Few rappers give better interviews than Black Moon and Boot Camp Clik alum Buckshot. Naturally, the pioneering underground emcee sometimes refers to himself in the third person and takes full credit for the term "backpacker rap." He's also a well of trivia, spouting tidbits such as this one about Chappelle's Show star Charlie Murphy, who stars in "Go All Out," Buckshot's new video. "Charlie has been in this hip-hop shit for a long time," he says. "He was a rapper in a group called the K-9 Posse, and he was the gangsta nigga with the curls in the first Snoop Dogg video, 'Murder Was the Case.'"
When he's finished with all that, Buckshot convolutedly explains the concept for his new album, The Formula, his second collaboration with superproducer 9th Wonder. "The formula is basically me giving you an understanding how to formulate the shit that I've dealt with," the diminutive MC explains. "Whether it's worldwide hip-hop, street, backpackers, underground, whites, blacks, Chinese, Germans, Jamaicans, Italians, females, males, everyone that fucks with Buckshot, I learned how to combine them all in the sense of just by being natural to the music."
It's not always exactly clear what he's talking about, but it is clear Buckshot is back. After nearly fading into irrelevance, he has returned in recent years as a hip-hop force. Duck Down Records, the label he co-founded, reemerged in 2005 with a new distribution deal and recently released hipster rappers Kidz in the Hall's album The In Crowd. Its single, "Drivin' Down the Block," has been getting spins on TRL. Meanwhile, The Formula is an early favorite for album of the year. Featuring 9th Wonder at the tippy-top of his beatmaking game, the album's highlights include the Talib Kweli–assisted "Hold It Down," the slow (weed) burner "Here We Go," and the seamless ode to self-reinvention "Brand-New Day."
The album was crafted on the campus of North Carolina Central University, where 9th (Patrick Douthit) is an artist-in-residence and teaches a class in hip-hop history. Buck got a chance to sit in. "He was educating them on my era, the '90s," he remembers. "Some call it the golden era. MCs had to have their own flow, and everybody had to be an individual. If you sounded like anybody else, you was going to get fired, as opposed to today, where if you sound like anybody else you get hired." (He adds that rappers like Play from Kid 'n Play and Lords of the Underground also drop by the class occasionally. You hope these students realize how lucky they are.)
Buck spent a week working closely with 9th in his studio, which was built for him by the school. "It felt very natural," Buck says of his collaborator, a former member of Little Brother who has also worked with Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige. "He's a really, really, really, really good producer. As an artist, I felt privileged and was happy to work with him."
Buck rightly believes his album succeeds on its originality. "What defines the times is the individuals who have their own styles for that time," he says. "They usually outlast other people because they keep creating new eras." He posits that members of this trailblazing pantheon include Snoop, Jay-Z, Biggie Smalls, and, of course, himself. Call him cocky, but if he keeps releasing albums as cohesive and uplifting as The Formula, it will be hard to argue with him.