Hip hop is like any other genre in the music industry. There are some real artists that work hard and pay their dues to bring listeners and fans material that is impactful in one way or another. But there are a lot of people out there that find shortcuts, step on others in their community, and rip off material to get ahead, too. That’s the music industry, in any genre—it can be a dark, dark place.
Buck n’ Nice is a group that consists of two entities. On one side there is producer, beatmaker, Cypher radio host, and DJ—DJ So Nice, who has been cutting his teeth in the art of hip hop beats since he was 13 years old. He’s a huge grassroots community supporter who throws some of the best parties in town, not least of which is the monthly Hip Hop Karaoke at Elmdale Tavern. On the other side, there is Sawbuck—a proven MC who came from difficult circumstances and worked his way to where he is now. His honesty and untethered lyricism fist in seamlessly with his masterful delivery, digging deep into his hip hop influences such as Mobb Deep, EPMD, Wu Tang, and Gang Starr.
That’s the subject of Ottawa hip hop duo Buck n’ Nice’s new album EMAG. Good hip hop is clever with words (obviously), and it took me a second to realize what “EMAG” actually meant.
“After getting our feet wet with our debut album, we learned from the inside out how backwards the industry is,” they say. “It’s a machine filled with appropriation, shortcuts to success and all-around deception. This is the theme of EMAG, an album titled so because the GAME is backwards.”
With the duo’s sophomore release, they aren’t mincing words or beating around the bush. Having gained momentum in Canada’s hip hop landscape with multiple releases since 2014, Buck n’ Nice have taken from their real life experiences in the music industry and applied them to their new record. It doesn’t take long for them to sink their teeth into the subject, as they dive right into it on the second track, also called “EMAG.”
It’s important to mention that although this concept may sound jaded or negative, I don’t get that sense when listening to the album all the way through. They’re not saying “fuck the music industry” per se—they’re pointing out the problematic parts of it, the deception and fakers, the toxic people and money that drives a lot of the music made in it. To me, what goes part-in-parcel with these criticisms are the things that do matter in music—things like community, real life experiences, people’s everyday struggles, and most of all, valuing more than just money when making art. One of my favourite rhymes from the album is from the track “Leader”, which goes “What’s the difference between me and you? I see the bigger picture, you crop the image just to see the view.”
On EMAG, the duo collaborate with talented artists such as Prufrock Shadowrunner, REKS, Freddy Printz, Whitney Delion, Cheko Salaam (a.k.a. Hyf), as well as Patience and Bender of Flight Distance (RIP Bender), among others. These guys are part of a hip hop community that is stronger and more cohesive as ever. On tracks like “Le Coeur” with Cheko Salaam, both he and Sawbuck bounce words off each other, with rhymes that weave seamlessly and that effectively builds the climactic pillars on the album. In “Ocean or Shallow End” with the guys from Flight Distance, So Nice slows things down and the sample includes strings. Their metaphor of “Ocean or Shallow End” comes across effectively, and hits the listener right in the face. The brilliance with tracks like this is that although the beat is more restrained, the rhymes and lyrics are highlighted to an even greater degree. The same can be said for “Three Sides” close to the end of the album—there’s no letting up here.
After giving EMAG a few listens, any hip hop fan should know that these guys are for real. There’s no filler. There’s no bullshit. Buck n’ Nice had something to say and they did that by packing all of their ideas into an album with a tonne of dynamite and then lighting the fuse. The result is an intelligent, groove-laden record that pays homage to hip hop of old, while keeping true to their own style and modern interpretations of rap. This album will stand the test of time, and will surely make waves across communities in Ottawa and the country as a whole.
Buck n’ Nice are officially releasing EMAG at a party called ANIMAL HOUSE this Saturday, July 28th at The 27 Club (27 York St.), where a triple album release will be taking place. Other releases at the party will be the Feel EP by Freddy Printz, and SpaXe Camels by Missing LinX. Needless to say, if there’s one party you don’t want to miss this weekend, this is it.
Stream EMAG below or click here for full list of streaming links. Check out their full album video on YouTube here.
RBC Ottawa Bluesfest wrapped up the first weekend’s programming with sets by The Strumbellas, Larkin Poe, Amos the Transparent, Keys N Krates, and many more. Our photographer Els Durnford caught the action, have a look at her gallery below.
As thousands of music fans descended on Lebreton Flats to kick off this year’s RBC Ottawa Bluesfest, the sweltering heat weighed heavily on all of us as we waded through the crowded bottleneck lineup to get in. With only one entrance this year, and a laundry list of new security measures being implemented, it came as no surprise that there would be shoulder-to-shoulder crowds to get in.
After managing to simmer down a near-fistfight between a couple high school bros, we made our way through the increasingly frustrated crowd and into the grounds. The security lineup at Bluesfest is quite possibly the worst place to get into fisticuffs, for obvious reasons. The humidity remained pervasive throughout the entire night, and the only saving grace was a wisp of the occasional breeze and some ice cold beer. Well, and Bryan Adams, too. And water. Lots of water.
It should be noted that there is only one main stage this year, which somewhat condenses the festival and crowd. An interesting change, but it didn’t seem to take away from the good vibes and smiles seen throughout the grounds. I opted to check out Bryan Adams on his ULTIMATE tour because I had seen Passenger at CityFolk a few years back, and had never seen Bryan.
As we made our way to the stage, he and his band were playing one of my favourite tracks—”Run to You.” That guitar riff is so bad ass, I don’t care what anyone says. All those who used to play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on PS2 know what I’m talking about. Adams started the set with the energy and enthusiasm of an early 20’s millennial—cool haircut included.
The set progressed with a distinct fervor, only to be obtained by a veteran performer who not only knows how to please crowds and write good tunes, but still deliver explosive performances as he enters his 60’s.
Is Bryan Adams Canada’s Bruce Springsteen? I don’t know. Probably not. But the comparisons are there, and I’d be lying if I said he didn’t blow my hair back last night.
At one point he told a story about how he had lived and gone to school in Ottawa for several years. He said “when I was coming through security to do this show, a police officer stopped me back stage. I said I was the one singing tonight, and he said ‘Oh, I know.’ We used to go to school together.” It was obvious that he was enjoying his time in Ottawa on this night, as he took videos and pictures with his personal phone, and even brought a lucky audience member on stage for a selfie.
He continued with some more smash hits from the 80’s and 90’s such as “It’s Only Love,” “Can’t Stop This Thing We Started,” and “Cloud #9.” I had assumed that all the youths had gone to the Black Sheep Stage to check out Passenger, but to my bewilderment there were plenty of teens and 20-somethings belting out Bryan Adams tunes. Maybe dad’s road trip music selection isn’t so bad after all, eh kids?
When the opening chords to “Heaven” started, the crowd let out a collective and romantic “ahhhh” sound. I don’t know what this means, but everyone knew the words and I almost felt like I was at a giant high school dance where everyone was just too afraid to find a slow dancing partner. I also have a good friend whose father swears that all Bryan Adams songs are just different renditions of “Heaven,” so I was also listening carefully to test out that hypothesis for science. More on this later.
The closest Bryan Adams came to Bruce Springsteen-level was when the band broke out into “Summer of ’69.” What a jam. We all belted out the words with pride, and even though Adams was only 9 years old in the summer of 1969, it’s one hell of a song. Arm in arm, with huge smiles, the crowd’s energy resonated on the stage as the band sent it right back out through the speakers. The stunning imagery on the backdrops was well crafted, and added a lot to the show as well.
The set seemed to climax there, sadly. My friend and I looked at each other and wondered what other hits he could possibly play. They dove into Everything I Do (I Do It For You), which was basically the lovemaking theme of the 90’s—sorry, millennials, you didn’t just pop out of nowhere. It is such a cheesy song, but dang it’s so romantic.
The rest of the set was unspectacular, to be honest. There were just no more hits left. The emotion and zeal present in the first half dwindled, but the crowd stayed engaged until the end.
To go back to my friend’s dad’s “Heaven” hypothesis. I swear that three of the five final songs of the set sounded exactly like “Heaven,” just arranged slightly differently. So, he certainly has a diverse repertoire, but Bryan, you gotta move beyond the “Heaven,” man.
As the set tapered off, Bryan Adams played “18 Till I Die,” which oddly enough included a graphic on the big screen that just said “DIE.” Has Bryan Adams gone emo? Why so dark? All jokes aside, the song was actually fun and there were other words that came up as well, such as “18 Till I.”
Els got some great shots from the night, but we weren’t allowed to shoot Bryan Adams. Check out the gallery below.