The power in numbers mentality at the core of collective culture has helped shape the landscape of underground music for the better part of a decade. Whether it’s the rise of crews like the A$AP Mob, Ezra Collective and The Silhouettes Project, or the formation of larger like-minded entities like Shogun Audio, High Focus and Internet Money, collectives have conquered every dominant genre of our time. However, the “high tides raise all boats” philosophy at the bedrock of collectives has more often than not led to a dynamic disparity that sees one star rise to the ranks of collective figurehead for the crew, with most being unable to name one member beyond the presumed leader. In that and many other regards, Nine8 is not your normal collective.
Nine8 began where all great ideas begin, in the smoking area. Ava Laurel, Jess Smyth and Lloyd Macdonald formed a fast and fierce friendship over their shared love of music, capitalising on a cancelled lecture by formulating plans for their first jam session. Luckily, the smoking area at Kingston College lies just a stone’s throw away from a communal music room. One session snowballed into the formation of a makeshift ramshackle studio in Lloyds bedroom, and with it, Complimentary Tea Studios (named after the free cuppa provided by Lloyds mum upon arrival) was born. With a first name already enshrined for their studio, Ava Laurel assumed her new identity, Lava La Rue, as did Jess & Lloyd – becoming Biig Piig and Mac Wetha. Together, they formed the cornerstone of a new collective aimed at sharing knowledge and resources that will elevate all, operating under the umbrella of Nine8.
The formation of Nine8 ushered in a slew of new sonics, lyrical approaches and production potential for the aspiring creatives to experiment with. They quickly began cultivating a new unified style and aesthetic that took the familiar aspects of lo-fi hip-hop and steeped them in psychedelic flow patterns, raw London lyrical content and an individualistic approach to a collective way of creating. Biig Piig was the first Nine8 Collective crusader to garner national notoriety with the arrival of ‘Crush’n’ in 2017, a subtle and delicately shy single that first introduced the world to a Mac Wetha production and the distinguishably new Nine8 approach to lyrics and bar construction.
In a short space of time, her follow-up singles ‘24K’ and ‘Vice City’ racked up over 10 million streams, paving the path for her first smash ‘Perdida’ to land on every lo-fi playlist on the planet. The full-bodied bass patterns and airy understated pace of ‘Perdida’ established Nine8 as a master of their style, with both Biig Piig & Lava La Rue spearheading a separate yet similar sound, that made all take notice of a movement unfolding. The success of her debut album Big Fan Of The Sesh expanded the reach of Nine8 from Kingston to the country, opening the gates for the growing roster of Nine8 soon-to-be stars to roll out their creations, with each swiftly unveiling a project that sounds like they somehow snuck a tape-recorded into their own dreams.
After the arrival of her debut tape Letra, Lava La Rue, flanked by her Nine8 family, began a one-way pilgrimage to the forefront of the UK’s underground hip-hop/Alt-pop scene, embarking on countless sidequests into drum and bass, R&B and Funk on her way. However, the release of her 2021 album Butter-Fly and subsequent Hi-Fidelity EP transformed the trajectory of Nine8 as it became clear their untapped potential was quickly becoming an undeniable influence. The production maturity, harmonic mastery and smooth sunny Sunday morning cup of coffee tone to Lava’s voice exhibited on each of these projects has become emblematic – not just of the Nine8 Collectives – but of a whole new generation that swims in a similar watery sound.
Since the earliest days, LorenzorSV, Bone Slim, Libaan, Nayana IZ & Nige have joined Nine8 at different intervals – each embodying and adding to the ‘90s futurist style in much the same way as each passing Marvel movie adds to the lore of the universe. Nayana IZ had a breakout 2020 with her Little Simz-esque production and flow on her trademark tune ‘TNT’, adding to her impressive catalogue of tracks like ‘GROWING PAINS’ & ‘partner in crime’. Nige & Lorenzorsv teamed up to stun on ‘Go Back’, a retro reverb-heavy track that unites a skippy staccato guitar solo with a pen prowess far beyond the expected for starting artists. Bone Slim is next up to burst onto the national radar, boasting a bashfully confident yet personable delivery for an artist hidden behind the anonymity of an all-white Phantom of the Opera mask.
Nine8 has nothing to prove. Their rise to prominence has not been built on hype or the backs of one notably more talented member, instead each original and newly added component to the crew has furthered their collective cause – becoming a crucial part of their creative network and adding a new chapter to the Nine8 story with every passing release. Individually they are ignorable, together they are unstoppable.
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