Rare Gem

Rare Gem

On his debut album, Nigerian singer Ninety lays bare his desire to make music for—and about—the Nigerian women that he grew up loving and observing at close range. “I decided to tell the story of Nigerian women, the several categories of Nigerian women that I know or that I have been involved with,” he tells Apple Music. “Hence, the seven songs highlighting each character trait of Nigerian women.” Moving rapidly between humorous, toxic, and tender situations and experiences, Rare Gem chronicles romance, social anxiety, and companionship with an indulgent grace. Leaning into his self-proclaimed Southern Gentleman persona for the first half of Rare Gem, Ninety (real name: Alabo Tuonims) crafts beguiling grooves in homage to the women who have held him down, tincturing his Afropop experiment with elements from his soul and R&B origins. The album’s latter half is composed of primarily contemplative moments as the Rivers-born singer parses through tough spots that only serve to heighten the beauty of his earlier experiences. Below, Ninety talks us through the album, track by track. “Hold My Side” “‘Hold My Side’ was the first song that I recorded in 2020, and it was with [producer] Type A. When the song was recorded, we needed a little lamba [beat] because I was fresh off hip-hop and R&B influences. It was my first Afropop attempt. So, we decided to call a guy called Brown Joel. He’s also a musician. He came through, and he and Type A were hammering on how the simplicity of the music in Nigeria is key. So, Brown Joel helped me out on that song and made it simpler. With ‘Hold My Side,’ I think the only live instrument I had was the guitar and the violin. The track talks about people who choose to be clingy in a relationship.” “Buttercup” “The beat for ‘Buttercup’ was sent to me by some of my friends that I used to make music with when I was in Port Harcourt. They sent the beat in late 2020, around the time of the #EndSARS protest. I stripped off a lot of things from that beat. While I was messing around with the guitars and stuff, I decided to post it on my socials, and I think that video has the most views on my socials. People kept on requesting the song. There are three girls in Powerpuff Girls—Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup. Buttercup’s color is green, and then the color of marijuana is green, so it just aligned. ‘Buttercup’ is for introverted girls that like to stay home, smoke, and chill, and are homebodies.” “Kiss N Tell” “‘Kiss N Tell’ is one of the more recent ones. It was recorded towards the end [2021]. It just touches on the Nigerian girls that like to show who they’re with at that moment, always posting their boyfriends. It always feels like social media knows about their relationship status at any point. I mostly tried to pull these things from my relationship.” “Diamonds” “‘Diamonds’ was made after ‘Hold My Side’ during the pandemic. I was creating a project that was supposed to be released after the pandemic. ‘Diamonds’ was supposed to be one of the songs, and I was working with someone on a song in the studio. I put a hook on the song, and when we heard it, he was like, ‘This song is for you. I don’t think we should do it together. It sounds more like your tone.’ I took the song and was always playing it for people, and they kept telling me it was giving them the vibe to get married. They felt like whenever they listened to this song, if they had a girlfriend, they’d want to propose to her. I wanted to add a little bit more soul to the song, so I decided to call a 25-man choir for me to record the song with. I liked how it came out, so I decided to add some more violin and some more guitars to it.” “Skip to My Lou” “‘Skip to My Lou’ is from the same producer as ‘Kiss N Tell’—Psalmist. It’s my personal favorite song on the project. We recorded it late [2021]. I did the same process on that song—took out the beats and did an acoustic version. I like to write with acoustic versions because I like soul music the most. I wanted to connect to people with this song, and I know the best way to do that is through soul music. With this song, I stripped off the percussions and wrote to it like I usually do on other songs. I was trying to talk about women that are gym bodies—the ones that go to the gym every day and are obsessed with how their body looks.” “Maintaining Beauty” “I think the title of ‘Maintaining Beauty’ speaks for itself. It’s one of those lines that girls always use on the internet, you know. Like ‘I haven’t paid my school fees, but I’m maintaining beauty.’ I’ve been around girls that don’t really have much, but what comes first is their makeup kits, their face cloths, and their soap. They like maintaining things, even if they are starving or are homeless. It was produced by my friend TP.” “Wants & Needs” “I produced ‘Wants & Needs’ with my friend Raxx, and every element in the song is live. It’s about girls who always have needs. It’s about the hardest-to-date girls. You know, if you ask them how they are, they always say, ‘I’m not fine’ because they want to ask for something. More so, it’s also about someone that has the looks, the body features to always ask me for stuff, and I can’t resist her requests.”

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