In Conversation With Nines, the UK Rap Legend Blessed With Unparalleled Vision

In an exclusive chat with Hypebeast, Nines discusses his new album and film, ‘Crop Circle 3,’ life after prison, and the difficulties that come with leaving his past life behind.

Music 
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​Throughout the world of UK rap, the average shelf-life for rhymers in today’s saturated market often lands on the three-year mark. So, when a British rapper manages to brush past the second — and sometimes, even third — studio album, it’s a moment that deserves to be celebrated.

Harlesden-raised road rap legend, Nines, real name Courtney Freckleton, has just dropped his latest album, Crop Circle 3 — his second full-length LP of the year. The first Crop Circle was released in 2018 when Nines was signed to XL Recordings, a label revered for discovering the likes of Adele, M.I.A, and Giggs in the early stages of their careers. The start of the Crop Circle trilogy birthed a more focused Nines, one that ambushed the British rap scene — and official UK charts — with records such as “I See You Shining” and “Oh My.”

Nines’ first Crop Circle album was followed up by his 2020-released project, Crabs In A Bucket, which flew straight to number one in the Official UK Album Charts. However, it was soon followed by a 28-month prison stretch after the rapper was convicted of importing weed from Spain and Portugal. “After [the single] “I See You Shining,” I just got signed for a mil and had two million in the bank — there was no way I should’ve been selling cannabis. But, that’s all I knew at that point,” Nines told Hypebeast.

That honesty translates in the music, too, with his lyrics painting a matter-of-fact picture of his life growing up in Harsleden, North West London; a borough that’s publicly known for its gang-related troubles. And while the music industry and government have tried to keep the realities of living on the fringes of British society quiet — by canceling UK rap music tours and using released lyrics as evidence in court against other musicians — Nines has continued to show through his over-15-year music career, that poverty and racism are a real thing. But, for Nines, the musician has continued to push through these stigmas by creating a legacy as a UK rap titan, one that inspires others to excel.

Each Crop Circle installment arrives with cinematic visuals that bring listeners into Nines’ universe. Each feature-length is inspired his two favorite blockbusters: The Godfather and The Wolf of Wall Street. Nines’ films — which feature fellow London legends such as Alhan, Lippy Lickshot, and Poet — don’t only offer the same entertainment and energy as his music, but provide a view of the community Nines stands for, while also using the hood-meets-musical concept to inspire those on the streets that other means of creativity exist outside of rhyming in the studio.

Ahead of Nines’ third Crop Circle album and its corresponding movie — which both dropped today [October 6] – Hypebeast took a trip to Nines’ smokey studio in Soho, London, to talk about new music, life after prison, early inspiration, and much more.

Hypebeast: Hey Nines! How are you?

Nines: Busy, man! That’s all I can say. From this album to the last one, it’s been a quick turnaround — four or five months, I think? I haven’t had time to do much, I’ve hardly seen my family because I’ve been on set for my film… just been so busy. No time to even take care of Nines; eating unhealthy, takeaway every day — but after this album, I’m taking some time to spend with the family.

How come the turnaround has been so quick between this album and the last?

I didn’t plan on doing it to be fair, it just worked that way. Obviously, I used to be a drug dealer full-time, I guess. Music was just a side hobby — this is the first time in my life where I’m not a drug dealer, so when the last album came out I thought to myself, what do I do now? Make another album I guess [laughs]. It’s that simple.

Between your first-ever release and now, how much have you evolved as a person and an artist?

I’ve grown a lot. Back then, I didn’t feel in place; whether I was having an interview now or on the radio, I felt out of place. Now, it’s the complete opposite — I feel comfortable, like I’m at home. I’ve never been mainstream, but I’ve always had a good reception with my music, it’s just taken me a while to really bed in and know how to navigate this industry.

Are there any records on this new album that your friends have told you shouldn’t be on there?

Of course, the Bad Boy Chiller Crew one. I wasn’t out here thinking that I was going to get a hit — if I wanted that I would’ve got Central Cee. But I didn’t make the song with Bad Boy Chiller Crew as a way of trying to reach — I was just having fun. I was watching their TV series in prison and thought, “Who are these guys,” and I just loved them — came home, and made a tune with them. It’s that simple.

“I always took music seriously, it was just the question of when I was going to be able to stop trapping.”

Do you write records with a concept in mind, or does it vary depending on the day and mood? And do you make music because you have to or need to?

A bit of both. Sometimes, if I have a concept, it’s sick. But other times, my engineer won’t have a concept either but we’ll make a song anyway. But, I don’t know why I make music, because I know I don’t need to, but maybe I do subconsciously. It’s like therapy for me — I don’t listen to myself, but if I hear a song that was on one of my old mixtapes, it’s good to know what my state of mind was at the time.

Who were you taking inspiration from at the early stages of your career?

When I first heard Giggs, I didn’t really have rap songs like that. I had stuff on YouTube when I was Little Nines in 06/07 — and during that time I think I still sound how I sound now, but now I’m better — so by the time I heard Giggs, I wasn’t looking up to him then because I was already rapping. It was more the era before that, the grime days; So Solid Crew, Dizzee Rascal, Kano — I looked up to that era.

How much did being in jail make you want to take music more seriously?

It’s a weird one because I’ve always taken music seriously. Some things are just common sense, no shade to any other rappers, but these guys weren’t trapping like me. In my first video, I had Rolexes, chains — go check their first videos, and that means everyone during that time, they weren’t making money like me — so it became harder for me to make the transition. After “I See You Shining,” I just got signed for a mil and had two million in the bank — there was no way I should’ve been selling cannabis. But, it’s all I knew at that point.

So, I always took music seriously, it was just the question of when I was going to be able to stop trapping. But, I don’t think there’s anyone with more projects than me in UK rap? So, it’s crazy how people say Nines isn’t consistent. The one time I didn’t drop an album, I was stabbed and then I went to prison, it wasn’t like I was on the bench for no reason. Prior to being stabbed, I dropped an album every summer.

Do you feel a responsibility to be an inspiration to others who come from the same environments as you?

I’m making mad expensive films with big crews and I remember being on the set the other day and I said a word wrong, I think it was “altercation,” and everyone was laughing! I said, do you know how many guys like me get laughed at, but I’m paying all your wages — who cares if I said the word wrong? There are plenty of kids in school now that are in the low groups in their lessons, so I’m inspiring to them of course. There’s a crowd that can see me and think if he can do it then I can do it.

Why did you decide to release a film alongside your recent projects?

It’s crazy because I always tell people that when it comes to making films, it’s not something I’ve always wanted to do, but subconsciously it must have been. The first time I got a budget when I was at XL Records, they asked me what I wanted to do with my album and I said I wanted to make a film. So the first time I ever had a budget to do it, I did it.

What’s coming after the new album and film?

In all honesty, I’m going on a break for a bit, man. I’ve been busy, working hard.

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