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.
Every year brings a very different Ottawa Jazz Festival than the last, and this year was no exception. With the festival no longer happening in the heart of Confederation Park, the main stage had been moved to City Hall (much like to the early Bluesfest days). The Late Night Tent was initially put behind City Hall, which seemed like a great idea, but after a few days the noise complaints from local residents caused the Late Night shows to be moved to a small stage on the edge of Confederation Park. My apologies to the Jazz Fest for all that they had to put up with this year, and I hope that it goes more smoothly to you folks next year.
As always, I was able to see a lot of amazing groups this year. Here they are in order of date:
Friday, June 21st
Joe Sullivan Big Band It was a treat to start the festival off with the Joe Sullivan Big Band. This is a serious contender for the tightest swing band in Canada. Everyone was firing on all cylinders, with great swinging leads, ripping solos from every player, and disgustingly sly harmonies speckled throughout every solo section. Always great to hear Al McLean take a tenor solo and this show was no exception.
Boz Scaggs I didn’t catch the entire Boz Scaggs show, but what I did see was in good form. It’s always a treat seeing an act that you forget has such an extensive catalogue. He played it all- tracks from the Boz Scaggs record (with Duane Allman) to the famous Silk Degrees. The band was fairly tight and Boz himself still has some strong crooning left in him. Now I did miss a couple tunes, so he could have snuck it in—but I spent most of the set hoping he would play “Look What You’ve Done To Me.” Next time!
I had missed Moon Hooch last time they came through Jazz Fest in 2015, so I was really excited to see this group. I was fortunate enough to catch Too Many ZooZ in Ottawa earlier this year- a band who often is compared to Moon Hooch due to their saxophone-house sounds and NYC busking habits. While MH weren’t as nonstop sweaty dance party as ZooZ, I was really impressed with their variety. Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen hopped consistently between synthesizer and saxophone (tenor, bari and soprano), highlighting their strengths the entire show and hyping up the crowd. Occasionally McGowen would play his signature “giant construction pylon in a bari sax” which just has a monster sound. By far, though, the highlight of the show was when drummer James Muschler broke out a soprano sax and joined the other two during a long delay-ridden solo section. Awesome!
Monday, June 25th
Now let’s be clear about something: Chaka Khan is 65 years old. I heard a lot of people talking about pitchiness and low stage energy afterwards, but seriously—she’s 65 and she’s earned her keep.
Moreover, her very few pitchy moments were not a deal-breaker because she simply did not phone-in the show. I was wildly impressed how many times many times she went for the high notes and really owned her trademark wails. With that said, I think that she was wise to bring the group that she did. Her three background singers did an incredible job nailing her classic lines while she ad-libbed over top. Ronald Bruner Jr. had no trouble reminding us all how much of a beast he is behind the drummers—and it was awesome to hear his trademark “hats on the toms” sound as he shredded 80’s fills all night.
KNOWER did what everyone expected—they put on a gigantic sweaty dance party in the late night tent, sparkly jumpsuits and all. They play such an interesting combination of electronic music and funky jams that it’s hard to tell where each groove ends and the next begins. If anything I would say it was a bit too chaotic for me at times, with not a lot of silence between instruments, but it definitely amped up the crowd. They knew their crowd well as they wrapped up the night by medleying “The Government Knows” into “Overtime,” both tunes off their new album that were sure to get people fired up.
Tuesday June 26th
This was potentially the show I was most excited about at Jazz Fest this year. Ghost-Note is a small percussion-fueled instrumental group operated by two members of Snarky Puppy: Robert “Sput” Searight and Nate Werth. Like Snarky, the group features a who’s who of Dallas players.
I had been listening to their 2015 debut Fortified for a few years when they were announced, and was immediately disappointed to hear that they wouldn’t be touring with Snarky keyboardist Shaun Martin with them on this tour. However, after hearing the growth on their Swagism record, and hearing the arrival of MonoNeon on bass, I knew this was going to be something special. The show started off with a half-full tent, but they weren’t concerned as they dove right into it. They played songs off both of their releases with extended jams, synthy breakdowns and great solos by all. It’s always great to see a group where percussion gets the spotlight, as it meant for a lot of dirty percussion breakdowns that meant business. Also, it was really cool to see MonoNeon in this kind of environment, as he knew exactly when to keep it in the pocket and when to unleash the percussive slap fury. His array of filters and fuzzes was super tasteful. Check out Ghost-Note.
Thursday, June 28th
Bela Fleck & The Flecktones
Man! What a show.
First of all, I remember the last time The Flecktones played Ottawa, and it was in 2005 when Bluesfest was still at City Hall. That actually meant that this year they returned after 13 years to the exact same spot, which is pretty cool. Secondly, if you haven’t been following the Flecktones closely the past few years, you probably reacted like I did: “where’s Jeff Coffin?” I had no idea that going full-time with Dave Matthews Band had meant he no longer played with Bela.
After a little research, I learned that his replacement was actually his predecessor—Howard Levy—originally played harmonica and piano for the Flecktones’ early years. Howard was far from a disappointment. His technique to play beyond the diatonic scale on a blues harp is stupendous—every time I heard a Stevie Wonder-esque line I immediately went searching for the chromatic harmonica. His ability to play beautiful melodies and harmonies alike was incredible. Bela and Victor were in usual great form, rifling through their classics with a general ease. It’s always great to hear both play. Bela mentioned that they “never quite know where these songs are going to go each night,” and I can concur. Most songs eventually graduated into a lengthy jam that was always interesting and never meandering. Lastly, Futureman’s Drumitar just keeps getting more and more legitimate as time goes on. It looks and sounds a lot different since they last came through in 2005, but the concept of playing full beats and fills with his hands hasn’t changed. Truly a group of musical inventors and philosophers, this show hit home more than I expected, and I for one couldn’t wait to get home and play (isn’t that the point of jazz music?)
Afterwards, I slipped over to Tanya Tagaq, who I’d yet to have seen. On this tour, she was accompanied by a drummer and a soundscaping violinist.
Unfortunately, I was on a bit of a time crunch and she was the opposite. After coming out a little late, Tanya expressed to the audience that she was feeling a bit nervous and anxious, and told stories and anecdotes for ten minutes or so. When she did start, we were all blown away by how theatrical her performance was. I remember reading that she refers to herself as a “sound sculptor” instead of a musician, and I totally can agree. Even the musicians she brought spent most of the time creating strange sounds while she offered a combination of throatsinging and art singing. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for long and had to duck out after the first couple songs.
Friday, June 29th
I was eager to see The Commotions on Friday as they just released a new record that has been doing exceptionally well. Brian Asselin did a great job assembling the group, featuring a who’s who of Ottawa musicians. I am always impressed by Jeff Rogers and Rebecca Noelle as performers, so I knew I would enjoy a band in which they trade off front-person duties. This show was no exception, even in a heatwave. Their calm and collective banter and vocal trade-offs were a nice touch to their stellar individual performances. Rebecca’s knack to start strutting before the count is even finished is truly amicable. Mackenzie Di Millo stood by to add extra harmonies, and keyboardist Clayton Connell really shone on the organ. All in all, a great big original soul group.
Saturday June 30th
Mack & Ben
This couldn’t have been a better night to finish off the festival. I was able to catch the second half of Mack & Ben’s set at the Confederation Park stage. They played to a full tent and put on a great performance despite the incredible heat and a seated audience. The three-point harmonies between siblings Mackenzie & Ben DiMillo and local songerwriter extraordinaire Sarah Bradley were dead on. This was their second show and the audience didn’t seem to believe it.
Their final tune was a cover of Rich Girl by Hall and Oates. I snuck out halfway to head to the Herbie show, and found myself smiling the entire way as I watched every passerby singing along.
I specifically didn’t read up on Herbie’s band for this show to keep it a surprise, but to say I was surprised when a four-piece walked out (including Herbie) was an understatement. It was really elating to see one of my legends playing with such a small group, and their chemistry really made it sound like we were sitting in on a practise rather than a giant concert.
Bassist James Genus (the bassist from the Saturday Night Live Band) definitely takes the cake for the most in the pocket player of the festival. His calm and groovy playing really made the show, as it allowed Herbie and guitarist Lionel Loueke to really work their magic. A combination of banter and variety taught us a lot about Loueke throughout the show. A guitarist originally from Benin, sections of songs were often intersperse with amazing vocals in various languages, sometimes with Herbie singing along. His guitar work was very interesting, often with a Niles Rodgers-esque percussive palm-muting approach to his grooves. Herbie was on his A-game, with extended solos on piano and synth, and a few vocoder breakdowns. It was great to see him in such a small and calm group as he hopped between songs and stories all night. We all got a good chuckle when he quoted the hook from Chameleon twice in the middle of a long jam.The pre-encore tune was a really great medley of Canteloupe Island and other extended jams. I did have to calm the grump in me as they came back out to play Chameleon (I thought it was more sly to reference it earlier and drop it), but it was harmless fun.
Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles
**Important Precursor: It may have taken the entire festival, but Jazz Fest were extremely smart about this show. While Herbie was playing, they moved all of the tables and chairs to the outskirts of the Confederation Park tent. This allowed people to remain seated and still see the band, while the rest of us slammed into the middle ready to dance.
The second Snarky Puppy link to the festival- many festival goers were excited to see Snarky’s most admirable soloist play with his own group, myself included. However, I’m not sure we expected what we got.. which was an insanely good variety act of epic sweaty-dance-party proportions
One of the best ideas Cory had with this group was to hire a second synth player. With the chords being comped throughout, it allowed him to really shine as a performer. He seamlessly ran around the stage, ripped organ solos, played tambourines, and sang his heart out, all while hyping the crowd nonstop. After a couple songs, he brought out two female singers who helped him ramp up the party with an amazing cover of the Beegees’s Stayin’ Alive (I too, before this night, though that was impossible). But it was really the variety of Cory’s set that made the night. His ability to weave between Al Green-esque slow jams into hardhitting R&B funk fusion was highly impressive, and left the crowd hanging off of his every action. Rather than explain it any more, I recommend that you watch this clip of a very similar set in Frankfurt—a great way to end a festival!
Last But Not Least: The Lawn Chair Conundrum I would like to mention the issue of lawn chairs at the main stage. While there was a large area specifically designated for lawn chairs, many people continued to set up lawn chairs hours in advance in a section clearly labelled for standing. This meant that upon entering the standing section, you often felt like you were blocking sitters, and they often expressed it. This was further bothersome because there simply was no longer a way to stand at the back and still see the stage and screen as in previous years. Many young people expressed that, despite paying a hefty ticket price, they felt there was no real spot for them to enjoy the show.
I’m confident that this issue will continue to get solved as Jazz Fest and its patrons get used to the new area.
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.