Buck 65

****Weirdo Magnet (1988-96; WEA 2002)
***1/2Language Arts (1997; WEA 2002)
****Vertex (1999; WEA, 2002)
****1/2Man Overboard (2001; WEA, 2002)
****Synesthesia (2001; WEA, 2002)
****1/2Square (WEA, 2002)
*****Talkin' Honky Blues (WEA, 2003)

Buck 65 (Richard Terfry) is a DJ/rapper from Nova Scotia who's not just underground, but off the beaten path. Or, as he puts it: "Street credibility: zero. Dirt road credibility: up the yin yang." But he became a legend in Halifax for his elemental beats, deft scratches, obscure dubs, and plain-spoken but brainy rap, and he impressed Warner Music Canada enough to not just sign him but release his six album back catalog. Five are installments in the Language Arts series. The other, Weirdo Magnet, collects older tapes going back to 1988. While his music is often inventive, it mostly serves to set up his words: he tells amazing stories, waxes philosophical, obsesses over his craft, and on occasion exposes himself with radical honesty -- although I'd bet against his having been in the Sex Pistols, and the only incontrovertible detail of his centaur tale is that he for sure has a complex mind. And while he can easily conjure up his former childhood, he can also project profound maturity and age; in short, he gives you much to think about. For example, on Weirdo Magnet he has a piece where he spouts uncliched, unironic platitudes, like "the most expensive indulgence is hate/the most dangerous man is the liar."

The first Language Arts album is the most underground, with lots of scratches and a long pastiche at the end. Vertex is best known for "Centaur," about the trials of someone "built like a horse from the waist down," but he also goes shopping for records, and announces, "the older I get, the more life starts to make sense, and the less I care." Man Overboard is richer melodically and more diverse, assuming many voices, but none more immediate than his own as he mourns his late mother, who he never managed to take to Graceland, but whose pride motivated his music. Synesthesia (expanded in the 2002 reissue, and now listed as the Part 5 of Language Arts) is a darker, grumpier album, where he disavows the f-word and frowns on groupies and regrets that "you can't chop wood with an axe made of words," but it's also his densest, most rhythmic work. In Square, he returns more to story telling: a heavy-handed man, "born with his heart on the outside," afraid to touch his loved ones; a stigmatized girl from his home town; but it also features paeans to science and food, and admits that "sometimes dumb crimes blow my mind." Talkin' Honky Blues is even better, introducing a band replete with pedal steel for a richer sound that still serves primarily to set up the words of an older, more worn persona, "a road hog with an old dog," who boasts "I run with the bulls and swim with the pool sharks." So he came from nowhere, but he's been around. He gets compared to DJ Shadow and Laurie Anderson, but he's so original you never know what's coming next. Major talent, but in his own words, "it's possible that I can be huge, but I doubt it."

Miscellaneous Notes


From 2002 Year End List:

Buck 65: Square (Warner Music Canada). Charles Barkley's quip about how messed up it is that while the best golfer is black the best rapper is white only scratches the surface. In a year when Eminem made a pretty good album, three white girls from Long Island (Northern State), a bloke from the U.K. (the Streets), and this guy from Nova Scotia made even better records. What brings Richard Terfly to the head of the class are words so frequently clever that you crane your ears to pick them out of the delectable beats. This is his subtlest album yet, after the breakthrough of Man Overboard and the punchier Synesthesia, but overall it may be his best.

From Recycled Goods, Feb. 2002:

Buck 65: Weirdo Magnet (1988-96, Warner Music Canada). This collects early works from a Halifax rapper so underground that his works (now six albums) were all but impossible to find until he inked a deal with Warner's Canadian subsidiary in 2002. The beats and samples are minimal, just enough to set up the words, which catch your ear and make you think. One piece intones uncliched platitudes: "the most expensive indulgence is hate/the most dangerous man is the liar." Another warns: "he who plunders to embellish his techno style/should be the object of desire in the dreams of necrophiles." He even rhymes equations. A-

From Robert Christgau's "giglog," following an appearance by Buck 65 at the Knitting Factory:

March 24, 2003 Buck 65 at the Knitting Factory. Holy shit was he great. With a four-piece band was the idea, pedal steel guy couldn't make the gig, but he was the show, completely original every which way. Performed the entire 105-minute set holding a hanging worklamp with an orange bulb for illumination, twisting lithely, dipping into his jeans jacket picket for confetti to throw at the crowd. Turns out he's a major raconteur, with cadences and timing and intonations that recalled Tom Waits, Arlo Guthrie, Ed Sanders, and a little (as Karin Berg next to me observed) Laurie Anderson. Stories about working in a magazine shop where Axl Rose got kicked out for smoking, about where he slept in sasquatch country near Eugene, about getting his name from a pedophilic square dance caller in Mount Uniacke with a 65 Buick, about his steel player getting into a fight in Paris with a boulangerie worker who looked like Rolline Fingers and used halves of a butt loaf for boxing gloves. Rhymed orange with porridge, post card with Coast Guard with most part. Sang a verse of Sweet and Shiny Eyes as part of his encore. Talked about his rural background a lot: "Street credibility--zero. Dirt road credibility--up the yin yang." Was reading Wretched of the Earth. Complete motherfucker, major talent, although by now he's more some kind of performance artist than any kind of rapper.

From Christopher Shulgan: "The fact that Terfry makes beats, scratches and rhymes make him legendary in and of itself," says New York City's Justin Levy, . . . "That he's actually good at all three is just unprecedented."

I keep trying to copy down rap fragments:

from Vertex:

game worth winning
from the beginning of the first inning

batting fourth in the lineup
the opposing pitcher is a big righthander
unorthodox windup and a good move to first
throws a curve and changes speeds
can be wild at times
turned one savagely 
and inflated his earned run average
but today he seems focused
and we were stuck out to dry
in the top of the first
because he struck out the side
but in the bottom half the bad guys came out swinging
a lot of coaches like to choose taking the same route
bring in the big hitters to the plate
and players that are purely speed
try to manufacture runs
and jump out to an early lead
and this time it worked
so we were gonna need a hero
because after one complete the score was already 3-0

leading off the second
i swung at the first pitch
no wonder the centerfielder backpeddled to the track
settled under it
O for one
a can of corn
the ball is thrown around the horn
and back to the pitchers mound

good for the bad guys
but not so high for the visitors
the big right hander is taking no prisoners
he seems to have us figured out
the question is can we compete
he's pitching perfect after three complete
and has a 3-1 lead
From Man Overboard:

it's possible I could be huge, but I doubt it
because my phone's off the hook, but that's about it
handling my biz, i should really do a shipment
try to make some money to buy some new equipment
with a brand new mic and a room with insulation
colored pencils, all I need is inspiration
which brings me back to this hot and sweaty cage
with a worn out mattress and a poster of betty page
i look at people look at me, how am i supposed to feel?
showing me a picture that isn't even close to real
the final approach is upon me, i can feel it
so i might call this song "i was right all along"
or i might call the song "never had stitches"
or i might call it "mr know it all"
or "i forget the chaos"
or "two sizes too big"
Other notes from notebook:

  • Buck 65: Language Arts (1997, WEA). Starts off with a repeated "this is for us," which he then expands upon. The beats are his most elemental, and the scratches are pronounced, which makes this his most underground-sounding album. Long last piece is a pastiche of various effects. B+
  • Buck 65: Vertex (1999, WEA). According to Christopher Shulgan's piece in the press kit, "Vertex was recorded in a single, 48-hour burst of manic creativity on a four-track recorder." On "The Centaur" he raps about his cock: "asking silly questions like I'm their personal mentor/all they care about is my big dick because I'm a centaur". On "Driftwood" he goes shopping for records. He notes, "my beats aren't familiar/so you can't put your finger on them." Line out of nowhere: "the older I get, the more life starts to make sense, and the less I care." Baseball: he calls them better than Ernie Harwell, but writing down all the lyrics is tough to do. Does a very minimal Roxy Music song, "In Every Dream Home a Heartache," whispered over a beat, with door squeaks in background. Another piece follows a baseball game, "we got a tie game going into the seventh inning stretch." Another quote: "stupid djs would give their right arm/to be ambidexterous." And, "what you call official art/I call artificial." And, "stupid djs would give their right arm/to be ambidexterous." A-
  • Buck 65: Man Overboard (2001, WEA). The plainest piece here is about the loss of a mother, leaving . . . One line in another voice: "i'm lost for words/peculiar how often that happens/and i call myself a mc." A
  • Buck 65: Synesthesia (2002, WEA). Subtitled "Language Arts, Part 5," which implies that it came out after Square. He seems to be getting into a bad mood, certainly in "Grumpy," but also in "Mouth Wash" (formerly "The F-Word") and "Hens" (formerly "Ho") and probably elsewhere. A-
  • Buck 65: Square (2002, WEA). Subtitled "Language Arts, Part 4." No songs listed. The booklet is pure art, saying nothing. There's a piece on science which I should quote more from, but: "science is breathless." And there's a piece on food, "food puts me in a good mood/it keeps me going." A