Buck 65

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Early morning interviews are always a crap-shoot from the journ

Early morning interviews are always a crapshoot from the journalist’s perspective. Both combatants are still waking—or just about to go to bed—and any number of simple miscues can throw the whole thing to the wolves. My interview with Buck 65 was no different; and though I should have known better than to attempt it at such a god-awful time of morning, I simply could not resist talking to the man who is without a doubt the most fascinating person in hip-hop. Buck 65, whose Christian name is Richard Terfry, hails from a small town tucked into one of what I can only assume is one of Canada’s many islands. Truth be told I know nothing of Canada, but hopefully neither does anyone reading this. Nevertheless, the interview logistics fuck-up du jour was recording issues, and the chef was serving it up cold. My voice recorder, which had up until that morning simply refused to use its built-in speakers, finally decided to make its career move to full-blown paperweight, and there were no other recording devices to be found. So I set myself to the gruesome task of typing with shorthanded ferocity every word he said and hoping for the best. It was startlingly beautiful, as far as fiascoes are concerned.

“Okay,” I said. “I’m sitting in front of a computer, and I’ve just popped in your new album.” Buck murmured acknowledgment from his trademark concrete throat. “I’ve listened and loved all of your albums, but I haven’t yet listened to this one. What am I about to get myself into?” Not surprisingly, he hesitated, an obvious response to what would normally be an easy question, had it not been presented in such a strange way. “Well, the first thing you’ll want to know is that I did it with my friend Paul, who goes by the name Skratch Bastid.” I have to admit I’m skeptical when he tells me that he let Paul “take over the music side” of Situation. The most distinctive—and arguably most kitschy—element of Buck’s records have been the not-necessarily country influences, which have served to create a down-to-earth and normative feeling that’s found nowhere else in hip-hop. But primarily, the strength and resonance of Buck is his stream-of-consciousness emotiveness, so I’ll let it slide if he doesn’t bring back the lap steel guitar. According to Terfry, Situation is back-to-basics hip-hop, created with at least the tertiary aim to satisfy fans who would be most interested in just hearing a creative and innovative MC doing what he does best. “I wanted to push myself… but it still has its dark side. “There’s still plenty of uptempo material, and plenty of laughs. Sometimes I wonder if my sense of humor is too dark.”

The only thing that’s garnered significant attention apart from his music has been his occasionally unpleasant relationship with the press. A long time ago, at the end of a long tour, an overzealous interviewer from Kerrang! decided to steal some shtick from Lester Bangs and toss terms like “sell-out” and “whore” at what I imagine was a fairly confused Buck. In the ensuing argument, an exacerbated Buck pronounced that he had grown to hate hip-hop the more he learned about music. He apologized quickly afterward, but the damage was done. Fans polarized over the statements, either respecting him for his candor and ability to admit his mistake or accusing him of being phony. And in the world of underground hip-hop, those accusations can be deadly albatrosses. Not to mention the fact from now on he’ll never be able to do an interview without discussing that previous interview (which is apparently impossible to find in its entirety on the internet). Of course, I took the opportunity to ask the question, although I did feel some shame at the compulsory nature of it. “I kind of tend to stay away from all that, I just have to accept the misunderstanding. As a white guy from a rural Canada town with all the factors you can add on, the idea of me being the greatest rapper, or at least accepted that way, is pretty slim. I kind of figured that if it were going to be a worthwhile pursuit—and I don’t see why anyone would want to do a job without some measure of success—my strength would be my ideas and taking the music somewhere new. That would be my contribution—if I could bring something beautiful. I’ll still be judged, compared to the “hip” shit, but I’ve been doing this for 15 years. The key to my success is word of mouth, grassroots sort of stuff, and the fans: their faith in it and their passing it on.”

One of the great pleasures I take personally from listening to Buck 65 is the heavy influences and references taken from movies, music, literature, history, and pop culture. I mean, certainly that’s not an altogether new occurrence in hip-hop, but I’ve yet to see another rapper bust an extended Bukowski homage sandwiched between Alphonse Mouzon and Jim Jarmusch references less than a song away in either direction. And if that’s not rarefied enough for you, the song “Corrugated Tin Façade” on Secret House Against The World gets its title from a Walker Evans photograph taken in Alabama in 1936. The title for the album, by the way, was inspired by an Anaïs Nin novella entitled Houseboat. “I’m as susceptible to a great work of art as anyone.”

But back to the new album.

“The first song starts with the first line of a Ginsberg poem, Howl. There’s also a song in there called ‘lipstick’ that’s sort of based on a Bettie Page interview I read. I don’t work too much from my own imagination, it’s more just from the beauty of the world and the craziness of my own predicament. Sometimes I’ll just pick up a book of Egon Schiele or some Robert Frank art and allow the beauty to translate into another medium, trying to put it into words just an exercise.”
“Well thank you very much for your time, I look forward to listening to Situation.” (I am terrible at ending interviews. I sound like a telemarketer) “No problem,” Buck replies. “Hope you like it.”

No need to mention that I loved the album, I don’t think. That’d be an entirely different article (it still might be). What’s really important here is that Buck’s music transcends the usual hip-hop paradigm without the trappings and baggage that usually spews forth from this aggressive re-interpretation to gimmicky effect. He’s not bum-rushing the Grammy stage (Kanye), playing up his British accent (Streets, Lady Sov) or faking a retirement to call attention to himself (Jay-Z, Eminem, Timbaland). In fact, he’s pushing attention away, but it just keeps coming back. And as long as he keeps melding his lyrical skills with bubbly optimism and imaginative realism, it’ll keep coming back. And with the current run of ringtone rap and hyper-egoism that it’s been flooded with, hip-hop needs more artists like Buck 65. If not to shift its direction, than to remind it where its true heart lies: self-expression.

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Early morning interviews are always a crap-shoot from the journ

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