When (or if) I get to heaven, there are a list of things I have to do. First things first, I have to see God’s face, then I can go reunite with my ancestors who passed on before me. After I check those two tasks off the list, I have a series of questions I want to ask God: What was the true meaning of life? Why did he create the earth, sun, moon and stars? Followed by: Did OJ really kill Nicole? Was Jussie Smollett lying? And finally, why was Nine so underappreciated as an emcee? I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but I’ll say it again: Nine Double M is as talented a rapper as they come, lacking none of the attributes that make up a dope emcee. He has one of the illest voices of all-time, a captivating delivery, a slew of charisma and most importantly, he’s a dope lyricist. His 1995 debut album, Nine Livez, was a damn near flawless album (yes, that Froggy Frog shit was corny, but that’s why I said damn near flawless) that I personally deem classic, yet the masses have overlooked it and it has all but been forgotten in the annuls of hip-hop. Despite Nine Livez being severely slept on and a commercial failure, Profile Records would stick behind the gravelly voiced emcee, as Nine would release his sophomore effort, Cloud 9 in August of 1996.
The liner notes for Cloud 9 are filled with a bunch of facts about the number nine. Nine (whose alias is derived from his birth date, September 19, 1969) shares that “The number nine has three qualities: Universality, War and Completion,” and that “There are nine planets that govern the twelve zodiac signs.” Then he throws in a bunch of super random factoids like “There are nine natural holes in the body,” “full term pregnancy is nine months,” but the most ludicrous one of them all: “The sum of nine times any number equals nine,” then he lists a series of examples to prove this mathematical theory. What a waste of paper. Nine would call on his old buddy, Rob Lewis (who’s credit with producing most of Nine Livez) to produce all but two tracks on Cloud 9, and he would invite a few special guests to make cameos on a few songs on the album. Like its predecessor, Cloud 9 would produce dismal sales numbers and Profile would only push one single from the album, so it was no surprise that the two parties would go their separate ways after this second outing (which is a nice way of saying Profile dropped Nine from the label). Nine would go on to release some independent albums (his 2018 Snowgoons produced album, King, is super dope), but he would never get another chance to display his skills with the backing of a major label, ultimately fading into the black hole of obscurity.
Is Cloud 9 another underappreciated album from my favorite unsung/underdog emcee? Or is it worthy of the overlook? Let’s get into it.
Know Introduction – The volume of this opening track starts on zero, which if you’re listening to Cloud 9 for the first time might cause you to turn up the volume on your radio or cell phone. The music gradually creeps up until your ears are bombarded by the unnerving backdrop that conjures up visuals of grey skies and King Kong getting ready to destroy the Empire State Building. Unexpectedly and sort of randomly, the first voice you hear on the album is that of the Shaolin representative, King Just, who gets off a quick verse and sounds pretty sharp with the bars. After a brief pause, Nine jumps into the ring and beats up the spooky track with his gully voice and grim bars: “I’m on the roof like the fiddler, bustin’ shots, bringing pain like a wisdom tooth, murder devils and hide they bodies like the truth…I’m paranoid, that’s why I keep steel, ’cause I know I ain’t the only nigga that’s real.” This was a dim but entertaining way to open the album.
Every Man 4 Himself – The mood quickly shifts from grey skies and oversized mythological guerrillas terrorizing New York City to one of the coldest and most callous instrumentals I’ve ever heard. Nine’s raspy voice matches the temperature and heartlessness of the track as he spits from a mentality of “somewhere between Armageddon and apocalypse” and gets off what is probably my favorite Nine line of all-time: “I feel like a soldier stuck behind enemy lines, in the world of man-evil, ’cause man ain’t kind.” This is definitely one of my favorite joints on Cloud 9.
We Play 4 Keeps – Rob Lewis sticks with Cloud 9’s dark musical theme and serves up this layered cinematic up-tempo banger that finds a hopeless and violent Nine confessing his allegiance to the street life and the pursuit of the almighty dollar until death do. Hopefully his mentality has changed since then, but it still makes for an enjoyable record.
Tha Product – Rob Lewis builds this instrumental around an ill violin loop that gives the track a symphonic feel and serves as a beacon of light in all the darkness that Cloud 9 has brought on the listener’s ears to this point. That is until the somber xylophone loop interrupts and brings the mood back to a gloomy room. Nine invites U-Neek (who sounds similar to Def Squad affiliate, Passion and based on the pic inside the liner notes, is a cutie) to the party, as the two freak this duet like Ashford and Simpson; a gutter hip-hop version of course.
Uncivilized – This is one of the two tracks that Rob Lewis didn’t produce on Cloud 9. Instead, a Rock Wrecka loops up a sorrowful violin sample that gives off classical vibes, as Nine addresses the struggle to live upright while maintaining in this cold and cruel world. Father Shaheed from Poor Righteous Teachers drops by to provide an authoritative hook that helps drive home Nine’s content. Well done.
No Part A Me – The first half of Cloud 9 ends with a grimy stripped-down instrumental mixed with underlying evil chords that finds Nine salivating like a hungry lion as he awaits raw meat being dropped in his den in the form of an unassuming emcee. This was hard.
Lyin’ King – This was the lead (and only) single released from Cloud 9. No, this isn’t an ode to Mufasa and Simba (which you probably could figure out based on the spelling of “Lyin” in the song title), but instead, Nine uses the soulfully moody backdrop to call out those rappers who spit lies in their raps: “Fans bought the wolf ticket, shitted on reality for fantasy, produced by Tattoo and Mr. Roarke Records, on a real island, yo ass won’t be whilin’ or smilin’, who’s the character, with gold records and life still harder than Attica? Niggas is backwards…I sold drugs and wanted to rap, now niggas rap and wanna sell drugs, ghetto celebrities wanna be thugs, but when the slugs start flyin’, and the beast comes they start cryin’, lyin’ wishin’, hard-core gangstas turn into born again Christians.” This one still sounds great.
Richman Poorman (Act One) – Jesse West doesn’t only get the production credit on this one, but (under the alias of 3rd Eye) he also plays Nine’s partner in crime, literally. West builds the instrumental around a soulful piano loop that he and Nine use to act out a bank robbery that doesn’t end well for the duo based on the skit at the end of the song that also bleeds into the next record.
Jon Doe – Not to be confused with the pseudonym used for an unidentified male body (John Doe). Nine’s alias, Jon Money Doe, lives by the motto of “cream in abundance, thousands of hundreds,” which he pretty much reiterates over the course of the song’s three verses. Nine’s message feels mundane, but I enjoyed the harp-like chords and the bleak feel of the instrumental.
Make Or Take – Nine sticks with the “cream by any means” theme that has dominated most of the album, as he uses Rob Lewis’ sadden backdrop that’s laced with a sweetly somber horn loop, to stand firm on his make it whether “rhyme or crime” philosophy (by the way, “In the race, the great paper chase, money’s the only thing that Imma let you throw in my face” is a great line). Smoothe Da Hustler stops by to add the hook, which has always made me wonder why Nine didn’t let him get off a verse as well (Could it be he didn’t want to get murdered on his own shit?). Even with the under usage of Smoothe, this was fire.
Warrior – Bounty Killer joins 9 Double M on this raw war chant of an instrumental, adding a dancehall flavor to the track. I’ve never cared much for this record, but it doesn’t sound as bad today as it did twenty-six years ago. The hook is still ass, though.
4 Chicken Wings And Rice (1991) – For the final song of the evening, Rob Lewis hooks up a melancholic backsplash that Nine uses to get into his “woe is me” bag, recalling the days when he was dead broke (I must have listened to this song a million times through the years and just recently, Nine’s line “my pockets had rabbit ears” stood out to me and the visual made me literally laugh out loud. I know. I’m an asshole). It’s not a great record, but decent and a fitting way to end this dimly lit affair.
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but every now and then, an album cover tells you exactly what you can expect to hear in its music. Such is the case with Cloud 9. Calling the content on Cloud 9 dark would be a severe understatement. This shit is pitch black. It’s so black it makes Whoopi Goldberg’s lips, the back of Forrest Whittaker’s neck and Wesley Snipes’ skin look white (shoutout to the late great, Bernie Mack). Rob Lewis (who ironically is white) and friends craft a masterful batch of dark and desolate instrumentals that Nine navigates with the comfort of his living room couch, spewing rhymes full of hopeless desperation, pessimism, self-loathing, mercenarism and sprinkles of bully raps, all delivered in his menacing raspy voice.
Cloud 9 is a phrase that’s normally used to express elation and joy. Nine’s version is quite the contrast. acting as a dark cloud hovering over you for forty-three minutes without the protection of shelter or an umbrella, leaving you forced to get soaked in his sorrow and pain. Cloud 9 doesn’t come with radio friendly singles or commercial ambition, just great instrumentals and intriguing bars from a disgruntled and talented emcee, resulting in a darkly, excuse me, blackly entertaining listen.