Buck 65 An Affair To Remember
"For as long as I've been doing this, I've been loving hip-hop as hard as I can. And not like in a creepy stalker-boyfriend insecure kind of way. I've been a good lover. Giving hip-hop a nice foot rub at the end of every day, and cooking for hip-hop, buying really thoughtful gifts for hip-hop every Christmas. It just spits in my face every time." Buck 65, on the line from a quiet corner of Halifax, laughs softly at his own wry analogy.
"I got dumped by hip-hop."
It's hard to imagine a break-up as upsetting as this one. And for Buck 65 (born Rich Terfry), it couldn't have come at a stranger time.
Rich grew up in tiny Mt Uniacke, Nova Scotia, a former gold-mining town. As a kid, and through his late teens, he believed firmly that his mission in life was to play baseball. Rich put his whole heart into the game, and was dazzling enough on the field that he was once scouted by the New York Yankees. When his major league aspirations fell through, he took a long, hard look at his turntables and resolved to pursue music with the same gusto.
He first met hip-hop when it was fresh and untamed, and although he was already in a long-term relationship with baseball, he fell in love. He bought his first record when he was ten years old, and can still boast more 1979 hip-hop on vinyl and more knowledge of hip-hop history than almost anyone he knows. He started rocking the local roller-skating rinks as a b-boy in the early ‘80s, and worked hard on his rhyming skills. Rich eventually moved to Halifax, the nearest city, where he picked up a degree in biology, and pushed himself to become one of a very small handful of people to master all three arts of MCing, DJing, and music production. He also scored a weekly slot at Dalhousie University's campus radio station, a raised platform where, as "Jesus Murphy," he preached the hip-hop gospel to anyone who would listen. To many of the young Haligonians who tuned in during the show's twelve-year stretch, it was their first, and maybe only, exposure to underground hip-hop.
Roughly two years after Rich first took to the airwaves, he started distributing some of his own recordings. The release of his first EP, Chin Music, came in 1992 under the moniker Stinkin Rich. He followed up two years later with a seven-inch single, Stolen Bass, and the Game Tight cassette. A dedicated underground following sprouted and began growing steadily. In 1996 he and fellow Halifax MC/DJ/producer/artist Sixtoo (born Rob Squire, now a resident of Montreal) formed Sebutones, a vehicle for experimentation and testing the limits of hip-hop however they chose. Rich took on the name Buck 65 around this time, and began work on an on-going series of albums, the Language Arts series. Slowly, as he played with his approach to language and writing, his sound began to change.
It's been a good decade since Rich first burst into the music game, and he's got ten records under his belt. With each ensuing Language Arts album — Parts One to Three, Language Arts, Vertex, Man Overboard, and a limited run of quickie Synesthesia, actually Part Five — he's garnered more attention, greater critical acclaim, and a larger, more international fan base. He's had Part Four of Language Arts, Square, hidden up his sleeve for some time, and has been showing it off like a proud parent to the major record labels that have come knocking at his door. Finally, this summer, Rich inked a four-album deal with Warner. Square is set for an early September release, and his entire back catalogue is going to be re-issued, including a re-worked version of Synesthesia. He broke the news on his web site. "No more having to kill people to get your hands on stuff. Records up the ying-yang!" he proclaimed. But in the midst of all this excitement, there remains a problem: no one, not Rich nor his label, knows quite how to market him. "I don't even know what kind of music I'm making anymore," Rich sighs.
Music media often classifies him as a rapper, but Rich's music hasn't fit the typical rap mould in a long time. On his older releases, along with some of his signature rhymes about childhood or mundane passions, you'll find him grasping the mic aggressively, cutting up whack MCs, swearing, bragging shamelessly about his skills between the bed sheets, and breaking down a list of hip-hop crimes for kids who don't know. It's a far cry from the musician you encounter on Square. He's still gazing at the world with the wide eyes of a child these days, but his voice is much gruffer, almost old-man crotchety, and both his subject matter and his samples have shifted direction. His newer inspirations — Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, Portishead, Simon & Garfunkle, David Lynch, Robert Frank, Charles Bukowski, etc. — have made a collective impact too huge to ignore.
"I think if you go back and look at all my records chronologically, they really reflect how my own personal musical tastes have changed a lot. I was still pretty into hip-hop when I did the first Language Arts, for example. And you can tell that I grew increasingly disenchanted with hip-hop as time has gone on." He pauses. "To the point where I don't listen to it at all anymore."
During an interview this past winter, smack in the middle of his courtship ritual with several major record labels, Rich outlined his genre dilemma and went over his theories of "where it all went wrong" with hip-hop.
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