Led by Ladbroke Grove-born Lava La Rue, the collective are young (the ‘98 in the name refers to the year most of them were born), ambitious and buzzing with the energy that comes from being self-made and self-assured, as laid out on this year’s striking collaborative album No Smoke. But with each of them throwing a different flavour in the pot, from Biig Piig’s sultry Spanish vocals to LorenzoRSV’s badman bars, maybe their greatest achievement yet is fitting their styles together as a single solid unit. As La Rue and Lorenzo demand a circle pit in the 100 Club before diving in themselves, sending water bottles flying, there’s a glimpse of the fiery energy that sent Odd Future stratospheric – and this gang have already got their own clothing line. But NiNE8’s energy is unmistakably London, too: a melting pot of hip-hop, soul and sound system culture heard through the ears of Generation Z.
Subculture Live Presents:
NiNE8 Collective at the 100 Club
Words by Chal Ravens
A collective should always be greater than the sum of its parts, right? That’s the logic behind NiNE8, an eight-strong crew of young Londoners set for a breakthrough with their tilted twist on bedroom rap and soulful stonerism.
After Endevour warms us up with a bassline-heavy DJ set, the first live performer on this bitter December night is Cassius Gray, who gamely hypes up the crowd before dropping into his Dilla-style stoner raps, confirming 1998 as a cultural touchstone for the whole night. “This one is a melancholy track for the introspective souls,” he says, inviting Luther King to join him on their dreamy boom-bap collab ‘A.M.’, chanting “I don’t care if this tune don’t bang.” Next up is Lord Apex, a seasoned spitter who takes the blazed-out hip-hop vibe darker with his Wu-Tang and MF Doom influenced tracks. In true ‘90s style he’s also dressed for an East Coast winter, hiding behind sunglasses and a furry parka – but despite the tough exterior, songs like ‘Sunny Daze’ dream of warmer, happier times. He’s followed by Shepherds Bush rapper Finn Foxell, a dapper character whose lyrical dexterity puts him somewhere between Mac Miller and Mike Skinner. He’s joined by Lava La Rue for ‘Cool. Bless. Safe.’, a typically laid-back and melancholy jam that doesn’t stop the crowd from starting a mini-moshpit. “I dunno about you but I love dancing, it’s good for the blood,” he jokes, inviting us all to have “a little skank”.
After NiNE8 play a DJ set that spans UK grime and vintage ska, the collective finally form like Voltron on stage, feeding off each others’ energy and rapping along to every word. La Rue is the undoubted leader of the pack, with a natural charisma that makes her stage antics endlessly watchable. On ‘Treflip’ the MC channels the street-smarts of Neneh Cherry and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, and dunks herself into the crowd repeatedly as they scream back her lyrics. The 100 Club stage is famously spacious, but Nine8 have filled it right up: Bone Slim stalks the stage, half-seen behind his eye mask; MC L!BAAN is all-smiles under long dreads; producers Mac Wetha and KXRN headbang behind the decks. Biig Piig keeps a low profile despite being the best known outside the group; she’s the cool and collected foil to LorenzoRSV’s upfront act on a tight rendition of ‘Ignant’. With her long black waves and baggy T-shirt, Nayana turns up as the diva-rapper of the crew, bringing a fierce energy that cuts through the night’s hazy stonerism: “What you know about me?!” she barks on ‘Twc’, tensing up with genuine vitriol. And in his flatcap, polo shirt and loose slacks, MC Nige is a modern Terry Hall, holding the mic like he’s got his brother in a headlock and showing off a gruff, capable voice. After 40 minutes of action they exit the stage in a flurry of shout outs and bear hugs, before DJs P-rallel and Jamz Supernova pick up the party for the final hour. Despite their relative youth, NiNE8 know exactly what they’re doing on stage; the live realm is the collective’s natural habitat, having formed through ad hoc ciphers round La Rue’s house before snowballing into a local phenomenon. With a DIY energy that’s fresh but never scrappy, NiNE8 look ready to convert that London hype into universal acclaim.