Since their first appearance on Black Moon’s [click to read] 1993 debut Enta Da Stage, Tek and Steele, better known as duo Smif-n-Wessun [click to read], have embodied the hardcore image of mid-'90s New York. Now, over a decade and half since their breakthrough guest appearance, the duo finds themselves branching out not only in respects to their music, but also their business ventures.
Through his newly formed label imprint Bucktown USA Entertainment, Steele has been working on Welcome to Bucktown, a soundtrack to the borough of Brooklyn partly inspired by the 1975 blaxploitation film Bucktown.
“[Welcome to Bucktown] is something that I started about five years ago,” Steele told HipHopDX. “I started working on it and started taking the beats five years ago, but I had a break in the bridge, so to speak, so I had to put it back. It wasn’t really coming together. I came back to the project, took it to a few of my colleagues, and decided that we needed to make it something meaningful as opposed to having it just a bunch of raps on a track.”
Steele describes the project as more than just an album or a compilation. To him, it represents a soundtrack to Brooklyn, inspired by the various themes of corruption and companionship that not only pervade throughout the film Bucktown, but also those Steele himself experienced in the borough.
“Smif-n-Wessun released an album [Dah Shinin’] in ’95,” noted Steele. “The single that we put out it ’94 was titled ‘Bucktown.’ We had no idea that there was a movie out called Bucktown, starring Fred Williamson and Pam Grier. “Then when I actually experienced the movie, it blew my mind. I totally understood it. I’m a blaxploitation freak, and that movie is one of the cult classics, so it took me to another place and it reminded me of real life. It reminded me of day-to-day struggles with police corruption, friendships, friendships that go wrong, just essentially day-to-day stuff like that. I felt that the album needed to be the soundtrack of that.”
While not overly relying on the original film to dictate the direction of the soundtrack, Steele does say that Bucktown did help him guide the concept and the content of the project.
“I would refer to the movie occasionally, and then I would see how the different scenes in the movie would make me feel,” said Steele.
Later, he added, “When you would think about the concept of [the film], even from the very beginning, when [Fred Williamson’s character] actually comes into the town to bury his brother, I have a song on the soundtrack called ‘Welcome.’ It’s an intro, [but] instead of calling it ‘Intro,’ we called it ‘Welcome,’ and as you go further into it, the songs are supposed to tell you the stories, bringing you further into the whole lifestyle. The next song is ‘Bucktown State of Mind,’ and basically, that’s breaking it down to you: what is all this Bucktown business that we keep hearing about, and this is what it is…They have another scene in there where there’s basically a lot of police corruption. I have a song on the soundtrack called ‘Made Me Do It,’ which is produced by Ayatollah and features 5FT [of Black Moon]. 5FT has had a lot of run-ins with the police. He has had the most bad luck for an artist. Every time Black Moon dropped an album, right after the release party, 5 was incarcerated. And it was like clockwork, every time he just had bad luck, so I employed him on that track when I was talking about the police. There’s a part when [the film’s protagonist’s] friends come into town and they’re celebrating, it’s like they remember the good times, and there’s a song on the soundtrack I’ve got called ‘Toast,’ where I employed Buckshot. Buck is like the master of the flow to me. He was perfect for that, because Bucktown’s not always about death, murder, destruction, and bad shit. There are good things that go on in there as well…I tried to mix it up with the emotions of the movie, and then sometimes I would even play the tracks that I had [while] I let the movie play, silent though. I would see if the tracks could even blend with that movie.”
Welcome to Bucktown marks the inaugural project on General Steele and partner Lisa “Cynical” Smith’s newly formed label imprint Bucktown USA Entertainment. For Steele, Bucktown USA is just another way for him to exercise his artistic endeavors and help those around him follow suit.
“There’s always room for growth and expansion,” explained Steele. “One thing about Duck Down [Records] is Duck Down is a label; they’re a management company, they’re a media company, they do marketing, they do a lot of things. [There are] a lot of hats that they wear. Me, I’m an artist, I’m an editor, I’m a writer, I’m a performer. I shoot videos, direct videos. As you get older, you start to expand creative wise. You never can jut sit there and not work. I’ve always been business minded. I’ve started out in the business by myself and have always looked for ways to add on. In my mind, theoretically, it’s in the spirit of trying to be assistance to Duck Down. We have a thing that we call ‘basic training,’ and sometimes, the record label doesn’t have the time or space to be training the artist, so that’s where the General [Steele] comes in. So I might have producers, I might have tracks, and I might take the tracks to Dru [Ha, co-founder and CEO of Duck Records] and be like, ‘Well, we need to do a Boot Camp album with this,’ and then we’ll start to set it off. It’s become like we’re twins, like a brother-sister type of situation. I’m a hungry guy, but I’m humble, so I just always need to be there for my brothers and always be helpful, and I think that Bucktown [USA] has been a great assistant to Duck Down.”
Yet Welcome to Bucktown is not the only project lined up for the General this year. Smif-n-Wessun intends to release their fifth studio album this year entirely produced by Hip-Hop legend Pete Rock [click to read].
“That’s how it’s supposed to go down,” revealed Steele. “We’re in the works, we’re talking, we’re going through the red tape and the papers and all of that, making sure everything is right, everybody is going to be taken care of and everything is happy. We kicked it with Pete, and he’s definitely excited about doing the project, and we know we’re excited about doing the project, this our fifth album. We thought about it, we were like ‘Alright, we can do it two ways: we can have Da Beatminerz do the album, or we can have Pete Rock do the album.’ We thought about, ‘Well, since Beatminerz is going to be doing the next Black Moon album, then we probably just need to do something a little different.”
About choosing Pete Rock as the producer, Steele notes, “We couldn’t think of anyone else. There are a lot of producers that I respect, but it had to make sense. We didn’t want to reach for the stars, so to speak, and it seemed like we were trying to step out of being Smif-n-Wessun. Everybody knows we’re the grimy duo from Brooklyn, we all know that. We’re smoking, Timberland cats, but we also party, we’re also family, we’ve also got children, we’ve also got ladies. We also like to get money, we gamble, we work out. We do a lot of things. There’s a lot of different aspects [about us] that you don’t necessarily get to experience. As you go on and get older, you get a chance to see it all if you’ve grown up…just being grown up and being mature with your thing. There’s nothing wrong with having a good time, but there’s something definitely wrong with not wanting learn and not wanting to do better.”
Interview and Reporting by Sean Ryon.