Review: Nines, ‘Crabs in a Bucket’

Nines returns with resilience on his third album, dictating the trap tales of Church Road through newfound clarity.

When the exit is clear as it is for a rapper like Nines, one cannot help but wonder why he doesn’t take it. But home is where the heart is, particularly for North West London’s Nines, who is cruising along a dual carriageway of street life and superstardom. Nines’ second album, Crop Circle, was released in 2018 and notably emphasised his artistic ambitions both musically or visually. Now signed to Warner Records, his third album follows a year of personal tribulations that may just shape its themes.

On Crabs in a Bucket, Nines provides fans the trap template and laidback delivery they commemorate while showcasing newfound introspection.

Nines naturally sets the tone on the “Intro”, mentioning his father’s cancer diagnosis in the opening two bars. Typically one to shy away from his personal life, Nines is no longer afraid to get candid. There is an emphasis on Nines the family man, Nines the provider. There’s profound feelings bottled and immortalised on the track. The same occurs throughout various moments on the album, with Nines sprinklings lines of introspection to let listeners into his conflicted mindstate.

The bubblier trap instrumentals of Crop Circle are exchanged for darker, pensive beats on Crabs in a Bucket. “Energy” even sounds drained of its title, with Nines and Skrapz magnifying the metaphor of the album’s namesake. The duo’s laidback flows never fail to compliment one another. Similar traits are in motion on “Monster”, showcasing the nocturnal Nines that works ever so well on his projects.

Nines gets more expansive on the album’s core hits. On these tracks the formula is tweaked and improved in comparison to his previous two albums. Weak R&B hooks weighed down tracks of One Foot Out and the best hooks on Crop Circle came from Nines himself. Nines learns from this and brings the starpower to Crabs in a Bucket; Nafe Smallz, NSG and NorthSideBenji carry hook duties on “Realist”, “Airplane Mode” and “Don’t Change” respectively. Tiggs da Author is also recruited on “NIC” to show once again the magic the duo consistently create. Songs like these is also where Nines rides atypical beats, resulting in songs with mainstream appeal that are naturally in Nines’ lane.

The duality of rapstar by day, trapstar by night has never been as clear it is on Crabs in a Bucket. Nines exerts a tone of contemplation to the trap life. There is maturity laced between his trap tales, even with voices around him advising to leave the life behind (“Jazzy said I’m dumb cah I’m still making packs flip / On the strip, Lyca, soon get back on this rap shit”). One day Nines will put down the line, but his raps on Crabs in a Bucket zero in on indecision – a realistic portrayal of a trap rapper’s attitude.

Among the 17 songs, a few songs divert from the peaks the album sets. “Ringaling” steers towards dancehall flavours, a track where Headie One’s appearance could have been better suited to a different soundtrack. “Lights” feels like a pitstop from the main attractions with no strong hook or guest appearance to carry it to prominence.

As stated by Nines, “I ain’t a rapper, I’m a drug dealer that raps.” But when Nines does rap it is worth our attention. Crabs in a Bucket continues to display why Nines is one of the most celebrated artists to grace the UK rap scene.

Rating: 8.5 / 10

Best tracks: “NIC”, “Flex”, “Don’t Change”, “Intro”, “Movie Knights”, “Energy”, “Airplane Mode”