Stay out in the scene long enough and some artists are going to stick in your life like spaghetti on a wall. Some become acquaintances, some become phone numbers in your Blackberry, some become friends. Some you’ll avoid the “So what do you think?” music conversation with, with every fiber of your being. And then some you’re a fan of the music as much as the person…
When I met Buff he was nearing graduation from University of Michigan and he was doing shows as part of rap collective Athletic Mic League (which is still together, despite articles specifying otherwise). Since then Buff’s gone solo, released two hot-cake mixtapes and a 2007 underground diamond with his first LP, Pure. He was named “Best Solo Rapper” in Real Detroit magazine and struck a balance between aligning with Michigan Hip-Hop, and railing against an industry-wide standard to conform.
Today Buff is releasing his sophomore effort with A-Side Worldwide – There’s Only One. It’s rife with Lab Techs electro-soul and pulls the open hand of Pure into a lyrical fist. Through the raise-your-drink cuts, to the calling-all-troops tracks, to the pop-your-speakers joints, one overriding sentiment is clear — Buff is a tried and true blue Hip-Hop head. He lives it like he loves it, and their stories are one in the same.
Buff and I talked about his favorite picks for five different arenas of Hip-Hop. I asked him to expound on There’s Only One, the importance of family and being an emcee that prides himself on being a consummate showman who stays true indeed…
1. Favorite Album
You can make a strong argument for any of Outkast’s albums being their best but… from the cover art and the comic book theme, to the “You May Die” intro, to rhyming over no drums on “E.T. (Extraterrestrial)”… ATLiens is my favorite from my favorite group. It didn’t sound like anything else at the time and nothing else sounds like it today. And this album was when my favorite emcee, Andre 3000, started to really come into his own.
2. Favorite Live Act
Though Kanye’s “Glow In The Dark” show may be the best I’ve ever seen… I’m gonna have to go with The Roots because they’ve been doing it for over 15 years. On top of that, the band element always makes it a little more special to me… and Black Thought obliterates it every time — never messes up the lyrics, never loses his breath, never loses his voice, and he even freaks the lyrics different than they are on the records and does it without trippin himself up, he’s a beast!
3. Favorite Performance City
For some reason cats in Hip-Hop really love/represent where they’re from, probably more than any other genre of music… I’m no different. I love performing in Ann Arbor because I get treated like a king there. Wasn’t always that way, when the Athletic Mic League started out it wasn’t really too much Hip-Hop goin on. Because its a college town the scene kinda fluctuates but we built a foundation so we’re not too effected by that too much. Runner-up would have to be LA because I get love like I’m at home there.
4. Favorite Peer
I’m proud to call one of my favorite emcees a peer of mine… I’ve known Elzhi for about 10 years now, we were both a part of One.Be.Lo’s extended Subterraneous Crew back in the day. Me with the Athletic Mic League and him, Nick Speed and Magestik Legend made up 925 Colony. Fastforward 10 years and we’re dropping albums on the same day (August 12th). We bout to mash! Honorable mention goes to the homie Danny Brown, dude is a MONSTER.
5. Favorite Track from There’s Only One
“Real Appeal”… because its not like anything I’ve done before. I’ve made odes to Hip-Hop before, done political stuff before, talked about Black America before, even done semi-club songs for the lay-tees. But this is the first time I’ve actually gone for sexy. A lot of the female oriented songs I do are pretty innocent, nothing too risque, but since I enjoy the lay-tees I wanted to take it a little further and see if I can get away with it and still remain me… I may lose some friends over this one but hey, its real!
TSS: Your intro tracks, they really set the mood for the rest of the albums. [Pure] had that beachy, really relaxed, comfortable, feel-good intro. And [There's Only One] has Haircut singing with that cosmic echo, talking about “the reign has begun,” and it feels a lot more epic. There’s a certain darkness to it. Would you agree?
There’s Only One
Buff: Yeah I would agree. The first album intro you start out, there’s no drums. And to me, rapping over no drums kinda says, you know, we’re easing into this. I even say, “my mom made my life as easy as pie,” and I just talk about how I came to be an emcee, and how I was kinda like, chosen to be an emcee. How I didn’t really choose to be an emcee, it was kinda bestowed upon me, and my mom just kind of guided me and protected me all the way up until that point. And so it just added onto that feeling with there being no drums to start.
But with this one, I wanted you to think about the last album and the last intro when you heard it because I start both intros with the title of the album. So I wanted that connection. But this time I wanted there to be drums that hit early and hard and to kind of set the tone. You hear a little sound, but before I even start rapping you hear the drums to take you to that next place… It’s not going to be easy like the first time — I anticipate more obstacles, higher mountains this time around…
TSS: It’s like you were extending an open hand to your listener with your first intro to Pure, and with this one your not so much helping people along. It’s like, “you’re either with me or you’re not.”
Buff: Exactly, exactly. If you’re with me, hold on tight and brace yourself because it’s going to be tough, but it’s going to pay off in the long run.
TSS: Okay. You know what track I want to talk about.
Buff: I do?
TSS: Yes. I want to talk about “Real Appeal.”
Buff: Yeeeaaaahhh! (laughs)
TSS: (laughs) Okay, so Vaughan [of the Lab Techs] told me you call it “Real Appeal” because women are attracted to your real appeal rather than your sex appeal.
Buff: Exactly. That’s exactly it. “Real Appeal” in this particular song is “Jamall Bufford appeal.” And you know, I wouldn’t have wrote that song if I hadn’t had certain encounters with female friends that led me to believe that there was something about me as a person that they were attracted to. Yeah you know, there’s tons of dudes who girls may say, “Oh he’s fine,” or “He’s the best rapper I’ve ever heard,” or “He’s got the dopest kicks that dropped in ’02 but then got rereleased in ’07 with the premium package, with all the little dope hipster Hip-Hop gear,” or whatever. But I don’t rely on none of that stuff.
I’m not the most handsome dude, I’m probably not the best rapper, I’m definitely not the flyest dresser. I mean, I coordinate, I match very well, I keep fresh new kicks — but I’m not all up on the latest releases or nothing like that. But it’s how I communicate with people — I try to be as genuine as I can, I’m very outgoing. I’m a people person, you know? And women seem to be attracted to that.
Like I kind of wish I could be there when my female friends hear that song to see how they react to it. Because if they get upset, it probably means what I say is true. And if they don’t get upset, they probably were never attracted to me (laughs.) It would be a really good test…
TSS: Well it’s a cocky little song, Jamall Bufford.
Buff: Very. And I’m proud of it (laughs.)
TSS: You were talking about hipster stores, and how you dress fly but don’t necessarily feel like you have to subscribe to that latest trend… How much does it mean to you to go left of expectations?
Buff: It means a lot. That’s the majority of who I am as an artist and the majority of who I am as a person. I mean, from me choosing the name Buff1 – initially it was an easy cop-out name because people called me “Buff” because of my last name, but I kept it because it’s part of my mom’s last name and I feel like I represent her every time I rhyme. I want her to be proud of what I’m saying, and that includes the fact I don’t cuss.
[Not cussing] was something I started way before I was rapping because every kid in the neighborhood was cussing. I mean I was cussing up until I was about 10 years old. My mom didn’t want me to [even though] my whole family cusses and says the n-word religiously. But I choose not to say it in my personal life. I do say it on record but there’s a reason for it — every time I say it, it’s very intentional, there’s something to it when I do say it.
[Or like with] me going to college. I mean, Kanye West made a big thing about dropping out and late registration, and graduation — but college for a lot of rappers is not an option, or if it is an option they choose not to. So I wanted to graduate mainly because my mom wanted me to graduate, my older brother wanted me to graduate, and it’s something I started. I wanted to quit several times, and I almost did quit but I stuck with it and I graduated. And that’s something that sets me apart [from other emcees.]
I mean, I wanted to be different. If you don’t dress crazy or wear bright colors or have the newest, most exclusive kicks, how do you stand out? How are you different? Just being who I am to the fullest is what sets me apart. Everyone starts out trying to be different — when you’re the only one on your block who has those Jordans, like, you’re exclusive. You stand out. But then eventually, your boy want to get them and his boy want to get them and then the dude around the block want to get them, and then everybody’s rocking Jordans, so it’s like, then what?
TSS: And all you can do is be yourself and be happy with it.
TSS: How much of what you do is making music that follows a formula for what that the listener wants to hear and how much of it is making music that you want to hear?
Buff: I would say making music for an audience is a very small percentage of it. It does factor in, I’m not gonna front. But it’s very small, because at the end of the day when you sell a million records and someone says “what song means the most to you and why,” and you can’t really tell them because A) you either approached every song in the same way, or B) you follow the formula, it’s not really from your heart and you’re not really capturing that moment. And then when you do the same thing and you sell zero records, you’re like “dang, what did I do this for? Nobody even liked it and I can’t tell you what sparked the emotion to write this song.”
I’m just going to be real with you, I think everyone should first and foremost make music that they like. Then nobody can tell you nothing. And I kind of touch on that on “Numbers Can’t Measure.” It’s like, it’s cool for y’all to review my album and give me any number of stars or however like that – especially if you give it great reviews because everybody likes great reviews – but at the end of the day, I make music first for myself. And if I can live with it, then good. If I’m not embarrassing myself or my mom or my crew, I mean that’s where it starts with me.
For more info, visit Myspace.com/Buff1der.
Buff1 is holding an L.A. release party of There’s Only One this Thursday at The Root Down at Little Temple in Silver Lake. You must RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.