Buck 65, Square (2002)
Canadian rapper Buck 65 is a B-boy version of Tom Waits, adapting the singer-songwriter model to hip-hop music. His music sounds cloistered and hermetic, the result of low-fi production values and vocals that barely rise above a whisper. He likes speaking through characters – affecting the choked, wrinkled tones of an old man, or a middle-aged shut-in – and telling short, memorable vignettes that range from bitter recriminations to hilarious satires. His major-label debut, Square, is split into four parts, with several untitled songs and instrumental interludes in each section. Sonically, it finds him making beats comprised of acoustic instruments, bass-heavy arrangements that feel as humid and stultifying as a dusty attic. The fourth untitled song in “Square One” is a melancholy rock ballad; an interlude that opens “Square Three” is a dense, lumbering downbeat number. But, ironically, Square’s failure lies within Buck 65’s narratives. At best, he flips simple words into evocative observations; at worst, he comes off as monosyllabic and self-indulgent. The aforementioned fourth song begins, “I know a man who was born with his heart on the outside/Every man’s worst fear, he also had heavy hands/He couldn’t touch his lover’s face, he couldn’t hold a baby/He would never desert him, but he was worried he would hurt him, baby,” weaving a portrait with language that seems slight and unrevealing. There are other stories like this on Square, flimsy tales that never amount to much. Square has not been released in the U.S. Warner Brothers.