Buck 65: Talkin’ Honky Blues (2003)
I heard Rich Terfry, the man behind the Buck 65 moniker and many others, for the first time while assembling a series of compilations for a road trip in 2003. The song “Pants on Fire,” which drew me in with its sample of the Vincent Gallo film “Buffalo 66,” was a recommendation of my friend Ren. I hadn’t listened to hip hop in years before Buck 65 came along. Finally, here was a rapper with interesting things to say that weren’t all about getting rich and getting laid. Here was a wordsmith who used the everyday middle class as his inspiration, a guy who liked the way words sounded when you put them next to each other, a guy who sounded a little more like Tom Waits than Eminem.
“Talkin’ Honky Blues” was a record that I devoured and have come to know inside out. It was Rich’s first real foray into a gritty western approach to hip hop, in part a concept album about a man who lives on a house boat, hangs out on the docks with the charismatically insane and slowly loses his mind to the motion of the waters. All in all, it’s a showcase of Buck’s unique brand of narrative hip hop, songs that come out of both experience and invention, rhymes about his dad (“Roses and Bluejays”), an outsider’s zest for life (“Protest”), and the soul of a wanderer (“Wicked and Weird”).
“Tired Out” is a song I listened to recently and was newly struck by its sadness, regret and concise hook. A steel guitar plays hauntingly over a hip hop beat while Rich raps not about the number of women he gets, but about the pain a lover causes the one he cheats on. There are no easy answers on the record, only a recounting of a man’s experiences with a world that has eluded his old-fashioned, sincere and simplistic approaches. “50 Gallon Drum” is a free-flowing communication of a list of items located in one man’s heaven (“The DJs only play originals and the theatres still have silver screens and Buster Keaton matinees”). Buck 65’s music routinely has that quality of the esoteric that rewards the listening experience. It’s his precise method of self-definition, regardless of the self, that impresses.
By some act of divine intervention, I was contacted by Buck 65’s management to help organize a spoken word show for Rich. At that point, he was touring in support of “Secret House Against the World.” I interviewed him afterward and found him to be personable and open. Above all, he’s a storyteller, an artist always on the lookout for loose threads that may be woven into a complete picture. He takes pride in his difference from the rest of the hip hop world, a leftfielder in a game of men who would rather compare bat size and pose for the crowd than do their job well.
I spent many afternoons at university making my way through the underground tunnels with Buck 65’s music on my headphones. His words and unique observations made me feel very aware of my surroundings and instilled in me the desire to write. His recent work with “Bike for Three” is some of the best material he’s ever done and I have faith that he’ll always surprise. His reservoir is one of the deepest I’ve come across.
Video for “Wicked and Weird” by Buck 65: