Buck 65: Better than 50 Cent
Buck 65: Better than 50 Cent

Talkin' Gnarled Roots Blues

Buck 65's basement-pitched voice chews through a Holden Caulfield-by-way-of-Nylon repertoire: stylishly brooding, boldly overwrought, aggro-sexual and ultimately self-serving.

That aside, the best and most characteristic quality of Canadian (and now Paris-dwelling) Richard Terfry/Buck 65's music is the influence of several distinct—and distinctly American—storytelling traditions, including folksy social commentary, seen-it-all blues and the extended bildungsroman common in hip-hop. This genre-bending parallels Terfry's own story: By all accounts, he was an inquisitive kid, raised in rural Nova Scotia (which amounts to growing up in an extremely beautiful jail cell) with little to guide him but stolen moments of radio.

Though Mount Uniacke is a cultural suckhole, Terfry acknowledges the lingering power of his hometown, saying, "[H]ands down, the biggest influence on my work has been the tiny, rural town where I grew up. Probably more than half of my songs are about that in one way or another. And most of the other half comes from experiences on the road."

The surprisingly strong kingdom of eastern Canadian indie rock (see: Sloan, Eric's Trip, the Inbreds, Jale and Thrush Hermit) partly shaped Terfry's sensibilities. "Back in the early '90s, a bunch of bands from [Halifax, the small but cool coastal city where Terfry came of age] were getting signed up by Sub Pop. And then Sloan got signed by DGC. When that happened, they took part of their advance money and set up their own label, Murderecords. I was one of the first people they released on the label. And in those early days, all my shows were opening for those bands. I'm grateful for that experience because it really helped get my head out of my ass and expand my musical horizons."

Speaking of which, he doesn't put much stock in bright lines between genres. "I think if you go back a little further than the New York City history of hip-hop, you'll find a common ground. The tradition of 'rapping' is an old one, and musically, you can find examples of it in talking blues records going back 100 years. I know most people don't 'get it' or haven't been able to make that connection, but I figure I'm just keeping a much older hip-hop tradition alive, if you will."

Buck 65's relationship with hip-hop has been contentious: In 2004, after he'd released several albums of rootsy, experimental rap, Terfry claimed he had come to hate hip-hop. This, alongside the marked change in his style toward a hobo poetic that had more in common with Johnny Cash than Jay-Z, left some fans and critics nonplussed—even pissed-off. Combining this with sometimes rudimentary, uninspired lyrics (think open-mic slam session) and often grating smugness cost Buck 65 some esteem. Paul "Skratch Bastid" Murphy, who is producing the upcoming Buck 65 album, Situation(out Sept. 18), says, "I think that everyone goes on their own musical trip, and it takes everyone to a different place. Rich has one of the most diverse musical tastes I've ever heard of. He's always listening to some crazy, obscure shit when I go over to his house. I think it's good that he showed people some of the different ideas that he's collected by being an inspired music fan for so long. He picked up a lot of new listeners by stretching out to so many different styles. I know that he may have lost a few of his hip-hop fans on the way, but that's why I made Situation the way that I did: to show some of the older fans that Buck still has it in him."

Terfry cops to the change: "I guess you could say that my love affair with hip-hop has been rekindled."

Murphy adds, "I'd like to think that listeners can walk away from Situation feeling the vibe I get from those old cassettes, combined with the sounds and emotions offered by the dense range of styles that Rich has developed over his more recent albums."

Certainly, Buck 65's trademark complexity has never waned. Terfry seems to actively court ideas and experiences for his catalog of material. He counts Situationism (which basically trumpets construction over the inherent) as an influence on the album, and of late, he's scored two films (truck doc Big Rig and French movie L'Histoire de Richard O.) and maintains a polymath's diversity of interests, including CNN's Hala Gorani, Crispin Glover flicks, David Lynch's Inland Empire and Mr. Softee trucks in New York. However pretentious his schema reads, one thing Buck 65 definitely is not is a phony.



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