Buck 65, Man Overboard (2001)
At the heart of Buck 65’s Man Overboard, the first from the Canadian MC’s extensive catalog to earn widespread American distribution, he talks about his mother’s death from breast cancer. “Who will be there to pick me up by the waistband?” he asks. “Plus I promised I’d take her to Graceland.” There’s an awkward silence surrounding the song’s two minutes, even as a sampled recording of Sylvia Plath ends it by intoning, “Hold your breath/Start with death.” Refreshingly absent of self-pity, Buck 65’s confessional throws you overboard into an abyss of longing, fear and self-determination, landing somewhere uncomfortably close to the existence he undoubtedly occupies. Man Overboard replicates that eerie state of confusion and bemused anxiety. Its 15 tracks don’t have titles, so they seem to emerge from nowhere – a sloppily written caper leads to an ode to crate digging anchored by a Tribe snippet; Metallica’s “Battery” loops and fades into a dramatically undulating series of acoustic guitar chords. Buck 65’s vocals are difficult to pen down: one song finds him emotionally naked and full of revelations, another captures him reveling in pretentious fairy tales, complete with affected mannerisms. All of Man Overboard’s 70 minutes are delivered with a charismatic, wan smile that falls just short of heartbreaking. But for the most part, Buck 65 tells stories. “I live in the city, but I miss farming life/All I need to survive is my Swiss army knife,” he raps at one point, describing his move from Mount Uniacke to Halifax. Much has been made of the Anticon collective’s (of which Buck 65 is an affiliate, but not a full-fledged member) kinship with emocore bands and ambient rock heroes like the late Spacemen 3, even though they also belong to a lyrically introspective tradition once fueled by the likes of Organized Konfusion and De La Soul. Hasn’t hip-hop always been an outpouring of feelings brought about by frustration, imagination, and fantasy? By striking at the heart of his own depression with equal parts pathos and sarcasm, Buck 65 is returning to the essence of what made us fall in love with his chosen art form in the first place.