He's calling it a mixtape. He's calling it Language Arts Part Seven. Despite sounding bromidic, we'll call it a comeback, even though he's been here for years.
Buck 65 is calling it a mixtape because of the way he produced it, in that he barely produced it. He's rapping (yes, rapping, and better than he ever has before ”” his flow's more diverse and rhythmic) over admittedly stolen instrumentals (contrary to the secretive act of digging he has always upheld) from such diverse artists as the Incredible Bongo Band, John Fahey, and The Homosexuals. He's added touches of drum breaks and cornered off the pieces by voice excerpts and weirdo samples, recalling a format used in his Language Arts album series, and thus including Strong Arm in this group.
It's curious that Buck 65 would decide to make an album in the same fashion that he used to ”” a method of creation he describes in the album notes as: "patch-work, collage-style assembly, and that everything was done by me, by hand, in my bedroom." He also mentions that the album was recorded in a day and on a budget of zero. This is all very curious. Curious because Buck 65 has lampooned his older albums made this way. He's even gone as far as to ridicule these prior albums on his website in the form of reviews. This may be considered a rather narcissistic act, but the degree with which Buck criticizes himself counters any conceit. But does being hard on oneself, holding in contempt albums that others celebrate and dote on, reveal a person even more vainglorious than one who agrees they are wonderful? (This complexity of character is something we'll come back to.)
The aspects of his older albums which Buck doesn't look fondly upon are as follows: long voiceless introductions, song lyrics containing random lists of musings, lack of song structure, and his voice. The funny thing is, on Strong Arm, he repeats these same self-proclaimed flaws! Flaws that many fans of his wouldn't agree to be flaws. In one review, he claims an album is "way too self-indulgent" — but more self-indulgent than reviewing your own music?
What is revealed through Strong Arm, and what most listeners already know, is that Buck 65 is an extremely complex and contradictory artist. He has attempted to balance honesty and mystique in his life and music. The plan seemed to work early on, but soon faltered and turned the tides against him. He has been reprimanded for his harsh words toward hip-hop and been called a liar in public forums by (former) close friends.
Some will remember when a righteous Rich Terfry preached on Synesthesia about cussing. He claimed a cringe overcame him every time he heard the word fuck on one of his old recordings. Fast forward to 2006 and Buck has a song entitled "F.O.S.," which stands for (what is repeated throughout the song) "Fuck Off Satan." The song is dope, so we won't put up a fuss.
Hip-hop. Buck has drifted further and further from hip-hop on each of his recent releases. Secret House Against the World was leaps away from any semblance of rap, Buck's original love. But Strong Arm is a hip-hop album, hip-hop in the same vein as Man Overboard, Vertex, and Square ”” allegiant and also progressive hip-hop. Buck addresses the infamous comments he made in the 2004 Kerrang! magazine interview, which included the statement "I now hate hip-hop."
"Firing squads and lynching mobs…/ For bullshit taken out of context in the pages of Kerrang!/ Who gives a shit?"
As if this head-on handling of that sloppy situation isn't enough, he supports his high hip-hop loyalty and beliefs throughout the 36 minutes of Strong Arm. The second track mentions a yes-ya'll, freakin' the beat, and has a chorus that goes dang-diggy-dang. It's a hip-hop homage track as much as Man Overboard's "You Know The Science" was. On the second side of the mixtape (the album has two sides, despite individual track numbers), Buck states plainly: "You pronounced Rakim wrong." There's even a flash of Grandmaster Flash as Buck urges: "Don't push me, I'm close to the edge." All of these are delivered amongst punkish yelps, folksy singing attempts, and Old Timey American spirituals. Balance.
Buck's complexity is illustrated in his allusions, influences, and references. Strong Arm is full of them, and they are far-reaching. Buck is childlike in his appreciation of things; likewise, it's hard to tell if he's a humble learner or a hoity-toity snob. Buck flashes his latest musical, cinematic, and literary interests, but he's sharing as much as showing-off. He's almost like the stuffy Columbia professor, overheard by Woody Allen, pontificating on Fellini and Beckett in line for a film. But he isn't quite there yet. His endless name-dropping still irks people.
This album reveals a man who is a more human than in the past, a little less mysterious. Buck has built that mystery up himself, and there's nothing wrong with that, especially since he's stayed so faithful to his fables. But as he says on Strong Arm: "No vertex, no destination." He's come from somewhere, and he's going somewhere. He's diverged, detoured, returned, and stumbled, but he's continued to move. This may be a minor release, a trip over a crack in a sidewalk slab, but it's a major work ”” a focused accident, again (just as Vertex and Man Overboard were).
Fans who find Buck's previous three albums as a departure in the wrong direction from his earlier work will adore Strong Arm. Fans who see these recent albums as logical progressions, unaffected by what seems to be Buck taking himself too seriously, will be thankful this appears to be a one-off nostalgic venture. A one-off nostalgic venture ”” to this writer's dismay.
3. Hole in the Road
4. What Grace Means
5. Don't Belong
7. Brace Yourself
9. Old Time Stuff
10. B&W and Read All-Over
11. Full Blown
13. The Ole One-Two