The greatest saxophone sampling Hip Hop song of all time is indisputably Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.).” The second greatest sax blessed song is sadly not often as easily recognized: Nine’s “Make or Take.”
That spine-tingling single, like much of the raspy-voiced rhymer’s work, has unfortunately failed to garner the type of reverent remembrance that many of the Bronx native’s ‘90s contemporaries have received in the years since their breakthrough releases. 1995’s Nine Livez and 1996’s Cloud 9 arguably failed to reach their full potential upon release, and thus proper historical value, due in part to the lack of support from Nine’s early career ally Funkmaster Flex (9 Double M debuted in 1993 on the powerful deejay’s “Six Million Ways To Die”). Subsequent label woes led to a long-stalled career for the man ready to take on “Any Emcee” amongst his “Ova Confident” competition, as he then struggled to find his footing in a Hip Hop landscape that became dominated by similar-sounding spitters.
Now with a few years of warming back up to active artist status after having left the game behind almost a decade ago, Nine is officially ready to reintroduce himself to the masses this summer. His 13-song street album, SoN.Y. (So New York), will be available for download June 21st via Nine’s Facebook (Quinine Milly) and Twitter (@nine212) pages. That freebie will be followed in August by an EP entitled Nine Inch Nails. “I hope he does come,” retorted Nine with a hearty laugh when reminded during his recent discussion with HipHopDX that Interscope Records Chairman Jimmy Iovine will likely send a cease-and-desist when he hears of an album title using the name of his onetime signees. “Nine inch nails are the size of the nails that held Jesus to the cross. It ain’t got nothin’ to do with that Rock band, or Jimmy Iovine. So I would love to [confront] him in court with that.”
A decade-and-a-half since he first began battling the business of music, the Brand Narcotic head additionally chopped it up with DX about the historic mid-‘90s Hip Hop scene in New York, and bumpin’ into Biggie at a McDonald’s in D.C.
HipHopDX: An interview with Nine can’t start any other place in my opinion than with your classic collabo with Smoothe Da Hustler, “Make Or Take.”
Nine: No doubt, no doubt. Me and [Smoothe Da Hustler] actually just performed that record together for the first time in like August at Voodoo Lounge in New York. So it was real crazy.
DX: I personally believe that joint is one of the greatest Hip Hop songs of the ‘90s -
Nine: Thank You, man.
DX: How do you look at that often overlooked gem 15 years later?
Nine: Well to me, I knew when I made that album it was the album I wanted to make. Nine Livez was the album I had to make in order to even get on – especially during that time when the west coast was just dominating everything; it was real hard for us to get deals. So that was the album I had to make. Cloud 9 was the album I wanted to make. And “Make or Take” to me was like … I just knew it was gonna be one of them records, and when it wasn’t it was kinda crazy to me like, “Wow.” It left me a little salty, ‘cause I really knew it was a good record.
DX: Funk Flex wasn’t droppin’ bombs on that one? [Laughs]
Nine: Nah man, he wasn’t looking out for me at that point in time. Our relationship kinda got damaged like right before I put out “Whutcha Want?” ‘Cause he never even supported that record. Our relationship got a little ugly. And, you know how things get.
DX: For the benefit of some of our younger readers, explain what the New York City Hip Hop scene was like in the mid-‘90s. From an outsiders perspective it appeared to be an amazing period of time for an amazing collection of talent.
Nine: Yeah, it really was. It was like the west coast pressure made everybody here up their game. And we still had the mentality of being original as artists. That’s why Wu-Tang [Clan], Craig Mack, myself, [Notorious B.I.G.], Jeru [The Damaja], nobody sounded the same. We still had that mentality of being original, but then we [also] knew we had to fight back against that thick, musical sound that the west coast was bringing. So it made us up our game. And I think that’s what made it the best era for New York Hip Hop. We actually had some outside pressure on us, other than just the pressure of each other. ‘Cause we still had the pressure of each other on us.
DX: Do you have any personal stories you can share about the notable names that you maybe crossed paths with during that [era]?
Nine: I remember being in Washington, D.C. eating McDonald’s with Biggie. He was going one direction, I was going in the other direction, but he was like, “Yo, I’m glad to see you out here doin’ ya thing.” ‘Cause he knew me from the days when I used to run around with Chuck Chillout and Flex, when we was trying to come up. So when he saw me start to actually achieve he was happy for me. That was a good moment. And, you know, just different stuff on the road. I got to know everybody. But I consider myself like the stepchild in this game. People ain’t call me to jump on they single, hop on they hook or anything.
DX: Why do you think that was; you just weren’t in the same circles?
Nine: I wasn’t really in the loop. I wasn’t the kind of dude that was going everywhere, hangin’ out and partying with dudes and stuff like that. And I never wanted to join no team. I had offers, [but] I never wanted to join no camp or no crew or nothing. That’s just not where I come from, mentally. I always wanted to just do what I do. So I think maybe I ostracized myself. [But Big Pun] was one of my good friends. He really was real cool. We was gonna do a joint before he died. Rest in peace, Pun. One of my favorites – Top 5 ever.
DX: You had the definitive Jeep-beat song, “Whutcha Want?,” and two well-received solo albums in the mid-‘90s, so why did it appear to the general public that you went M.I.A. after that?
Nine: Well what happened was, I don’t know if people are aware but Profile Records went defunct, and they were being sold to Arista Records. Now, the guy who worked at Arista that wanted the artists from Profile, he wanted me, Smoothe Da Hustler, Camp Lo and the whole thing. Profile Records held up the sale haggling over the rights to the Run-DMC catalog with Arista. So by the time the deal went through, four years later, I had a lot of people sounding like me - that took the style and ran with it, and was very successful with it. And also at the same time, the person who worked at Arista got fired. When we got there he didn’t know what to do with us. So I had to turn in like some little demo for them. And then I hired Fred Davis as my lawyer, to get me free. I wasn’t actually free to record or do anything until almost the beginning of 2001. And by that time, I’m going to labels – ‘cause I still had that old school way of thinking. I thought, I’ll make some songs, I’ll take it to a label, they know my track record, I’ll be on. And it wasn’t happening. I was walking in places and they were telling me I sounded like [DMX and Ja Rule]. It was buggin’ me out. I’m like, “Y’all need to check the timeline on that.” But, [Ja Rule] was real popular with [the sing-song style] at the time, so that’s the direction they wanted to go in. So I basically stopped around 2002. I started doing the Lugz commercials. Me and Flex still kept in touch, so I did the beats for his Lugz commercials. And [I also did] little behind the scenes things for other artists and stuff. It wasn’t ‘til I’d say the end of 2005, maybe , when I realized that age don’t matter, I can still do this, and I still wanted to do it again. So I just started to work at it again as if I was a new artist. I didn’t think about what I did, I didn’t listen to old records, I just started to rebuild again. It took a minute, but anything you want bad enough [requires] persistence. I’ma be the poster child for persistence with what I’m trying to do.
DX: What’d you mean when you said on “What’s Done Is Done,” “I just walked out the game, I can’t be bought?”
Nine: Well, when I finally did get an opportunity to do a record they wanted me to do the R&B thing with the R&B singer. And I can’t be bought, so I just walked away. I felt like that’s not the music that – it’s not that I don’t think it’s real Hip Hop, ‘cause to me that’s just opinion when people say what’s real Hip Hop and what’s not real Hip Hop, but that’s not the type of music I appreciate. That’s not the type of music that I know how to make. Like, I don’t make R&B music. I don’t wanna make R&B music. [But] labels wanted me to go in that direction, so I just walked away.
DX: I mentioned that “What’s Done Is Done” joint, I love that track. That whole Quinine album might be your best full-length. It’s just too bad it took ‘til 2009 to drop and not 1999.
Nine: [Laughs] Right. Well what happened was, those were just songs when I was working on what I was gonna do [to restart my career]. And this German label got wind of what I was trying to do on Myspace. And so I just released it with them, just something small just to test the waters again. So that’s how that album came about. It was just a collection of songs that I was – when I started to reenter recording again around 2006. A lot of those songs were not even done at the same time. It was just a small, little throw together. I thought it woulda done better, but there was no promotion and no … gumption to stand behind it – even on my part, because I was still learning this new age, this computer thing and the Internet and how to network now. So, now I’m ready.
DX: Speaking of the new age, did you hesitate at all about returning to a game where “lyin’ kings” are now accepted and even respected?
Nine: Nah, I think that they need me even more than ever now. [Laughs] I said “Lyin’ King” in  and it was like a prediction for what we was about to face, ‘cause everybody is a bunch of liars now. But you gotta have some truth in there, and I’m definitely not afraid to expose it. I got nothing to lose. I ain’t got no friends; I’m the stepchild of this game, so I’m really gonna be vocal about how I feel this time. And I don’t mean just dissin’ people, but if I say something – if I don’t like you, I don’t like you. It doesn’t mean I’m hatin’, it’s just that’s how I feel.