The "golden era of Hip Hop" is one that is forever on the tongues of both media and the artists of yesterday and today. It was a time when the genre was still finding its feet and emerging as a force to be reckoned with. Musically, this time generated a sound that many attempt to replicate but never quite manage, well, that is unless you are a fundamental aspect of that said time - as has been the case with recent releases from Raekwon, Q-Tip and Cormega.
Buckwild is a revered producer on the Hip Hop timeline, earning his stripes with a slew of hits spanning three decades for Black Rob, 50 Cent and D.I.T.C. family like Big L and O.C.. Aligning with the Army of Pharaohs' very own Celph Titled, the duo has basically gone back with the intent of going forward.
Recording an album over production Buckwild created during the Word...Life/Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous period was undeniably a dream come true for Tampa, Florida's Celph, who has previously released projects with Apathy and J-Zone. Nineteen Ninety Now resulted in a project close to the ears and hearts of both production and lyrical purists.
Will it herald in a new working regime for today's and tomorrows Hip Hop hopefuls? They hope, but listening to the duo who spent three years on this album discuss the intricate mechanism of the music world you understand that this isn’t just a trip down nostalgia lane for either party. Nineteen Ninety Now could be the shake that is needed to separate the men from the boys when it comes Hip Hop’s future.
HipHopDX: How did you come up with the idea for this project, Nineteen Ninety Now as it has been quite a long time in the making?
Celph Titled: I had always dreamed of working with Buckwild, especially growing up in the era I grew up in and the records he did in the mid-'90s – that production was top notch to me. A friend of mine James DL who owns No Sleep Recordings, the label putting out the album started working with him on some other project and basically we had the initial idea to se if he had some old discs from the '90s because we knew he still had his old equipment and whatnot.
I had heard beat tapes from the '90s from Buckwild and I knew some them hadn’t come out which was crazy to me as they were incredible. We wanted to find out if he would be down to do a concept project like that, where we would take old beats which are new to everyone else as they’ve never been heard and put my lyrics on them and make new songs. It would be authentic because as a lot of people try to duplicate that old sound with new beats, but for some reason- not sure if it is the equipment or the stuff they used back then – but it has a sound that you just can’t imitate. Buck was with it and he had the discs and was happy to do the groundwork and willing to make it happen.
DX: From a production standpoint, when it comes to this eagerness to duplicate the '90s sound is it like Celph said and down to the equipment or that folks just can’t do it?
Buckwild: I think it’s a little bit of both. When we were in the '90s, the equipment wasn’t as sophisticated as it is today. With computers, bit-rate and the sample-rate it gives it a clearer sound. When we were in the '90s with [E-mu] SP-1200 and SP-12 it was eight-bit and when you are hearing that, the sound isn’t great so it gives it that harder sound. Even then, doing music, we had a certain type of integrity where you would strive to be the best and you weren’t worried about your music being on the radio. It’s the love – we came from a time where it was all love and we made beautiful music.
DX: The track "Wack Juice" on your the album sums up the state of music and takes aim at the Internet. As an artist or as a producer, do you feel it is more of a hindrance than a help?
Buckwild: It’s what you make it. When you have something you can gain so much info from and you have the kids that get into Big L, Pete Rock, [Nas'] Illmatic, they hear so much they want to know. So you can use it as a tool for information and to spread the word wisely or you can use it as a tool to throw just anything out. Looking at it like you can make great music if you set your integrity bar high and you can use that to spread it around the world.
Before we were confined to New York and it would spread through word of mouth. If you was from [California], the Bay Area, [Atlanta], it would start like that. Now you can put a song on the Internet and it can go worldwide in a second. So I think if you take the same integrity you have when you were doing this music back then and use it now, the game would be a lot different. I think the artists have to stand for something and have something to say. A lot of artists are really just a carbon-copy of another and it is kind of sad.
Celph Titled: Overall, for artists like me it's both good and evil. It definitely helped me getting press and notoriety since I am not on the radio and in the magazines. It also hurts because of the accessibility to the music. When you’re indie, like we are with this project, we don’t have middle-men eating off us; we’re doing it straight indie so the sale of this music is important to us. But the Internet makes it so easy to steal the music, and even though it might not be that they are stealing it but rather that they just want to hear it. They may want to support but it’s more about convenience, it leaked and they say they will get around to buying it. It hurts sales; the downloading hurts the indie artist.
DX: With so much music readily available nowadays, projects don’t necessarily get worked to their full potential, would you agree?
Celph Titled: Yeah, back in the day you would wait and then sit around and listen to an album for months until the next one. But now every day, you go to the blogs and you just keep scrolling and scrolling. It’s like fast food nowadays, and it’s hard to make something stick but it’s easier for anyone to flood the Internet with whatever they want, if they pay for it or however they do it.
Buckwild: I think when you have so much accessibility for people to put music out, [that] the lower you put the bar creatively, the more people you are going to invite into the Hip Hop party. When we first started it was all about credibility and being the best. Once you take away the unwritten laws of Hip Hop, you are left with nothing. If you look at a guy like 50 [Cent], 50 is a dope artist, a dope songwriter, but some cats looks at him like, "He got shot nine times and I got shot one more time than he did, so if he can do it, I can do it." You have to have talent and now we have a lot of people who hustle and have no talent and a lot of people who have talent but don’t hustle. The people who do have the talent are not willing to get up and do the groundwork, so it comes back to wackness.
If we had enough great music out there it would make a lot of people sit down and think, "I can’t cope with that," and get up and do something. Jay-Z came from the underground, like with anything you plant it in dirt, it grows and he has risen from a seed to a tree and the guys who he is running with right now aren’t even in his caliber. You can listen to his rhymes and know that he was born with it. I listen to Dr. Dre’s beats and all these seasoned veterans who have made great music, they all feed off each other’s records. So if you have a guy who sold 10 records, he might be the inspiration for the guy who sold 10 million records because you have to find inspiration from somewhere. If you don’t look at it like it is competitive or from a sales point of view it becomes boring; you lose that drive to create good music and you start second-guessing yourself and that’s why [Dr. Dre's] Detox has taken so long. When you have albums like this, we need those, we need more like the Illmatics and we need different artists to shine their light to help the balance of music.
DX: Do you guys have any concerns that your album may be overlooked?
Buckwild: All albums are overlooked, it's about finding your fan base and it’s like even when it is overlooked, when kids are on the 'net and they find something, it then becomes their own. A lot of these kids now are looking for the great Hip Hop that people talk about.
DX: And you are giving them that.
Buckwild: If it goes unnoticed, you tell a friend who tells a friend who tells a friend and word of mouth becomes the best promotion. Even if people don’t get it at first, you’ll get it later. Let’s hope it is something so consistent that it will stand the test of time. If you put it in a time capsule and dig it up in 20 years from now or 50 years from now, it is something of a blueprint from our time but it’s something great.
Celph Titled: That’s the best thing we can rely on, word of mouth. It’s such a quality product that for anyone who is an avid fan of Hip Hop, if they find out about it, it is hard for them to keep it to themselves. It will get overlooked because we are indie and there’s no major, major dollars behind it. We know we’re doing the best we can with word of mouth and the prestige of my underground following and the prestige of Buck. I’m not worried.
DX: Wouldn’t you rather be appreciated by the people who actually get what this era was all about?
Celph Titled: Definitely, but I also want people to hear this that may not have been familiar with that era and only hear what is played on the radio and then hear this and get turned onto it.
DX: Why did this project take so long to create?
Celph Titled: Well you only have to look at it on paper to see all the people and the attention to detail. It took a long time to write, sequence and produce.
Buckwild: I went through boxes of beats and that is the meticulous part, because you want the best you can get and what we have warrants as some of the best. At the end of the day, I look at it like this: I feel blessed with music as I have classic music and I have records with soul. Having that, I thank God for the appreciation [of fans]. As long as people appreciate it, even if it’s not a great seller, and even though you do want to turn a profit... if people are telling me about the records I did in ’94 and how it effected them, it’s still a blessing. Even though it may not be to the masses, it hits where it needs too. Good music will never die.
Celph Titled: I gotta give respect to Buck for seeing the concept of this project as he’s a current producer and this is something he doesn’t have to do as he is still selling beats, new and current tracks. So for him to take the time out to work on this shows the love he has for the music.
Buck will probably tell you, there are a million reasons why these beats weren’t used; the label didn’t clear them [or whatever], who knows what happened. But all I know is this dude is a Hip Hop dude.
Buckwild: When we was thinking about it and putting it together I had to jump at the idea because it was unheard of. It is something that a lot of people are going to try and mimic. You will have the cats that will go to [DJ Premier], Pete Rock, Large Professor and it’s cool. You know, coming from that time you couldn’t go and bite the next mans' idea, so it’s almost a little harder. Now it’s cool to bite. I am a Hip Hop dude, I love music and I love to hear it.
Celph Titled: As a fan, if other producers from that time dug up some treats like Buck did I would love to hear it too. I hope people do go and try it out.
DX: Was it hard to pick the tracks for the album as you have a serious catalog of music Buck?
Celph Titled: Yeah, the album has 15 songs and one of the songs has three beats on it, so that’s 18 right there and then there’s six to seven interludes where we had a beat playing. There’s 25 tracks you get to hear and that is probably only half, but we got to pick the best of the best and the ones that stood out the most.
DX: You have a production background too Celph, how do you feel about the industry today? Is it lacking something?
Celph Titled: Everything sounds thin and it's all very synth-based. Some of it I enjoy listening too but everyone, all the labels just want the simple 808 beats and I think the tracks with richness are what are missing. Guys like the J.U.S.T.I.C.E League are trying to bring that sound back and I know that is Buck’s style too – the full production.
Buckwild: Interjecting, but what I think is lacking is you don’t have that significant style for each producer like you used to have. Back then everyone had their own style, and it’s cool to adapt, because we had one producer we liked and we developed into our own. Nowadays, you have dudes who pick up a keyboard or an [Akai MPC] and think they are a producer. We had to go through our ranks. I was a deejay first, for [Lord] Finesse, and paid my dues by learning the background first, before I could really step out and say, "Hey, I’m a producer." As in order to make great music, you have to have your mind open and have some knowledge of what you are doing and have a love for it. Nowadays, people don’t have a love for what they are doing or an appreciation.
It doesn’t matter how much you sell or what you do, it’s going to show if you love the music. A lot of cats mimic Pharrell and Timbaland as if they know what they are doing. These guys are huge Hip Hop fans, Pharrell is one of the biggest Hip-Hop fans and if you were to interview him you would find out that he knows more about backpack Hip Hop than most of the dudes who are rapping.
Celph Titled: Just Blaze is the same too.
Buckwild: Your music has to have been inspired from somewhere but you go off and do something else. Their music was successful due to a lot of these points but a lot of these new cats have to get in and love what you do and number two you have to love the emcee. The competitiveness of the emcees as that is another thing that makes the beats what they are too.
DX: As a producer, is it easy for you to find people out of today's generation of emcees that you would want on your production?
Buckwild: Finding an emcee is like finding a needle in a haystack nowadays. Everyone doesn’t have the notion to make a great record or make the best record. A lot of these guys think that they need either a club banger, a street record or something for the females. Looking through the window of production where I am from, a lot of these guys wanted a competitive beat. That’s why music was so great; it was a competitive spirit, getting into the music business was like getting into a war. The number one person was going to be the one who annihilated everyone else. Even the competition between Jay-Z and Nas, then like [Kool] G Rap, Rakim and Big Daddy Kane, besides them all having a mutual respect, I guarantee they inspired each other in some way.
These guys were from a different place, as emcees they projected their voices, getting off subject a little. They rhymed from their diaphragms, whereas emcees today just have words coming from their mouths. They don’t know how to be emcees and there is no-one in there teaching them. If the producer doesn’t know then the rapper doesn’t know, so how are you going to get a record that lasts for 10-20 years?
Celph Titled: I read an interview with Soulja Boy, and he was talking about his early influences and he was saying one of his was 50 Cent’s "In Da Club." If someone was asking me that same question I would say Fat Boys, as that is where I started. But I didn’t go back and check the Sugar Hill Gang, like hi, I was just a product of my age and if that’s their first impression of Hip Hop, they don’t go back and check the Big L’s or the Lord Finesses’, they don’t do that. Whatever is new for them and from their generation, that is what they learn from. It’s just a different age.
Buckwild: It would open their mind if instead of just listening to a record that is on the radio, they go and buy, say 50’s album, it’s a difference. I can’t front, I think 50 Cent has one of the last great albums coming out of New York City, and it is still an aggressive album. But when you listen to "In Da Club" and "P.I.M.P.," his singles were very laid back. You could see these guys were only scratching the surface by listening to what was on the radio. When I came in, and even for Celph, when you got a taste for something, you always wanted more. You wanted to get your money ready for each album that was dropping. Even the new guys, you were even more open to hearing them because the quality was dope. You couldn’t come out unless you were dope.
DX: But money also played an important factor in the music we heard back then though, don’t you think?
Celph Titled: Yeah, it took money and people to believe in you to put you in the studio to record the tape. It wasn’t like you could put a mic in a closet, record it on your computer, upload it to the Internet and put out a record. It was a big deal. Either someone put you on or you were just talented.
I remember going to the record store and buying shit just off the cover, not knowing who the artist was and most of the time shit was hot. There wasn’t a lot of weak stuff and time was put into these things. It was a long process to make just one song you know. You couldn’t bang out a bunch of songs like dudes do now. People talk about sitting on a hundred songs now and they have 40 mixtapes; back then it was one song. It took work, you recorded on two-inch reels and it took time.
Buckwild: Look at the price of the two-inches. You could only fit two songs on each one and they were $225-250 a pop, so doing a mixtape back then would have cost you a pretty penny. You had to be that dope. Now it is so inexpensive. You can go to Soundclick and get beats; you can become a producer anywhere. You can go buy Fruity Loops and that is no disrespect to people who use that, as 9th [Wonder] makes incredible beats, but it's not the machine or what you use, it’s your mind. If you have the drive, determination and competitive spirit, this is what makes the winners in Hip Hop. Maybe this project will be the thing to kick-start things.
Celph Titled: I hope so. I have a lot of young fans that don’t really know so much about the era I come from, and this forces them to hear how I came up and them see who is involved.
DX: Has it ever become disheartening for you guys when you see the direction things have gone?
Buckwild: Yeah it can, when you have something that was so good and it’s so bad. You know it’s like having a girl who was a good girl giving it up for anybody and everybody. For me, growing up and coming into it my biggest influences as producers were the Bomb Squad, Large Professor and Pete Rock and I used to sit and listen to Bomb Squad instrumentals and wonder how they had so many samples in one song. That’s what made it competitive. You had to be creative and if people were to learn how to be creative the game would be a lot different. The Bomb Squad is the pinnacle of production and you can listen to [Pete Rock & CL Smooth's] Mecca & The Soul Brother and hear how Pete was influenced by them, you can listen to N.W.A. and hear how they were influenced and when you have influenced so many great records all for the love, it shows how you great you can be. The cats now think they are creative and they are that great, let me see you put 60 samples in one beat.
These guys satisfied their core audience, the underground, the radio and the clubs by just being them. Even if people just remained themselves and sold themselves the game would be a different place and it wouldn’t be as disheartening. Eminem is one of those rappers who just sells you him.
DX: Is this what you are doing Celph, as this is your first official debut really, isn’t it?
Celph Titled: A lot of people know me from doing features, but yeah on this album, you get to hear more. I tell a story and you find out there is a lot more than just a guy who comes on the posse cut.
Buckwild: Hopefully cats will embrace the album, if a lot of people start talking.
DX: Well you don’t put three years into a project surely without thinking you are going to have people talking right?
Celph Titled: [Laughs] Not at all. Attention to detail, we got it all man; this is bulletproof. I dare someone to hate on it and if you do hate on it it’s just because you wish it was you doing it.
DX: Do you have a favorite track?
Buckwild: That’s hard.
Celph Titled: Yeah, but for me, "Miss Those Days" as that is very personal and its soulful chorus makes it my fave.
Buckwild: I would say "Mad Ammo."
Celph Titled: Yeah we did the video for that, yeah, it is a crazy record.
Buckwild: Hearing the beat is one thing, but hearing the finished product was like taking me to another time when you were really enjoying what you were doing. Nowadays, when you are producing it feels like work, you used to have fun. This [project] definitely brought back the fun element and like Celph said, if a person hates us, it's more likely them wishing it was them.
DX: The project is effortless, that is the first thing you get when you hear it.
Celph Titled: Well, people don’t really always put time into projects and we had fun with everything, the interludes, making everything string together from start to finish. People just seem to bang out 12 joints and put them on a CD in no certain order. Nothing is accomplished.
DX: But here you are working the old blueprint, one artist one producer – that has to help.
Buckwild: Well yeah, that’s how it used to be done. Large Professor, Pete Rock, Bomb Squad, this does fit in with all those albums. RZA did all the [Wu-Tang Clan] albums and I think the albums got bad when RZA took his hands off and started being a variational producer. It’s like every album that came out like their first album was classic but the more you want to venture out, you have to think, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.