Four Ways To Rock/Warner Bros. Canada
n 1998, a 120-minute cassette opus recorded in a matter of days directly to a 4-track, titled Vertex, was released. It made its rounds through the usual channels, but caused relatively little fanfare outside the underground rap scene. Things changed when a shortened version was re-released the following year on compact disc through Buck65’s own Four Ways To Rock imprint, when the burgeoning "avant-rap" scene, spearheaded by the likes of Anticon and the Shape Shifters, was starting to make waves. Three years later, Mr. Rich Terfry finds himself in a lucrative spot on Warner Bros. Canada, with the ability to re-release all five solo albums that serve as a proper precursor to his major label debut, Square.
Although Weirdo Magnet and Language Arts were his first forays beyond merely aping his microphone heroes, Vertex is the first album where Buck truly becomes comfortable presenting himself without any false pretenses. Unlike the Kool Keith and Company Flow school of over-the-top "fuck major label" one-liners and overt posturing, Buck makes a simple promise to the listener -- "I don't act hard and waste time with irrelevance, or underestimate the audience's intelligence." The statement isn't a wholesale condemnation of gangster rap. (A mistake many misguided elitists and would-be intellectuals make.) However, it is a challenge to any emcee sincerely posing as a laughably fictitious, above-the-law super criminal to start performing songs true to self. Freeing himself from the constraints on how a hip-hop artist should act, Buck solidifies his methodology of how a proper album- in his eyes- should be created.
The album is fashioned similarly to a mixtape. Each track is regularly cut up into several miniature movements, equally showcasing Buck’s immaculate lo-fi production techniques, subtle mixing, accentual scratching, and predominantly soft-spoken emceeing abilities. Proper segues between movements are given as much attention as any of the fully realized songs. This stream-of-consciousness approach yields an album vital as a whole, contrasting with the singles-driven nature of most hip-hop.
Buck is not afraid to bare his influences and experiences. While praising the works of David Lynch late in the album, the filmmaker’s influence is most apparent on one of the highlight tracks, “The Centaur”. Building on a creeping, bubbling synth line and an ominous string sample, Buck regales the listener with the story of one of these mythical animals being objectified due to his sexual allure, despite being a thoughtful and creative soul. The surreal sex rhyme, despite being a bit heavy-handed, serves as a moving metaphor for Buck’s state as a performer in hip-hop - a similar soul being treated as a quaint novelty due to his eccentricities and race. Another surreal setting is evoked on the track “In Every Dream House There Is a Heartache”. In this instance, though, the intent is to convey the message that pursuing only the material aspect of the American Dream will lead to an ultimately empty existence. Buck’s drawn-out delivery is offset with a sax sample that wouldn’t sound out of place in one of Naked City’ more frenetic freak-out moments.
More straightforward autobiographical accounts are interspersed on Vertex, including his three part “The Blues”, detailing his baseball team’s Provincial Championship game. Other facets are touched upon, including his somewhat old-guard view on the art of digging for sample material as presented on “Driftwood”. Secrecy, territoriality and the avoidance of bootlegs are the name of the game. This attitude is reinforced throughout the album by obscure breaks from sources like French composer Pierre Henry and early synth pioneers, the Silver Apples.
Given that most of Vertex has a morose, introspective vibe, the album closer, “Style #386”, serves as the seemingly antithetical closer to the rest of the album, a throwback to his early work under the smack-talking Stinkin’ Rich persona. It’s hard not to crack a smile when Buck spits lines like "you threw a gutter ball, and still had the utter gall to profile and front, when you know my shit is butter, y’all." However, the listener soon realizes that no single moment on this album is less authentic than any other. It’s even possible that the listener will initially go through a phase that’s usually reserved for a high schooler who just read Catcher in the Rye - a feeling of complete comprehension and self-actualization, the feeling that you’re the only person in the world to truly "understand" the album, therefore understanding Rich. Eventually, another conclusion is drawn.
While this album is not officially associated with Anticon, it is the single best representation of what the collective could ever hope to achieve -- a fairly awkward, sometimes embarrassing, painfully honest, and ultimately rewarding piece of art, deeply cherished by all those who endear themselves to Buck's flaws and idiosyncrasies, rather than mock them. Ladies and gentleman, now presenting the Jonathan Richman of rap in his finest hour.
Reviewed by: Fredrick Thomas
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01