When Will Young Buck Leave G-Unit?

young%20buck.jpgShould be all over the Detox

Young Buck has always been an interesting anomaly: a popular rapper with a strong, distinctive voice who doesn't mind playing a supporting role in something larger than him. If anything, Buck has always played Charles Oakley to 50 Cent's Michael Jordan: standing behind his boss, backing up everything his boss says, and wading in to deliver passionate and blustery verses whenever 50 needs him to. Straight Outta Cashville, Buck's furious debut, remains the best album that G-Unit has ever released, but you'd never hear Buck gloat about it. When 50 gave the infamous Hot 97 interview where he officially dropped Game, Buck called the radio station raging, telling 50 that he'd do something to Game if 50 wanted. At the 2005 Vibe Awards, someone came out of the crowd to punch Dr. Dre in the face, and Buck jumped into the fray and stabbed the interloper with a motherfucking fork, even though Buck had never publicly been all that close to Dre. In his lyrics, Buck constantly pledges fidelity to 50 and G-Unit, bragging about the shit that 50 bought him and mentioning his crew's name more often than even 50 ever does. I've long wondered how long Buck's going to be willing to push his ego to the side and play the supporting role, especially as it becomes increasingly apparent that Buck is the only non-50 member of the crew with any buzz left. Buck went two and a half years without releasing a new album, and I had this to say about a year ago: "I still get the vague impression that 50 might be keeping Buck under wraps because he's the only G-Unit member who isn't an obvious second banana. He's a threat." As G-Unit's roster gets more and more loaded-down with miscast veterans like Mobb Deep and M.O.P. and talentless liabilities like Hot Rod and Spider Loc, I can understand why 50 might feel conflicted about the one guy in his group whose star may one day eclipse his own. Well, G-Unit has finally gotten around to releasing Buck the World, the second Buck album, and Buck finally seems ready to stand on his own feet, even to the point where he's willing to publicly criticize his compadres. I can't speak with any real authority about any internal frustration that may or may not exist in the G-Unit camp, but I'd certainly like to think that Buck is just now starting to realize how valuable he is.

I can't quite express how much I love the video for "Get Buck," Buck's huge, triumphant new single. Bernard Gourley, whose down-home neo-realist visual sense is quickly making him my favorite rap video director, puts Buck in the parking lots of dilapidated Nashville grocery stores and apartment houses, surrounding him with gospel choirs and marching bands and filming him in drained, drizzly color stocks. For large chunks of the video, the rest of the world stays out of focus while Buck holds the middle of the screen, standing out sharply. As the verses build toward the chorus, Polow Da Don's beat gets more and more urgent, his farting tubas and guitar-pings coming faster and faster, and the camera cuts speed up accordingly before finally settling on a calm, still Buck. The video's only indication that Buck has anything to do with G-Unit comes with a quick split-second cameo from Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo, and they share cameo-time space with guys like Young Dro and DJ Drama and Rich Boy and Young Jeezy. 50 never shows up; maybe he was off filming a shitty movie somewhere. And so the video situates Buck as Southern rap royalty, not as a G-Unit second-stringer. Buck has recently taken to calling himself G-Unit's clean-up man, the guy who comes in and reignites the label after Yayo and Mobb Deep and Banks all released failed albums, and G-Unit wouldn't need a clean-up man if it didn't need cleaning up. Buck has also said that he doesn't want to be involved in 50's beef with Cam'ron, and he's announced that he no longer has any problem with G-Unit foes like Game and Fat Joe and Jadakiss, classy moves that the Buck of even a year ago never would've made. On the YouTube video of the Buck the World track "Hold On," 50 talks a lot of shit about Cam'ron; Buck apparently didn't sanction the rant, and he removed it from the version of "Hold On" that made its way to the album. On Hot 97 earlier this week, Buck even tentatively came out against Yayo's disgusting assault of the 14-year-old son of Game's manager. "I don't understand the truth of it, but I don't rock with nothing that's under that circumstance about putting your hands on no kid," he said. And then: "I can't say Yayo did it, but if he did it, its wrong." Loyalty always has its limits, and maybe Buck has had enough of G-Unit's bullshit.

That's all speculation on my part, of course, but I'd love to see Buck break out on his own; he's too good a rapper to be stuck behind 50 as the empire crumbles. Buck the World isn't nearly as strong an album as Straight Outta Cashville, mostly because Buck has a problem with following the half-realized commercial instincts that ruin so many major-label rap albums. A rapper as hard and forceful as Buck doesn't need to be doing smooth, melodic songs with Snoop Dogg or rap&B laments with walking cancer Lyfe Jennings or weed songs with a Marley, but he does all of them here. "Slow Ya Roll" is a sad ballad loaded with the sort of offhand details that separate Buck from so many other Southern rappers: "It don't quit; just when you think I'm seeing better days / My auntie just found out she got AIDS / And it's fucked up cuz her life don't end / And she locked up, so she dying in the pen." But the track's guest vocalist, Linkin Park's Chester Bennington, cheapens the track's genuine pathos. The closing track, the Eminem-produced "Lose My Mind," is another rock move, Buck playing against his strengths by screaming over uber-processed rock guitars and making himself sound like a petulant teenager. Buck also misses a great opportunity on "4 Kings"; he recruits an impeccable lineup of guests (Jeezy, T.I., Pimp C), and then he brings in motherfucking Jazze Pha to squeak the chorus and lace the track with his trademark ruffly guitars and wobbly synths. Seriously, if you had a lineup like that one, would you waste it on a track with no low-end and the Phizzle-Phizzle guy doing his risible hypeman routine all over it? Even with its weaknesses, though, Buck the World stands as the first G-Unit album in a couple of years that's worth your $14. At least half of it is given over to big, slow, monolithic bangers like the ones that made Straight Outta Cashville so strong, and "Get Buck" and "Say It To My Face" and "Pocket Full of Paper" are among Buck's strongest moments yet. If he ever strikes out on his own, maybe Buck will finally give us another album full of tracks like those. Either way, I don't want to have to wait another two and a half years for another Buck album.

And the album shows a few signs of cracks in the G-Unit facade. 50 might've removed his anti-Cam comments from "Hold On," but he also includes his initial anti-Cam track, "Funeral Music," as an unlisted bonus track, a move that I can't imagine Buck agreed with. In his response to "Funeral Music," Cam'ron even tried a little bit of divide-and-conquer: "Mobb bricked, Banks bricked, Buck ain't been out in three years." And then, in a half-buried ad-lib: "He the hottest one!" Maybe Cam'ron realized something 50 isn't yet ready to admit: Buck probably won't want to wait in the shadows forever.


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