Although their music broke into the mainstream and influenced many of the artists who dominate commercial hip-hop, there’ probably wouldn’t be underground rap without Black Moon. Their debut album, Enta Da Stage, was one of the few debuts during hip-hop’s golden age that didn’t graduate to a major label, although according to lyricist Buckshot, he and his fellow members, DJ Evil Dee and 5 Foot, earned enough (for distributor Nervous Records, anyway) to more than keep pace with their major-label competition. Subsequently, the way that Black Moon created an underground empire with groups like Heltah Skeltah and Smif-N-Wessun showed aspiring musicians that they could put out their own music without the support of a major distributor – and even better, they could still make major waves.
Almost 20 years later, Black Moon is still together, and joined the amazing phalanx of artists on this year’s Rock the Bells festival bill to perform some of their classic material for fans old and new alike. We caught up with rapper Buckshot on the day of the New York earthquake, where he dealt with the unusual occurrence while talking about the prospect of revisiting their iconic debut, Enta Da Stage, and performing the album in its entirety. Additionally, Buckshot dispelled a few rumors about the band’s reportedly inconsistent solidarity, and offered a few insights about where he and Black Moon are headed – together and individually - in the future.
(When Buckshot answered the phone, we’d already had several dropped calls, so he started talking even before I asked anything.)
Buckshot:There’s all types of stuff going down. Yeah, man.
CraveOnline: Just like at Rock the Bells, where the cell reception was terrible.
Buckshot:The only difference is that we didn’t have an earthquake. New York just got its first earthquake, so it’s crazy out here right now. It’s almost like if it snowed hard in Cali – it just doesn’t happen like that. You know – you don’t have a six foot snow blizzard in Cali. Or I don’t know the last time it happened, but I know that New York is not used to earthquakes, and we don’t get that.
CraveOnline: When was the last time that you played all of Enta Da Stage?
Buckshot:I can’t really remember. I think it was like one time that I did that. I never got a chance to do it like that, not the whole album. Like I’ve done joints, but I’ve never done the whole album, and I definitely didn’t do three versions – and I think that’s the difference. I was trying to figure out how we could incorporate everything smoothly, because fans love those verses but we haven’t done them, so the timing might take away from [their enjoyment]. But we do it – we get it done.
How much rehearsal did you have to do to get the rhythm back for your performance?
Buckshot:We definitely did, and definitely me, because I’ve got more joints than just the Black Moon albums. I did more stuff than just the Enta Da Stage album, so when I do songs like “Slave” or “Make Munne,” those are songs that I’ve never done a third verse to, let alone some second verses. So I had to practice, and I haven’t gotten it to the point where it’s locked. But I’m definitely much more comfortable than where I was a few minutes ago.
CraveOnline: How does it feel to have people still interested in hearing your earliest recordings, some 20 years later?
Buckshot:Incredible, considering the fact that we’re talking about years – we’re talking about ’92. So here’s what’s crazy: when we did Enta Da Stage, everybody that’s around us was on a major label and we were the only ones – well, Wu-Tang’s first record was independent, but then they switched to Loud, which at the time was distributed by a major label. We are really the last of the Mohicans, as far as that… you know what? Hold on for a second. You’ll have to pardon me, because I’m in the car driving back around my way with some friends. [to them] You know what? Yo, I’m doing an interview. [In the background, someone says, “oh, I’m sorry.”] It’s all good – no disrespect. Because y’all didn’t know. (laughs) I’m sorry, man.
CraveOnline: No problem (laughs). Please continue.
Buckshot:So it was different. I think with the line-up and people like Erykah Badu, it does make you feel good, because you feel the support backstage, and then on top of that, it’s an album from ’92, so for the individuals that go back to ’97 and they feel that people appreciate and like their music and stuff like that, we feel extra blessed, because we’ve still got fans around that know the album and want to see it live. And we take that performance to the next level; that’s the reason why I put my own twist on it when it comes to playing live, and we bring the band to the stage. And not only do we bring the band to the stage, but we’ve got a real show that’s centered around that. Because we are entertainers who never got a chance to tell the full story, and I think that’s what my thing is; I think my one thing that has been the glory to my success as far as longevity as well as the pain of reality as well is the fact that we’ve never been on a major label. So every time we start talking that “best of the ‘90s” and “best of the 2000s,” “best of the underground hip-hop,” they never mention Black Moon. And I’m the forefront of [Boot Camp Clik] Black Moon, so if they’re not mentioning Black Moon, they’re damn sure not mentioning Smif-N-Wessun, Heltah Skeltah and all of that other stuff. They always seem to look past us, not because of our style or whatever people like about us, I think they look past us because they’re like, “oh, they weren’t on a major label.” And that shit is fucked up, because we outlasted the major labels and we outlasted the major groups! So I am going to make that a point now. And [I’m] trying to be being humble, on my new album I said it – “humble can hurt in the heart of the jungle,” you know what I’m saying, because even the humblest general is going to go to war. So that’s where I’m at right now, and that what the Rock the Bells situation has at least afforded us to say. Like, alright, we’re not going to do 9th Wonder shit, or any of the new shit, we’re doing the Enta Da Stage, classic stuff, and that’s a blessing.
CraveOnline: How much do you feel like Enta Da Stage was representative of what your life was like at that time? And how different is it now?
Buckshot:Well, rap chose me, man. I didn’t choose rap. I love it, I do it, and that’s all I can afford to say. Anything else after that, don’t let me sit here or let anybody else sit here and give you a bunch of microwave answers as far as saying this is why they did what they did. Look, I come from Franklin Avenue, I come from the streets, and that’s where I’m at. I’m not doing this because I want to be seen as hardcore, I’m not doing it because I want to stay in contact with my roots, and all of that bullshit. I’m from Franklin Avenue, and that’s where I be at, but I don’t do nothin’ to try to consciously be that dude. I think anybody that does that is a jerk. But we’ve got people like that; I’m not saying no names, but we’ve got some of the biggest, most prominent hip-hop artists that pretty much keep selling records with the same old story “I was a drug dealer back in the days, and I fucked up,” you know what I mean? The same old goddamn story, the same excuse, the same, same, same. But you know what? That individual is selling rap as a hustle, as a product. “This is what people want to buy, so I’m going to cook it up and sell it to them.” Then you’ve got people like myself; I’m a true, true businessman, who loves hip-hop, loves to MC, loves the game, loves the talent. That’s where I’m at that’s the type of person I am, you understand? So when it comes to doing business, that’s where I’m sharp at. Now, when it comes to talent, I created a business so that way I personally don’t even have to know what it feels like about compromising my personal talent to try to sell records – because I didn’t get in the game to sell records. I started as an intern for MCA records with a talent as a dancer, and I started MCing in the late ‘80s when my man got locked up. Before that, I was a dancer. Everybody’s got me cornered as this street corner kid that rolled dice all day and finally started spinning some rap and then got off, when that’s not me. I was always into talent shows. I was always into dancing, and I always try to give a good stage show. I always knew that you’ve got to have a good stage presence – a good outfit, a good look, all of it, locked. But all of that went into my whatchamacaulit – [He turns to address his friends.] yo! Can I escape y’all for two seconds, man? Damn! [pause] Hello?
CraveOnline: Yes, sorry. I’m here.
Buckshot:That’s okay. I mean, you can put that down – action doesn’t stop on Franklin Avenue. We’ve got a studio over here. But once again, that was my thing. And I hate to sound like a complainer, and that’s why I never got onto that, you know? Because you’ve got people who will complain and be like, this is wrong, I can’t believe you’re putting our hip-hop down – we never had this and we never had that. So is it because we were on an independent [label]? What is it? What is the reason why so many people knew that we did the impossible, but still will not acknowledge us? Is it because we did the impossible? Don’t acknowledge us for that vibe you know us for – which is cool. They’ll say, well, be glad they’re acknowledging you, and they’re right. That’s why I don’t say nothin’, but to be honest, to say “you guys are acknowledged for being the hip-hop underground, street boom-bap of the ‘90s,” but n***a, we was far from set for being independent. Who did it before? Who? Not Puffy. Not Jay-Z. I’m not dissing, I’m saying let’s go down the line. Puffy had Clive Davis and he was on Arista. When Duck Down, we were truly independent, even when we went to Priority Records. That’s what allowed us to be independent when we left Priority. So the ones that couldn’t take being independent said it, and sold off. My point is, we always stayed independent as a label.
CraveOnline: You guys have had a lot of different changes in the line-up, with all of your being together, doing your own things, et cetera. Does reuniting for this bring up any of the drama you might have previously gone through?
Buckshot:Let me ask you a question, and be honest with me: just from your knowledge, when did you ever hear about us breaking up? Just give me an example, like “Buckshot said ‘fuck Evil Dee’.” I mean, did you ever hear that? And be honest with me, because if you did, I would like to know that. What did you hear?
CraveOnline: I’d read some stories online about how you briefly broke up after Enta Da Stage was released.
Buckshot:Well, I’ll tell you what happened. After Enta Da Stage, we made Nervous Records ten million dollars, you know what I’m saying? And we didn’t get one thousand dollars. The only way for us to get out of that contract was to make a certain move that we didn’t want to make, and that was it. That allowed us to be out of the contract; we still had to play the game because they owned the name, so the first time we came back, it wasn’t as Black Moon, it was only 5FE, Evil Dee and Buckshot. And then we quickly got back the name Black Moon, and used the name. But we went through so much politics to get out of that contract, but we never had a problem with each other. The only thing was we were allowed to work separately, but not as a group as Black Moon. So when right away, Buckshot started doing stuff without Black Moon, people automatically assumed we broke up. And you always hear those stories – “we broke up over money,” “we broke up over this,” but we never even broke up! We just had to not be in the public or be visible, or we were just not able to be a group, because of the contract. That’s why we never came out with another album on that label, and that’s why it took us so many years to come back with something else.
CraveOnline: Even on stage you have discussed the jazz influence on Enta Da Stage. Are you still as interested in that influence, or how has your music changed?
Buckshot:Do we have a different point of view? No. Uh-uh. It’s still jazz-oriented and we still love what we do, as far as the music. We love jazz. We’re musicians, and that’s what I want everybody to leave knowing.
CraveOnline: Why is live instrumentation important to you now?
Buckshot:It always was. In 1996 there were Black Moon fans out there, and then there were Buckshot fans. Anybody who’s a Buckshot fan would know that Buckshot tried to do an album with the live thing before. I had a group called The Night, and it had some females; I could have done that to get off the label, but I didn’t. But I did it to show people early that my love for music really comes from me being a musician. My father was a percussionist, and my family members are musicians, so how could I just sit there and go with this public view of Buckshot throwing instruments against a wall and fucking with two turntables and samples? And that’s why through all of my career, I always said, I’d rather they dislike me for who I am than to like me for who I’m not. And a lot of artists don’t do that. That’s what the average artist is not willing to do; the average artist is willing to do whatever it is he has to do to have you like him. And I really don’t care, because I love my music, but I’m not going to compromise myself. And I do other things, like real estate – I’m a real estate agent and I do building management. I’ve got a consultant company. I’m not sitting here going, yo, man – I need a show. So whatever I do, I do because I love it, and I don’t care if nobody buys it like that or not. As long as they’re feeling it from the heart, that’s what I care about.
CraveOnline: How tough is it to juggle music and these other projects? Is there one you consider your primary focus?
Buckshot:No, because the universe has no planet as its primary source, so I’m just like the universe – everybody must live, equally and accordingly. And in order to do that I have to be, what, the sun! But to be the sun I have to know how to distribute the right amount of energy to everybody. In order to that I need to create a better system. And then when that system is valid, everybody will evenly shine. It’s that easy. The average person is one-track-minded – not in a negative way, but they’re just used to saying, “I’ve got to focus on one thing, and be great at this one thing.”
CraveOnline: How soon can we look forward to a new album from you or Black Moon?
Buckshot:9th Wonder and myself have another album coming out called XXY, and it’s already done. Now, that’s coming out right now. After that, in the works I’m trying to get the Black Moon album done, and the B.D.I. Thug album. I want to put out another album for B.D.I. Thug, which I will dedicate to Tupac, so I’m trying to figure out a way to dedicate some of the proceeds to another cause that he wanted. So that’s what I’m about to do, and give some of the money to the family – so they can eat, we can eat, everybody can eat. Because ‘Pac was a close, close, close friend of mine.
CraveOnline: Thanks so much for your time. Enta Da Stage is one of my favorite albums, and “Crooklyn Dodgers” is one of the greatest hip-hop songs ever.
Buckshot:Oh man, thank you. And by the way, Q-Tip, who is another instrumentalist – look, can I just say this last thing? All of the dopest MCs in the world can sing. That’s what makes us some of the dopest MCs. But no MC will ever admit that to you because that’s not the vibe; Snoop Dogg, Busta, Method Man, Kanye – keep going! Don’t let them fool you, everybody can sing, because that’s the foundation to our MCing. So I just want to make that a point. And Q-Tip actually did the music on “Crooklyn Dodgers,” him and Spike Lee sat down at the piano next to Evil Dee and played that in Special Ed’s house. Ha ha, that’s just a memory for the book.
CraveOnline: Thanks again. Good luck with the aftermath of the earthquake.
Buckshot:Ha ha ha – man, thank you, man. I definitely appreciate that.
Photo credit - Duck Down Records