“The beat I got from big Buckwild is whoa!” (Black Rob)
It’s a dream come true. Imagine one of your favorite producers gathering on a double disc close to forty tracks you previously didn’t have easy access to. For those not able to put a track to the name, here’s a summary of Buckwild’s biggest beats: O.C.’s “Time’s Up,” the Artifacts’ “C’mon Wit Da Git Down,” Organized Konfusion’s “Stress,” AZ’s “Ho Happy Jackie,” Big L’s “Put it On,” Kool G Rap & Nas’ “Fast Life,” The Notorious B.I.G.’s “I Got a Story to Tell,” Jay-Z’s “Lucky Me,” Black Rob’s “Whoa!,” Beanie Sigel’s “What a Thug About,” Nas’ “These Are Our Heroes,” The Game’s “Like Father, Like Son,” and 50 Cent’s “I Don’t Need ‘Em.” Personal favorites include Mic Geronimo’s “Masta I.C.,” Organized Konfusion’s “Why,” Brand Nubian’s “Alladat,” Big L’s “Da Graveyard,” Kool G Rap’s “Blowin’ up in the World,” A+’s “Me & My Microphone,” A.G.’s “All Eye Seeing,” O.C.’s “Half Good, Half Sinner,” AZ’s “I’m Back,” and several tunes that are included on this epic collection.
Sometimes when I hear the name Buck in relation to hip-hop production, it happens that I’m reminded of that MC Ren rhyme from N.W.A’s “Alwayz Into Somethin’”… “I heard a dope beat, somebody told me that Buck did it / but if Dre didn’t do it, I can’t fuck with it.” Completely unrelated to one Buckwild of course, because back in 1991 there was no trace of a producer named Buck, let alone Buckwild. In our “Word…Life” review we determined that album to be the official debut of Anthony Best as a beatmaker. “Diggin’ In The Crates - Rare Studio Masters” reveals that an even earlier production credit exists - “You Can’t Front (…It Is Real),” the b-side of Diamond’s “What U Heard” single from 1993. D is credited as co-producer, but the way guest Sadat X acknowledges, “Yo Buck, this shit is hot,” it’s fair to assume that ‘Buck did it.’ The following year, on the occasion of “Time’s Up,” The Source crowned him ‘hip-hop’s next star producer.’
Seven years later, the same magazine’s ‘5th Annual Power 30 Issue,’ bringing back to mind Y2K, selected 8 ‘Chairmen of the Board’ ‘that racked up the most production credits in 2000’ (Dr. Dre, The Neptunes, The Alchemist, Mannie Fresh, Rockwilder, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, DJ Premier). Despite scoring one of the year’s defining singles with “Whoa!,” Buckwild didn’t make the cut and was (alongside Nottz, Ayatollah, and Hi-Tek) relegated to ‘Up and Coming Producer’ status… To state that Buckwild has never been a true ‘star producer’ doesn’t diminish his accomplishments. Rather, looking back on this career and contemplating his work makes you realize that the fact that he never was a star producer might be the very reason he still is in the game. In fact, it might be harder to meet the demands of an ever-changing hip-hop landscape than becoming the beatsmith of the moment and striking while the iron is hot by following up that one hit with a dozen similar tracks.
In 1995 Buck already demonstrated he was in it for the long haul when in an Ego Trip interview he told Chairman Mao: “Right now in hip-hop everybody wanna get in it, because they’ll look on TV and see somebody that looks like they livin’ and they be like, ‘Yo, I wanna do that,’ because they think they can make a lot of money. It’s cool, you can make money for what you do, but if you really got your heart in it, then that’s when it’s all cool. Other people be like, ‘I wanna get in it’ to make sure they pockets is fat. Or they be like, ‘Yo, you in this game and you doin’ whatever you doin’. You’re not large, or as large as me. I got crazy loot, what you got to show for it?’ You can still have longevity. Even if you don’t make crazy money, you might have longevity. And they don’t understand that.”
A Bronx native, Buckwild paid his dues as a mixtape DJ in the early ’90s before hooking up with Lord Finesse (who besides having a rap career also put together mixtapes), who introduced him to fellow Diggin’ In The Crates producers Diamond D and Showbiz. While not a member from jump, Buckwild, at least in his earlier years, was a true blue Diggin’ In The Crates representative, calling his production company Still Diggin’ Productions. The D.I.T.C. tutelage soon yielded results, as by 1995 Ego Trip magazine called him ‘perhaps the most prolific remix-producer in hip hop today.’
Many of these remixes are now collected on CD for the first time, a real treat for anybody who doesn’t have the means to dig in the (vinyl) crates for mid-’90s East Coast rap. All material has been sourced from DATs, ensuring studio quality. Spanning a five year period, “Rare Studio Masters” reveals several trends in the producer’s resumé. For the greater part of his career, Buckwild has remained synonymous with dark-toned, sample-heavy, mid-tempo rap from the Rotten Apple. The MC’s he did beats for outside of his hometown were usually on the same artistic page. As early as ‘94 he did beats for New Jersey’s Artifacts and Boston’s Scientifik and remixed L.A.’s Funkdoobiest and Tha Alkaholiks before hitting up Virginia to work with Mad Skillz and Ill Biskits (whose shelved Atlantic album “Chronicle of Two Losers” is about to be finally released). Another notable characteristic is that Buckwild and his rappers often extended their relationships, collaborating for more than one album. Mic Geronimo, AZ, Organized Konfusion, Brand Nubian, Capone-N-Noreaga, Kool G Rap, Fat Joe, Black Rob, and Beanie Sigel all came back for seconds.
Major production gigs notwithstanding, Buck kept his ears to the streets, trying to capture its rhythms by tapping them into his SP’s, Akais and MPC’s. In ‘96 he presented Bronx crew Reservoir Dogs on his own short-lived Still Diggin’ Music label, the single’s subtly schemin’ “Back to Berth” and the subdued, epic “The Difference” both being included here. Crimewave is another crew that was blessed with his beats. Even at the time of writing, he hopes to debut Kurrup Money Inc., a Bronx collective. That Buck’s roots in the rap underworld run deep is evidenced by this collection that contains various singles cuts that are not remixes for big names.
There’s Brooklyn’s Jemini (before he teamed up with DangerMouse), whose “Scars and Pain” (off the same-titled EP) takes you back to a time when Lauryn Hill was “that little cutie from the Fugees,” Buck’s slightly off-kilter instrumentation creating a paranoid atmosphere that accentuates the Gifted One’s wish to “get it off my chest to alleviate the stress.” Then on “Story of My Life” a more relaxed Jemini shows himself inclined to sing over the melancholic piano loop. Further rarities include tracks by Ak Skills, the Bushwackas, Street Smartz, FATAL Fountain, Little Indian, and Lace Da Booms. Even the less survival-stressed Mike Zoot makes an appearance with “Live & Stink,” whose playful beat matches the tongue-in-cheek raps. And then there’s an oversexed Kool Keith “rockin’ astro jazz” and breakin’ out solo on the ‘95 version of “Yo Black,” originally the title of an Ultramagnetic song from “The Four Horsemen.”
A particular role Buck played in the Brand Nubian reunion, as three tracks that led up to “Foundation” are produced by him, and they’re all to be found on “Rare Studio Masters.” 1995’s “I Like It (Remix)” adds Sadat X to the Grand Puba song. After guesting on the “2000” LP, X reinforces that he’s got nothing but love for the ex-Nubian, thanking Puba for involving him in “One for All,” before auctioning off the “reunion album to the highest bidder / 300,000? Go ‘head, you’se a kidder / cause the boys right here is holdin’ out for half a brick.” 1996 marked the first time the trio rhymed together since the early ’90s. Again it was on a remix produced by Buck, the Nubian Mix of Sadat’s “The Lump Lump” single. Finally, the Fearless 4-inspired “Rockin’ It” from 1997 was a full-fledged Brand Nu comeback track that was apparently recorded one year before “Foundation.”
A fixture in Buck’s discography is obviously O.C., and by extension Organized. He did tracks on the duo’s mid-’90s albums, but their most famed collaboration has to be the remix that opens disc 2. Known as The Lost Remix, this was a completely re-done version of “Bring it On.” A studio mob credited as The Ill Rahlos brings the ruckus on the rowdy hook as Monch takes his chirurgical flow disassembly to the extreme while Buck’s darkly glimmering beat pounds away. If rap ever deserved the attribute ‘underground,’ it’s here. Not to mention, the Beastie Boys never sounded as New York underground as on the brilliant “Get it Together (Remix),” coming across so natural you’d think that was the original beat they rocked over.
Four of his D.I.T.C. remixes represent Buckwild’s smoother side. “You Know Now (Remix)” freshens up the rather dull Show & A.G. original with a somberly swinging sample and kicking drums. “Hip 2 Da Game (Remix)” renders an already airy Lord Finesse track even more weightless. An unreleased remix of Big L’s “MVP” (Remix #1) uses the same sample as the aforementioned Show & A.G. mix but features a slightly more danceable rhythm section. “MVP (Remix #2),” unreleased as well, is all jazzy slices atop fat drums. With the combination of rhythmically dropped vocal snippets, an all-embracing, warm bass, strong drums, and Big L’s punchline raps, these remixes, like many tracks here, symbolize an apex of New York hip-hop.
One thing about early Buckwild is that his tracks may feature traces of club- or radio-friendliness, or the intended irritation pioneered by Marley Marl and the Bomb Squad, but his personal artistic vision remains intact. The prototype of a digger, Buckwild estimates his sample sources. It is his intent to give a hip-hop form to already beautiful soundscapes as they have been shaped by past musicians. This involves often more than just a simple, recognizable loop and requires meticulous arrangement of patterns, sequences and rhythms. Intriguingly, the finished beats, while dense, always give the rappers room to breathe, and they can be incredibly gentle despite their often uncompromising mechanics. Like O.C. as a rapper, the more emotion Buckwild put into it, the harder he rocked. Whether it was the rappers’ inclination to rhyme over beats with a certain kind of gravity, or whether those beats reflect the producer’s musical mood is hard to tell, but it usually resulted in impeccably timed, slowed jeep beats that send you to headnod heaven. Absorbing these veiled, hypnotic compositions, you think Buck simply has a dark streak, but some of these beats are really deep and attain an almost spiritual level.
Arguably, such a comprehensive collection focusing on obscure material is likely to include some mediocre works. Every producer who relies too much on samples risks that someone else loops the same bars. Which was the case with Barry White’s “You’re the One I Need,” which at that time was not only used in the Mystidious Misfitss’ “I Be (Buckwild Remix),” but also in Eddie F’s all-star posse cut “Let’s Get it On” and Suga’s “What’s Up Star.” Even during the run documented here, not all remixes compare favorably to the original. Dope originals like “Daamn!” (Tha Alkaholiks), “I Like It” (Grand Puba), “Lyrics” (Special Ed), and “Rock On” (Funkdoobiest) are hard to top, although Buck’s remix of the latter does manage to emmit a relaxed West Coast vibe that contrasts well with the album version. Ironically, the most failed attempt might be the remix of his own “The Lump Lump,” which, although similar, lacks the irresistable drive of the original (lyrically, though, the Nubians are in top form). He also misses the opportunity to make a real banger out of Clark Kent’s “Guess Who’s Back” for Rakim. Other remixes, however, are on par with the original (the two for Channel Live’s “Mad Izm”), while others still are simply appreciated for underpinning familiar lyrics with fresh musical ideas (the two for Nas & AZ’s “Life’s a Bitch”).
In terms of diggin’ in the crates as a way to collect music, “Rare Studio Masters” admittedly makes it too easy on those who refuse to invest the necessary time and money to track down the available material. But as a producer retrospective - the first of its kind -, it’s certainly due, especially considering the inclusion of several never officially released tracks. Only taking into account the release’s artistic intentions, this collection means that after ten and more years, Buckwild is still happy with the outcome. It furthermore documents the art of the remix in a time when rap remixes often just add star power in the form of guest rappers. Buck graduated from a different school of remixing. The one for Brand Nubian’s “Word Is Bond” highlights what a remix can do to a song. It drains it of much of its energy, but at the same time renders the vocals more contemplative. Similarly, the “C’mon Wit Da Git Down” remix calms things down (despite adding Busta Rhymes to the line-up), the slowly progressing, subtly melodic, bass-heavy background setting the pace as xylophone sprinkles and scratches inject flava. Other times, the remix offers an opportunity to make a brand new song (Channel Live’s “Mad Izm (‘95 Remix),” Black Sheep’s “North South East West (Remix)”).
“Diggin’ In The Crates - Rare Studio Masters: 1993-1997” is a nostalgic look back. Buckwild has stopped making beats like these. His 2003-2007 period will hardly produce a similarly impressive track record. No question, in terms of sales and plaques, ever since “I Got a Story to Tell” the game’s been good to Buck. He’s been on multi-platinum albums. “Whoa!” probably pushed “Life Story” to platinum status. But most of his beats that mark his ascension into the upper echelon of producers haven’t really held much hit potential nor provided the artists with the hip-hop credibility Buckwild once stood for. It’s doubtful that he will be remembered for anything he put down for Memphis Bleek, D-Block, Mase, Shyne, Loon, Remy Ma, Benzino, Angie Martinez, Faith Evans, 702, or Babyface. That’s why this retrospective, ending just as the jiggy era got into full gear, helps preserve the legacy of this skilled producer.