My knowledge on Ninety-9 is limited, but the few songs I did hear definitely secured me as a fan. She was down with Sha-Key and I know that when the Beastie Boys toured with Sha-Key on Lollapalooza circa ’94 that they were so impressed with her they invited her to join them on the main stage few times. That in mind, it’s no surprise that Ninety-9 found herself signed to Grand Royal (The Beasties label). However, she got caught up and lost in what I like to call the “Great Capitol Records Hip Hop Debacle of ‘95”*, so she never got a chance to officially release anything during that deal. However, she did have a showing on the Grand Royal “Mixed Drink” sampler. Ninety-9's contribution is the interestingly Djini Brown produced, creatively vocally delivered and strangely titled, “Jhompa”. It has a stream of consciousness style to it, but also pacts intensity. Her voice projects with purpose and intention. She is teeming with style and her inflections transition seamlessly from sharp to smooth. Her phrasing is unique and engaging or as she suggests in a slow, strongly pronounced fashion, “It distorts the normal forms of speech”. To trace the verbal lineage of her personalized style, you need look no further than a bit later in the same verse, “Whenever I’m in the sunshine I put the rhyme down with accompaniment of knuckles to a table, to a beat/ to an echo…./Commence the flow without syncopation and let my thoughts drift back to when I heard Miles (Davis) at Carnegie, he put fear in the way I walk besides the bassline!”
Her style is not held by constraints of rhyme or traditional cadence. She builds strictly off feeling and pure energy. Witness the second verse, “Welcome to my talk show/Today’s Topic: Don’t Sleep on the East!/Brothers never cease to amazzzze/It’s not a phase…but tradition/My admission to the rapture/To Capture…the rhyme/???? on the incline/It’s just mind over matter/turning idle chit-chatter until the good word/Preaching about the coming of the bassline/Brothers in Brown(sville?) make the sound surround/Don’t hesitate to hit them off with a pound of the verb/You can be served to suit your taste or need/The greenery seems to be enhancing the feel/No need for reel-to-reel to reel/prefer-er of the top side of the SP/I feel heavy when I wade in the water/Those lacking skills decay in the slaughter…” There are so many clever inferences and sneaky rhyme schemes sitting silently in the verse just waiting to be discovered. After her two mind-challenging verses she drops the chorus and then she’s gone and next heard from (by me at least) five years later.
Circa 2000 there wasn’t a lot of typical Hip Hop singles catching my attention, at least at this particular time. I had worked out a deal with the key vinyl store in Chicago, Gramaphone Records, to support my radio show with a limited record tab in exchange for plugging the store and oddly enough I was having a hard time using that tab up. I started to spend time in the Import section since there was a good deal of interesting production projects coming in from the UK. I stumbled across Ninety-9’s “Willow” single and was so shocked to have an officially Ninety-9 release in my hand after waiting so long that I was completely un-phased by the high-priced import cost of the 12" (it was free, but I guess I didn’t feel the need debate myself that I could get two sub-par domestic singles for that same price...ha). I snatched it up and once I heard it I knew I’d be giving it a lot of play, so I spent a decent portion of next weeks tab to get a second copy.
The song is soothing and mesmerizing. The sultry sung chorus sounds like a love-story made in Hip Hop heaven, “Just come follow me baby under the willow tree/I’ll be rhyming to my honey and he’ll rhyme back to me/Bring your SP-1200 and I’ll play with you/Just come and meet me under, under the Willow Tree”. The overall message in the song isn’t blatantly obvious, although it seems like it should be. It starts off sounding simply like a ode to a person of interest who she’s attempting to get their attention and ultimate affection, “I act out scenes with you in my head and put your flick in the cut out/Tag your name up in my rhyme book, hope you never see it/Got an idea about your needs and wonder if I can fill it…” The second verse continues with her given the listener some details of her object of pursuit, “He’s always making beats or doing something fly/So I gather all my dusty’s to catch his eye…” But, towards the end it gets a bit more abstruse as things develop.
The third verse is technically the best and adds an additional layer of mystery to the songs meaning or does it solve it?? That’s a thin line when trying to decipher her coded language, “Check this freestyle, it lingers like perfume/Put a dab on my wrist and I’m watching you enlist/I make a fist if your angry, open hands if your poor/Just come into my kitchen, watch for the open door/Cold steel grip to hold warm affection/My man drew and blew I should have learned from his lesson/I MC for the love, though relations taxing/Check rhymes for the time, my obsession’s long lasting....”.
At my best guess the love she is speaking of is the love of Hip Hop. It makes sense, with her asking Hip Hop to bring the SP-1200 for her to make beats. Her “gathering all her dusty’s” is a personification of impressing the SP-1200 with her rare record selections. The true giveaway is in her “Cold Steel grip” remark, which I assume means a microphone. The last line, “Check rhymes for the time, my obsession’s long lasting....” could possible be a reference to her use of the classic 80s Sampler, the SP-1200, in the lyrics, suggesting that is the school of MCing she comes from. She’s very descriptive, but even more creative in the way she describes, so it leaves so much open for interpretation. This can be satisfying for the dreamers and confusing for the fact checkers. I am both, so I suppose I’m happily confused by it all.
The 12" has two other tracks: “Magilla” and “Last Minute”. Of the two, “Last Minute” is my second favorite. It starts off with an acapella word association spoken-word freestyle piece. I could be wrong, but it seems like she might be mocking, or at least poking fun at, the then growing trend of spoken-word artists and their all too common cadence and style. It is mostly light-hearted and fun, but the last line finds her delivering a strong and telling quoteable that is the perfect lead in to the song, ”…I need some back/Financially and spiritually/Because I am detrimentally…ME!” The song itself is smooth and showcases her excellent use of her voice as she beautifully sings the chorus. She is fascinatingly diverse. The song has a heavy sad vibe to it. In the hook she says, “I can use some rain on my pillow /Gets my fast to sleep”. I assume she is referring to crying herself to sleep and that is supported by the last part of the hook, “Just put a little pain (pane) on my window, I know who you are…” Her excellent writing skills are further defined in each verse as well.
I later discovered that she did some collaboration with UK producer, Dobie on his “The Sound Of One Hand Clapping” album in ’98. She has two solo tracks on the album: “Radox” and “Cloud 98 ¾”. The first song is good, but the second one is great and adds to the mind-blowing fact that she didn’t release more music.
The same time I discovered those Dobie tracks I learned about another 90s track! Grand Royal Records had another sampler for their label in ’96 called “A Sampling Of Our Prestigious Pedigree”. Unfortunately, all I could find then was proof that it existed. I looked and asked about the song relentlessly with no results. I’ve continued to check online from time to time and generally get a few leads that look promising, until…dead end. Today I decided to try again and same problem. I eventually ended up at the site Murfie, which I never heard of, but they had the CD on there to buy, so I brought it and it’s being shipped to me. However, I wanted to hear this song immediately so I opted for the digital version also for an additional cost. Yet in the zip file the Ninety-9 song wasn’t included! I then find another site that had the whole album streaming and every song link for the album worked, except the Ninety-9 song! This song is extremely elusive! If that wasn’t bad enough, the title itself hints at a wealth of elusive material from her, “FISTFUL of Dats”.
That’s all the music I know of hers, but I think it is safe to assume she has a vault of material somewhere. All evidence suggests she would have made great albums. In fact, I’m willing to bet that she would still make a great album. She is such a natural talent, who just continued to develop and grow her skill set with her small, but potent discography.
I continue to hunt for more info and music from the mysterious and abundantly gifted Ninety-9…
Written By Kevin Beacham-Editor's Note:
*“The Great Capitol Hip Hop Debacle Of ‘95”: Circa '95 Capitol had an amazing line up of upcoming Hip Hop. Besides the Beastie Boys, they also had Aceyalone, Abstract Rude, Ninety-9, Royal Fam, Kool Keith, Funkytown Pros, Myka 9, and some others who are slipping my mind. I think they also still had King Tee at that time. Anyway, they decided “Rap wasn’t in anymore” and dropped their urban department and left all those artists in label limbo, some of which never resurfaced. I know I've mentioned this several times before, that's how angry I still am...ha