The Harlesden icon presents an evolved vision on his fourth studio album, precise in picking its moments in favour of the bigger picture.
If you picked a name out a hat of UK rappers with a consistent discography, your chances of picking out Nines are in high favour. Since the early 2010s, the Church Road favourite has constantly awed street rap fans with classic mixtapes, all achieved through multiple prison stints. His knack for personifying the roads has translated to the commercial stage, earning four top five albums, including a number one with 2020’s Crabs in a Bucket. A three-year drought ensued the achievement, returning with a sequel to his 2018 effort, Crop Circle.
Familiarity comes with wiser words on Crop Circle 2, fixating on the bigger picture to provide the most evolved insight we’ve gained from a Nines album.
On first impression, this is another album with Nines’ signature blueprints. Except the more it’s taken in, the differentials become crystal clear. Crop Circle 2 offers new perspective to Nines’ decision making. “My album went number one, I can’t even sleep / Said I’m about to stop trappin’, that lasted a week,” he dithers on one track, a theme that continues across the runtime. The duality of being a successful rapper unable to quit the trap life has always existed in every Nines project. However, he sounds serious about quitting this time round. You can recognise the feeling that Nines is older, become wiser, no longer an advisor to himself but rather a commander. It’s a thread that runs through the entire album, keeping the record afloat when the songs themselves aren’t as strong as other albums.
Arguably the best beat-picker in the country as it is, Nines refines the choices even further. Kickboxing trap (“Tony Soprano 2”, “Line of Fire, Pt. 6”), pretty stoner rap (“Weedman”) and cinematic hip hop (“Letter to Hydro Interlude”) all harmoniously inhabit the tracklist. He bridges London rap with New York royalty, interpolating The Notorious B.I.G.‘s “What’s Beef” on the song of the same name with Potter Payper, and The Alchemist’s “Tick Tock” with Nas and Prodigy on “Wrist Watch / Prayed for This”. It’s as if Nines thought twice with the beats coming through his emails.
J Styles has been the unsung hero of the last few Nines albums; his contributions never fail to enhance a track. The duo are like matching gloves on “Favela”, both honing their nonchalant deliveries for a breezy standout. He returns on the signature posse cut “Line of Fire, Pt. 6”, one of the few guests able to match the standards set by Nines. It’s a welcoming piece to the feature roster which doesn’t hit home all the time, such as M Huncho on “Nothing Like Me”, who equipped with his grim nasal singing hasn’t delivered momentous occasions for years.
The Nines album formula always delivers a solid project, but it could have done with a shake-up this time round. This is Nines’ fourth album, and doesn’t add a new dimension to his legacy. Rather, it adds another layer of consistency, like he is adding a fresh coat of paint to a wall with the same colour. Nines could have capitalised on extending notable moments, such as the conceptual “Letter to Hydro Interlude”, a track that features the best production on the album but just one verse. A fleshed conceptual track should have been the end product, where Nines wrote three verses as letters to his incarcerated partner-in-crime, and become the UK’s “One Love” by Nas. “Hear Me Out” is another cut that shows much potential but ends abruptly without reason.
Nines is no risktaker. He is much comfortable staying in his lane to deliver what fans like to hear. It’s fair enough to a certain extent, as Crop Circle 2 blooms the mind of Nines for its greatest selling point—growth and maturity around his decisions. He’s no longer chilling on the corners, he’s in the park pushing on a swing with his daughters.
7.5 / 10
Best tracks: “Tony Soprano 2”, “Calendar”, “Line of Fire, Pt. 6”, “Favela”, “Different League”, “Letter to Hydro Interlude”