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."
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:
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 leadFrom 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: