Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Beauty AND the Beast

This is the definitive version of one of Buck 65's best (especially from his earlier period) songs, "The Centaur." It originally appeared in '98 on his album Vertex. But on this version, the vocals are redone - a substantial improvement in both his voice and delivery. Also, the track is remastered. It's the same basic loop, but the quality is better, and it features the cello as played by his then-girlfriend Steffi, which adds a lot.

There's a couple other versions out there... He did a drum & bass-type mix on Synesthia (meh) and updated it to his country and western rap style (or "Countwap" as Johnny CashMoney called it in Big Daddy Kane's "How You Get a Record Deal" video) on This Here Is... but it doesn't seem to jel. It's nothing against that style he's developed - in fact, I feel Talkin' Honky Blues is Buck's best album to date - but this version of "The Centaur" just feels lazily done: a phoned in delivery over an unengrossing instrumental. They're not bad if you're a completist, but they're nothing a non-fan should worry about tracking down.

No, it's all about this 12" that came out on Anticon in 1999... The liner notes say "from the forthcoming album Man Overboard," but by that time that album came out (2001), they wound up leaving it off. This was probably done because of his decision around that period to retire the song. As he told UKHH.com (click here for the whole interview), "Well lots kinda come in and out of retirement but the main one that I would love to put to rest would be 'The Centaur,' but it’s difficult to put to rest because a lot of people really like that song. It’s the song through which a lot of people discovered me. But the fact is, the song doesn’t mean very much to me at all. When I was younger and when I wrote that song, there was a big division between me the performer and me the regular person and I felt very threatened by the idea of people thinking that they had me sorted out and knew who I was based on my music and what they saw on stage and Ithought that was not fair at all because they were two completely different people. So a lot of people used to think I really was some kind of asshole or bla bla bla because of who I was on record or stage. But as I’ve gotten older, that line has been blurred. I’m more comfortable with who I am and I’ve mellowed out and I just try to express myself as honestly and try to be myself as much as possible. So really that song is about the hostility I felt to an audience that I felt was misunderstanding me and I just don’t feel that way about my audience any more." He's since brought it out of retirement, but until he rereleases Man Overbaord with another tracklisting (which I wouldn't put past him), it's too late for this mix of "The Centaur." So you need the 12" to hear the decidely best version.

In an interview with Cokemachineglow.com (click here for the whole interview), he mentioned how he came up with the song, "It all started during a visit to San Francisco, years ago, around 1996 or something like that. I was staying with DJ Stef from Vinyl Exchange. We were walking down the street from her apartment. I saw a coin on the ground. It wasn’t legal tender -- it was a coin from a casino. On the back it had the symbol for Sagittarius on it, which is a centaur." I encourage you to click that link and read the whole thing, by the way. He talks a lot about the (granted, rather obvious) metaphor of the song, how he was inspired to sample the theme from Carrie for the instrumental, and what ultimately compelled him to bring it back out of retirement.

It's not that the lyrics are that ingenious (though they are reasonably smart); it's just one of those concise songs where the idea and the delivery and the beat all come together to make a tight, lasting song. And if you want to read the lyrics, by the way, I've already posted my entire transcription of the song in this previous entry.

This 12" also has a remix (different from the ones mentioned above) which is kinda cool... The hook playfully uses a portion of the "I am the magnificent" vocal sample that Special Ed used for his record. And if it feels a bit truncated, that's because originally Kool Keith was going to appear on it and kick a verse at the end, but that fell through. So they stuck it on vinyl without his contribution; which is probably just as well.

Now, the b-side is an epic, fifteen minute collection of non-sequitor (think: Greg Nice), freestyle rhymes called "15 Minutes To Live," a tiny portion of which actually did turn up on the pre-release version of Man Overboard (the Red Liquorice version... it didn't make the Anticon release) - about sixty seconds worth, and it fades out mid-lyric. You've gotta get the 12" to hear the complete thing. For what it's worth. The beat is cool, with some more cello by Steffi; but fifteen minutes of random not-quite-punchlines at a Mr. Scarface pace can wear pretty thin:

"I love the JVC Force
And MC Shan,
But draw upon dreams
And fractured memories.
I factored remedies
And serums into this equation.
I hold up one mirror into another and ask,
'Is nothing sacred?'
I've seen the movie
And read Alice in Wonderland.
Don't make the mistake
Of pitching to me underhand.
Today I enter my late twenties officially,
Or react with water initially
I'm dead to the world right now
Despite my promises;
But at least I'm honest about it.
I've got diamonds in my eyes,
But I'm looking for a harder crystal.
I'm feeling for something smoother;
I'm listening for a starter pistol.
Three sheets to the wind
And I'm using clouds for pillows;
I wanna drill holes in the sky.
I'm in love with a nomad,
And I miss my mother badly.
I was a sideways baby,
Always will be.
To start the party right,
You'll probably have to kill me.
I can't be held accountable,
So instead I pass the blame;
And besides, I wanna live forever,
Like the cast of
Serious trouble will pass me by
And my life will be happy,
Protectin' the veterans
From scorchin' rookies,
And trustin' my faith
In the fortune cookies.
Red right, white left.
Slogans for doormats.
I'm lookin' good right now;
I gotta wear more hats."

...And so on. See? Just drop "Dizzy Gillespie plays the sax" in there anywhere and you're done. But, yeah. All in all, this is a hot little 12" of vinyl exclusives for the Buck 65 enthusiasts, and even a must-have classic for the average hip-hop fan.


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