London collective NiNE8 are pooling their resources to promote a new, more sustainable way of working – one that puts community, support and creativity to the fore. Some of the group’s leading names give us the low-down.
Words: Martyn Young.Photos: Daniela Monteiro.
The story of the birth of London’s multi-genre creative powerhouse NiNE8 Collective is deceptively simple. Founding member and visionary leader Lava La Rue met fellow singer Biig Piig back in music college in 2014 while super-producer, beatmaker and sonic alchemist Mac Wetha just happened to be in the same class too. The three young artists all came from different backgrounds but shared a passion for music from the underground by the underrepresented. They all had a desire to do things a bit differently. From there, NiNE8 was born, and the trio picked up friends and made connections along the way as they immersed themselves in London’s multitude of disparate scenes, cultures and gatherings. The group grew in strength and numbers and gradually made their own waves by producing their own genre-fluid and diverse music until the pandemic hit in 2020, with NiNE8 numbering nine idiosyncratic personalities who all came together in the name of one common goal. It’s been a long journey, but the story of NiNE8 is just getting started.
Rappers LorenzoRSV, Bone Slim and Nige are three of the friends and musicians that the founding trio integrated into the collective, and together, they help form their distinct voice. Despite the upheaval of the pandemic and the curtailment of their plans in 2020, nothing is going to stop NiNE8 in their rise. “I don’t think anything has changed,” begins Lorenzo. “We always go into these things headfirst when it comes to Nine8. Whatever we can’t do, we deal with that when we come to it.” He’s specifically talking about the added pressures of unlocking and the creative performance culture coming back to life with shows and all the attendant pressure that brings, but the statement is true for everything NiNE8 do. The ethos of the collective is all about rejecting the notion of anything they can’t do and forging their own path.
The last six years have seen not only the collective rise as a whole with a number of acclaimed mixtapes, including the twin wonders of 2019 and 2020s ‘No Smoke’ and ‘No Smoke Vol 2′, but also the individual members’ profiles have increased with many of them concurrently exploring their own careers and sounds. Biig Piig, 19-year-old rapper Nayana IZ, and Lava La Rue are among the most exciting new talents in the UK, but their own individual success is only beneficial to the collective as a whole. Everyone is on a slightly different path but making the same journey, or as Lorenzo puts it: “It’s a bit like the Wizard of Oz really, without the sad stories. Everyone has just came together and is still on their own journey as well,” he laughs. “That’s been instrumental in the collective’s progress because as you’ve seen the collective grow through our music, you’ve also seen all the individuals grow at the same time,” he adds. “The growth is evident. Not just through the shows and partnerships but through the content we’ve produced. Even the visuals have scaled up. Even though we’re all individuals, we’re at the point now that when we all come together. It’s like Nine8 has its own sound.”
It’s been a relatively slow ascension for the collective as they hustled and slowly built their name and reputation in contrast to some artists in the last few years who arrive in a flash of excitement and are left bewildered in trying to deal with the newfound attention. For NiNE8, their grounding in the underground leaves them well equipped to deal with the pressure of hype.
“I think you get quite a holistic picture of where you are and the context in which you’re making music,” says Bone Slim. “I feel like for people that come up quite quickly, it can be good in a lot of ways, but you haven’t got any ballast, and people aren’t going to know where you’re coming from. New fans don’t always know the history and context of where you’re coming from. Having a backstory helps ground you.”
“The dynamic is very familial. We look out for each other, and we do that beyond musicNige
All the collective members have been active in making connections and pushing both their own music and NiNE8, and through this, they have been able to support and inspire each other. “NiNE8 moves in one momentum, but the individual members don’t, so that has been quite informative,” he continues. “When a member gets new management or a record deal or something, that doesn’t happen at the same time chronologically, people learn from those experiences and feed it back into the collective. Working with different creatives, that all feeds back and on the whole, it just makes you a bit more informed on every aspect of the industry and where you’re making music and where you fit into that whole puzzle.”
When the collective was formed, it was in part a reaction against the barriers imposed by the music industry. Simple things like finding somewhere to play and record. NiNE8 had to find a way to break those barriers through necessity. “We didn’t have the sources and materials to produce the music we wanted,” says Lorenzo. “This was something shared amongst all of us. It wasn’t like, oh, these people don’t want to give us opportunities, more so that we enjoyed having to go out and do this kind of thing ourselves. We’d have to collaborate with our friends and put on our own shows. That was something we all shared at the start, and it’s something we all share now.”
A fierce drive to do things their own way courses through everything the collective does. “We’re still independent,” says Lorenzo. “That’s where we’ve come from. We haven’t had the sources but have turned it into a positive thing. You can still do it yourself. I think that’s important. It’s so important to show the youth that are coming up now to not feel shy about working with other people and getting involved with things. Test your own waters and see what you’re capable of doing yourself. I think that’s what got us all where we are now.”
Rapper Bone Slim saw NiNE8 as allowing him to break free from the established way of doing things and shake things up. “I came from the old UK boombappy sound when I started making music,” he begins. “Everyone was coming from their own lane to it, so at first, it was a big mismatch and a big clash of culture. As we’ve grown, we’ve started influencing each other. The whole of London used to be quite cliquey in a way with the genres and sounds coming out, but now everyone is doing different things. You can do what you want right now and when we first started, it wasn’t really like that. It’s really mad now, and people are open to anything.”
There isn’t really a distinct NiNE8 sound; it’s more a NiNE8 spirit that informs everything they do. “I’m looking for something that has an influence but still pushes a boundary,” says Bone Slim. “Working with Mac Wetha is great because you can just come in and say I was listening to something, and he can literally put something together, and it will be the NiNE8 version of that sound. It’s like our own little world. It’s like the Yu-Gi-Oh toon world. It becomes its own thing.”
Lava La Rue – One of the founding members and the visionary behind NiNE8, Lava is the collective’s creative director and leads the visual side of the collective. Her stage name is an anagram of her name Ava Laurel. Away from NiNE8, she makes alternative hip-hop and all sorts of experimental and exciting productions as an artist in her own right. Also, she was profiled in the May 2021 edition of this very magazine.
Biig Piig – Jess Smyth is already firmly on the path to global stardom. Since taking the name Biig Piig (she found the name on a pizza menu, apparently), she has wowed us with her evocative soulful takes on experimental hip hop and is maybe the NiNE8 member that has garnered the most solo success. She also has a knack for amazing titles, for example her two EP’s ‘Big Fan Of The Sesh’ and ‘A World Without Snooze’.
Mac Wetha – Mac Wetha is going to be huge. Like, proper massive. It’s only a matter of time. Beatmaker and producer extraordinaire Mac is a 22-year-old genius who started out in rock bands and is now making his own wildly creative warped electronic pop as heard on this years ‘Make It Thru’ EP.
Nayana IZ – Nayana is the youngest member of NiNE8 and the 19-year-old rapper is one of the most exciting new talents in all of the UK. Fearless and boundary-pushing Nayana reps her Indian heritage with a passion while making future-focused hip-hop with an explosive edge. She also directs videos, collaborates with all sorts of artistic creatives and tackles head-on important themes like identity, race and spirituality with burning intensity.
LORENZORSV – Lorenzo has a very long name. Lorenzo Ricardo Stanford-Vaughan, to be exact. He is a rapper who has his own take on the artform, moving from doing grime at 12 years old to shaping his rhymes and lyrics in his own distinct way, making him a striking presence on every NiNE8 track he pops up on
Bone Slim – Bone is one of the original core songwriting members of NiNE8 and has had a long career over the last decade running alongside the collective, making complex beats and rhymes on SoundCloud under various different pseudonyms like Phantom Bonehead and OG Slim. Unpredictable with a no-filter style of confrontational storytelling rap, Bone Slim is an enigmatic figure central to NiNE8. He is also rarely seen without his trusty signature mask.
Nige – As well as working as an MC, Niall Williams, aka Nige, is also an accomplished producer under his other alias Dj Shuka where he makes pure dancefloor-oriented club music influenced by London’s incredible club heritage. Think prime UK garage, for example. Nige is a top student of the game and brings his dancefloor sensibilities to NiNE8.
Mac Wetha is the man that brings the magic and moulds everything together. Newly signed to The 1975 and Wolf Alice’s label Dirty Hit, he’s destined for big things himself but has played a key role in shaping the many sounds of NiNE8 from the beginning. “He was the head at first,” Bone Slim explains. “His room is where we would always go to. It’s been interesting watching him over the years. Me and Mac have known each other the longest. It’s been cool watching him change from the background he came from in rock bands to now going back to doing his solo stuff with those influences because now he’s singing, and he’s making beats for himself. He’s made heaps and heaps of beats and instrumentals. Funnily enough, a lot of the time, he would have made a beat for someone that didn’t necessarily work out, but he gives it to someone else, and it becomes something like the Amine song ‘Burden’, which is Grammy-nominated. That beat was originally a NiNE8 beat.”
You might think that a group of nine strong characters might have some friction and arguments, but for the members of NiNE8, the vision is clear, and the dynamic is one of support and creative freedom. “There’s very little conflict. It’s more of a discussion,” says Nige. “It is a mad little family when everyone is so creatively minded. The dynamic is very familial. We look out for each other, and we do that beyond music. There’s very little that I couldn’t share with the collective, and I think that goes for everyone. It’s a place of confidence. A place to create but also confide in one another.”
One thing that they all agree on is that Bone Slim is the member with the craziest ideas. “I’m a thinker, not a doer,” he laughs. His latest idea is about expanding the NiNE8 universe. “I want us to make a market,” he says excitedly. “I want to make our shows more immersive. From the moment the doors open, it’s welcome to NiNE8 world until the moment that we come off stage and doors close. We were previously offering free t-shirt presses for fans. We want to make things more us.”
Bone Slim goes on to tell a story that illustrates the collective’s scale of ambition and force of personality to make it happen. “When we played Jazz Cafe in London, Lava came in with these big fake clouds ,and we were like ‘let’s put them up’, and people were like ‘you can’t do that it’s an iconic stage’, and we were like ‘we can, it’s our stage, and we’re putting these clouds up’,” he remembers. “Lava was like, ‘let me talk to them’. So we went back into the green room, and we came out, and the clouds were up. The guy who says ‘you can’t do that’ is sat at the back of the rope, and Lava’s there smoking going, ‘how do you like my clouds?'”
One of the key principles behind NiNE8 is the importance of representing the culture and heritage of the members and where they come from. There’s no danger of them losing that connection with growing success. “I don’t think it’s a difficult thing to do,” explains Nige. “Our influences are what make and define us. The influence of the culture comes naturally. We’re not trying to put something in or push this message forward; this is just generally who we are. We come from all walks of life. There’s many different springs that you can tap into with songwriting and producing, but for the most part, we tend to turn to subcultures a lot. It’s where we turn to for inspiration when it comes to writing music. We turn to our own backgrounds because that is where we cut our teeth. We’re on the cusp of that generation that understands TikTok and putting things up online, but we genuinely met cutting our teeth on circuits. I used to do the Dalston Brick Lane circuit, and Amersham Arms in south London was the site of one of the first NiNE8 gigs. We all met gigging. The physical subcultures are very important to us.”
“It’s like our own little world”Bone Slim
NiNE8 are unique in that they are a collective that span appeal across generations from the old school OG’s to the new generation of inspired, socially active and online kids. “That’s a testament to Lava’s creative direction,” says Nige. “Being able to meet and build relationships in the physical world and translate that into social media. That’s a really strong suit of hers. I get it all the time where people compliment me on Lava’s Instagram. It’s so genuine but coy as well. She knows what she’s doing and how to market herself, but at the same time, it’s not manufactured or superficial.”
All the success NiNE8 have earned has been DIY and powered by the ambition and drive of each of the members. The music is just one part of it. “NiNE8 delivers on a complete package,” says Nige confidently. “Going back to our genesis, that’s the gist of it. Lava calls it creative currency. It’s like an old form of bartering. Say you make music but don’t have a rapper for one of your beats, or you don’t have a graphic designer for the album artwork, then you all pull your resources, and you end up with a product that looks like a lot more money has gone into it. That was the ethos behind the collective and the genesis of how we started, and that has carried through. Because of our pooling of resources, we understand the merits of having a fully formed package. It needs a really good visual, creative graphics and also sonically. We see it to its natural conclusion.”
So, what’s next for the collective? They have already delivered a trio of stunning new singles this year, with the most recent being the atmospheric dreamscape hip hop of ‘Love U Do’. “Our main focus has been rehearsing for shows,” says Lorenzo. “It feels like we’re going in a more melodic direction, and I think that reflects the times right now. Everything is starting to look up again, and things are looking sweeter. That’s where we are going. We’re not in a rush. We want to give back to the fans what we were aiming to give them in the last year.”
The past 18 months have been difficult for everyone, and NiNE8 certainly recognise that. As they continue on their journey, the importance of the fans who stuck by them patiently as their pandemic struck takes on greater importance. They are pouring everything into these shows, making any NiNE8 performance a must-see occasion. Ultimately though, the future for NiNE8 is as fluid and exciting as their music. The one thing for certain is that they want NiNE8 to stand for something important and represent inclusivity and something bigger than just the music.
“We’re still in that sense of ambiguity. It really could go anywhere,” says Bone Slim. “I would want NiNE8 to become a creative platform for artists and ourselves. I’d want to pass the torch on and create a space in London for young creatives and people to come and work and have everything that they need under one roof that we operate and own as a family. “We want to give an opportunity to the next generation coming up. We want to achieve that timeless influence and be there for the next generation. We want to be community figureheads.”
Taken from the October 2021 edition of Dork.