 9, Nas mentioned Nine in his song “Where Are They Now”. His track (which included the lyrics “Rap is like a ghost town, real mystic, like these folks never existed, they the reason that rap became addictive”) was about how the public have forgotten about all the Hip-Hop pioneers. Ironically, many of the rappers mentioned in this song weren’t gone, they just didn’t have the backing of major labels any more.

Nine’s 2009 album Quinine (The Overseas Shipment) contained the sombre and personal song “What’s Done Is Done” which spoke about not getting ahead in the mainstream rap business. With lines like “My bathtub don’t lift up, my walls don’t do nothing but stare at me, time to get my shit up” and “My wrist ain’t lit up, And I don’t really live the lifestyle of a rap-star, you seen that nigga’s video? I ain’t have that car, I ain’t get that far”, the song was emotionally charged and sincere. Another great Hip-Hop Blues song, which was quite unique to Hip-Hop music at the time…

With a wealth of unreleased material to his name, similar to Mobb Deep, Nine’s music (that was made during the early-to-mid nineties) was almost flawless. It makes you wonder why it wasn’t released at the time it was relevant. If it wasn’t for German label Smoke On Records, most of his back catalogue would be collecting dust in a vault somewhere. Regardless of the various marketing and release-based issues of the past, there’s now a veritable treasure trove of Hip-Hop music courtesy of Nine. Here’s a small sample…

“Me, Myself & My Microphone”

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (from Death Of A Demo)

“Afraid Of The Dark” (from The 9 Commandments)

“Rah Rah Nigga”

Even when Nine contributed to other people’s songs, he helped them become memorable classics…

“Feel No Guilt” with Demasters

“Naw Mean” and “Troopers Reprezent” with 3rd Eye

Nine recorded an album in 1999 and it contained decent songs such as “Must Be Love” and “Fuckin With Us” but it wasn’t released until 2016. It seems that after Nine Livez, Nine despite being a very unique and capable rapper, was relegated to the “underground” through no fault of his own. It’s unfortunate that some of the greatest MCs from the golden era are disregarded and unappreciated whereas some of the wackest rappers of all time have climbed the rungs of popularity and fame.

Nine needs and deserves a bigger audience, not just from a new generation of Hip-Hop fans but from those that ignored his talents back in the 1990s. Unfortunately, most of his releases aren’t on Spotify, Apple Music, or Deezer. His music videos aren’t uploaded to any official YouTube channels and his first two (and best) albums are also out of print which makes being a (new) fan even more difficult. Nine’s gravelly voice was and still is unique, his music is upbeat and emotive, and his talents are obvious so why aren’t more people listening to his music? His name should be…

Up In Lights N-I-N-E.

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