The pride of the small Nova Scotia township of Mount Uniacke, Richard Terfry, has been has been developing his unique construct of Canadian hip-hop since the early 1990s under the moniker Buck 65. Since those humble beginnings on the outskirts of Halifax, Buck 65 has released more than 15 albums, cast a wide creative net that draws from humor and emotional depth, took home a pair of Juno Awards, and cultivated a devoted cult following that stretches well beyond the Canadian border.
Friday, the grizzled quasi-legendary rapper treated a group of 50-or-so Buck 65 diehards at the Cactus Club to an endearing hour and a half set that came complete with classics from all corners of his 20-year catalog, new material, jokes aplenty and no shortage of denim-clad dance moves.
Before the veteran took the stage, he was preceeded by a pair of up-and-coming Milwaukee rappers. Following some self-described “rap calisthenics,” Safari Al went ahead with a set he would dub, “Emo hour with Safari Al.” Self-deprecation aside, Al’s short opening set gleaned the ever-improving state of local hip-hop as he bookended a glut of new material rife with lush instrumentation, rapid syllable-stringing smooth melodies with “Homecoming” and “Between The Trees (Antidepressant Outro) from last year’s Highlands EP. Best yet, he managed the solid supporting set while wearing a… distinct pair of pink, ’90s-era print pants belonging to his girlfriend, which he credited as “giving him powerful feminine energy.”
The local showcase continued when Riverwest rapscallion WC Tank – pyramid, boombox (which was set atop the pyramid) and magic gemstone (set atop the boombox) in tow – took the stage. The skilled emcee overcame early technical difficulties to captivate the (still sparse) crowd with his verbose vernacular and various vocal effects, while visiting “Demigodz (Of Tha Law)” and “Rap 4 Voices” from his latest, Kisscry Patina along the way. During my personal favorite, “CANDY COUNCIL” he fell to the floor clutching his chest, only to tear a fake heart from his jacket pocket and throw it into the crowd. “This is the sound of confidence,” Tank said after he conquered a pesky microphone stand and P.A. troubles early on. And it showed, as he (with Al) proved to be a fitting audio appetizer.
The main course, Buck 65, unassumingly stepped on stage around 11:30 and kept the club’s half-full back room captive with his unquestioned talent and showmanship straight through to 1 a.m. He started off with a true-to-form rendition of “Indestructible Sam” in which he moved around like a man much younger than 41. After the opening number, Buck – noticing the pants portion of his Canadian tuxedo were coming down– solicited a belt from the audience, which a show-goer eagerly lent him nanoseconds after the request was made.
Now comfortable, the longtime emcee continued to put his trademark gravely voice to time-tested numbers like “Roses And Bluejays,” “Bandit” and “Blood Of A Young Wolf” along with crowd-favorites “Dang” and “463” to album perfection – even scratching LPs between verses. While the well-kept secret’s greatest “hits” were well represented in the 20-plus song set list, he also sprinkled in more than a few new songs and a cluster of 10- to 30-second jokes tracks with topics like Poland’s terrible weather, sex for breakfast and catching a glimpse of side-boob on television. Some of the lighthearted vignettes were punctuated with Buck 65 tossing confetti.
Keeping in the joking spirit, the treated us to a rare unreleased (and likely never to be released) song that his label head gave a “Z grade” to that was about not-suitable-for-work music videos. However, Buck expertly toed the line between lyrical larks and his flare for and meaningful music. For each song about a well-endowed centaur or spam email titles, there was another of loss and feeling out of step with the rest of the world.
After confirming a ride back to his hotel from a group of patrons and returning the gentleman’s belt, Buck 65 put the finishing touches on the evening’s events with his beloved “Wicked And Weird.” The Canadian rapper was, in a sense, a well-versed variety show host who doled out dynamic music, deadpanned jokes and entertaining stories that entranced the few dozen people who had the foresight to show up.