Buck 65

This Halifax rapper left his heart in Colorado.

Love is a funny thing. It can open your eyes to beauty, truth and all the joy the world has to offer, and it can shield you from the all the ugliness and negativity. When love is fresh, thoughts of your beloved can also take over your every waking thought. Such is the case for Rich Terfry, better known to the music world as award-winning rapper Buck 65.

"The love of my life comes from Boulder and lives in Denver," explains Terfry. "It's almost becoming a home for me. It's where I'll be spending the holidays this year." That means the high-profile underground MC will be very far from his home town in Nova Scotia, near Halifax, where it all started almost twenty years ago.

In 1989, the small-town boy moved to Halifax and began hosting a college-radio hip-hop show, accelerating his musical education with the station's deep stacks of all genres and eras. When Terfry began making his own rap records in the early '90s, however, he did his best to keep to the established hip-hop formulas.

"I was really insecure," Terfry admits. "I was in the middle of something of an identity crisis, which had to do with the fact that I was a rural white guy from Canada finding myself in the hip-hop world." Initially, rather than use his unique background to his advantage, the young rapper tried to hide it. "I was trying to fit in and not stick out too much," he explains.

In spite of his desires to conform to hip-hop conventions, Terfry's diverse personal and musical background quickly found its way into his recordings. "I was really inspired by that first De La Soul record," he confides. "It just blew my mind the way they'd combine samples from James Brown and Johnny Cash, and I thought, 'Why not?' I grew up with folk and country music, so that's part of the source for me."

By the time the first Buck 65 record, Language Arts, surfaced in 1997, Terfry had arrived at his own sound and style. "I really thought that I was making normal hip-hop that could stand side by side with these records coming out of New York," a bemused Terfry recalls. "But I got these responses that were like, 'What you're doing is really weird.'" The weirdness caused a lot of folks to sit up and take notice of one of Canada's first hip-hop exports, but it would still be a few years before Buck 65 truly came into his own.

"In the '90s, my stuff was interesting and had some good ideas, but there wasn't much to it," he points out. "I don't see it as really honest or being the kind of thing that has any real humanity. Emotionally, something was lacking." That all changed, however, while Terfry was working on Man Overboard in 1999. "In the middle of that process, my mother died, and it was a natural thing for me to pick up a pen to deal with this heavy thing," he recalls. "I had a very strong and complicated relationship with my mother, so I wrote this song that seemed so personal that it just didn't belong on any record. I debated it long and hard. It felt like a huge risk and it terrified me, but I made the decision to include it."

When the record was released in 2001, Terfry was astounded by the outpouring of support and heartfelt responses that Man Overboard generated, as people from many different backgrounds and walks of life were touched by the most honest and personal Buck 65 record yet. "It hit me as a real epiphany," Terfry confesses, still sounding shaken by the experience. "The first time I was honest on a record was also the first time I really touched another person. It was a huge eye-opener and has dictated the way I've worked ever since."

Man Overboard touched not only hip-hop fans, but also some rather well-known musicians. "It got the attention of the guys in Radiohead," Terfry recounts, "and they were telling me how much they liked the record and [were] saying so publicly. They were mentioning me in interviews.

"That's when the phone started ringing a whole lot," he marvels. "The basic lesson I learned wasn't just to open up my chest and let everyone poke me in the heart, but I had to find humanity and understand what people are looking for when they turn to art or music."

This human understanding and connection carried through the next few Buck 65 records and is a driving force behind Situation, the artist's most conceptual album yet. The new release is a collection of analyses, exegeses and character studies that center around the people, events and values of a time fifty years ago. The opening track, "1957," sets the stage in a headline-reading snapshot that sums up the year like a hip-hop version of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" or R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)." It opens with a reference to Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," one of the Beat poet's key works and a poem that led to a 1957 obscenity trial against publisher and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

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