The hip-hop underground is chock full of wordy bastards. Coincidentally or not, lots of them are white, and lots of them have taste in beats so austere they make Mobb Deep sound like Fatboy Slim. Like many such MCs, Buck 65 (ne Richard Terfry) could probably pass for a spoken-word artist or stand-up comic if he wanted, though he’s actually got as much street cred as you can muster in Nova Scotia–his college radio show kick-started the Halifax hip-hop scene in the early 90s. But he’s been around long enough to have internalized the hip-hop verities (and maybe wearied of them a little) and sounds confident enough in his skills to take it easy on the mike–his voice, gruff yet unimposing, bobs atop loops of pretty acoustic guitar or moody piano melodies to a rhythm set as much by his conversational cadence as by the unobtrusive drum tracks. His first album since signing to Warner Music Canada last year, the hour-long Square, is divided into four tracks (“Square One,” “Square Two,” you get the idea), each a suite of sorts, with instrumental interludes, discrete raps, and extended vocal samples (Alfred Hitchcock and William S. Burroughs each make a cameo) strung seamlessly together. The rhyme that starts “Food / It puts me in a good mood” would make the Fat Boys drool: “Let me fill my dish / With delicious fish / And brown rice / Sounds nice / But I can’t argue / With barbecue,” Buck slavers, later proposing to expound on “the merits / of carrots.” When I caught him live at South by Southwest this year (backed by a band he doesn’t use on the record and unfortunately won’t be bringing to town), he stepped up the energy until both a carefully plotted shaggy-dog story about how his gear was stolen in Oregon and an absurd reminiscence of how his dad used a flamethrower to clear the driveway of snow sounded as immediate as freestyles. Friday, May 23, 10 PM, Fireside Bowl, 2646 W. Fullerton; 773-486-2700.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jenn McIntyre.