Don’t think that Jamal Bufford’s not marketable—he stays freshly-dipped in fly gear, he’s charismatic, and he’s a major component of the lauded new wave of Michigan Hip Hop. But like the title of his album Pure implies, Buff1 is one of the few emcees whose music speaks entirely for itself. Pure made waves everywhere from URB (Next 1000) to OkayPlayer (4.5 Questies) with Buff’s agile, digestible flow and his versatility to switch between blistering bars and well-executed concepts. Not bad for an artist who had been a team player for his entire career, as a member of the immensely-talented Ann Arbor crew Athletic Mic League.
But these days, Buff1 is feeling the pressure. With the success of Pure fresh in his—and listeners’—mind(s), he’s looking to make more “powerful music.” His upcoming LP, There’s Only One, sees him minimizing the temporary pleasures of punchlines in exchange for songs about applicable, topics: guys who let their women restrict their freedoms, giving hope to people trapped in street life, and encouraging his peers to stay accountable for themselves. With consistent, monumental lyrics and his AML groupmates The LabTechs contributing riveting soundbeds that are just as effective, Buff1 says that he’s looking to make a “classic” record—and while it still has to stand the test of time, it seems like he’s gotten pretty close. In an interview with MichiganHipHop.com, Buff1 talks about fixing what wasn’t broken, and making music that matters.
Album comes out in a couple weeks, so how you feeling?
I feel great, man. I’m excited. Ready for the world to hear this album.
Your last one really took off unexpectedly. So what are your expectations this time around?
Bigger, better, more! [laughs] I grew as an emcee, so I expected my listeners to grow, my recognition to grow, my money to grow—all that!
Do you have any concrete goals with this one? Not even in terms of sales necessarily, but just in terms of any specific bars you want to reach—musically, reception-wise, etc.?
I want people to say it’s better than “Pure”. If it falls short of that to some people I’m OK with that, but that’s what I want.
What kind of reception have you gotten so far in that regard? What have people been telling you?
I’ve heard one person say they’re not sure if it’s better than “Pure,” but that it’s not a drop off; they could’ve just been saying that to be nice. I’ve heard several say it’s hands down better than “Pure,” and I’ve heard several say there’s a couple more standout tracks on “Pure” but that overall, “There’s Only One” is a better, more consistent project.
Coming off of an album like Pure, where do you look to make improvement? Granted, people get better as they grow anyway, but were there any specific areas of your music that you looked to improve on?
Great question, William. Kudos. [laughs] I definitely wanted to make my music more powerful. Not necessarily just listening music, or “That was a dope song,” or “That was a dope line.” I wanted people to really feel something on every song. And I saw how much love Lil Wayne was getting’ with his clever lines, so I tried to throw a couple of those in there. [laughs]
What made you decide to make more powerful music, though? Where did that idea come from?
I don’t know. I want my music to matter. I know everyone may say that, but it ain’t just rappin’ to me. I want to affect lives in a positive way if I can. Again, if I fall short, all good—but I tried.
I’ve gotta ask you about a few specific songs. When I listened to “Man Up,” I literally imagined you and your boy were about to roll out; and after he stood you up last minute, you just decided to stay home and you ended up writing that song.
[laughs] Man, that song is so based on real life events! Not an actual night, but definitely real events. Vaughan T came up with that song concept. Let’s just say, there is an AML member who was on a year or two-long “Hell Date.” [laughs] I won’t say any names, but that relationship inspired “Man Up.” We for real had to have an intervention!
That’s one of the most important records on the album to me, just because that’s a topic that’s so relevant, but rarely touched on. There will be a song that tells a dude to be a pimp or whatever, but it never really talks about relationships on those terms.
Exactly. See, songs that matter!
That’s a balance that I think has always been in your music: being able to tap into issues that aren’t often brought up musically, and being able to do so without being really preachy. How do you pair your own personal feelings with what you think a listener is going to enjoy, or what you think a listener is going to be able to identify with?
Another great question, sir. I think I approach writing in a way that I want you to feel like I’m talking to you. That’s why I started to stray away from metaphors and similes and complex wordplay and deliveries for a while. All that stuff sounds really sweet, but at the end of the day, people don’t talk like that. So I just really wanted to relate to people on a personal level, but still be entertaining. I figured that could be my niche. That started back when me and AML made Sweats and Kicks. We didn’t want to be the molecular structure of an atom over your head type of rappers, but it always good to throw elements in there just so you let cats know you’re versatile and you can do anything.
You pulled off “Dream Streets” surprisingly well. It’s sort of in the same vein of a song that a more “street” rapper would make, but it seems like you changed each area of it – to the beat, to the way you were rhyming on it. Was that a conscious thing?
Indeed. First off, that beat dictated my direction on that song. That’s always an easy way to start. The sample was saying “Dream streets,” so…”Dream Streets.” Most rappers talk about how crazy the streets is, or how they used to hustle. And a lot of them even talk about the consequences. But you rarely get a first person narrative of the consequences, so that’s what I wanted to do with the first verse. Plus, when you hear it initially, you’re going to think it’s me talking about hustlin’. Everyone that knows me know I’ve never hustled, but I wanted to see if I could convince people that have never heard me before and make it sound authentic. And it’s clearly not me when the person dies.
But for the rest of the song, I wanted to take you from the nightmares to the dreams. Try my best to paint a different picture of these streets that we live on, give hope and a positive outcome. And I rode the beat pretty ill on that first verse too. [laughs] And I kept the same rhyme scheme the whole verse. OK, I’m just braggin’ now.
The song “Numbers Can’t Measure” talks about how critics can’t rate your music. What would make you write a song like that when you’ve gotten so much critical love?
Because I saw the “sophomore hate” coming! [laughs]
What other songs personally stick out to you, in terms of being powerful songs?
“Rain Dance,” “There’s Only One,” and “Beat The Speakers Up.” “Real Appeal” isn’t really powerful, per se, but it may be my favorite. Oh, and “Classic Rap!” But on the real, they’re all powerful to me in their own way.
Where did “Rain Dance” come from?
That song is one of the few where I kind of had an idea of what I wanted to do before I had a beat. It comes from being in the club, having a good time and observing. Just watching people dance in unison when a certain song comes on, or hearing people chant, and the messages that are in these chants and these dances. I wanted to approach a song where I challenged people to be in unison for something other than the hottest song in the club. Be in unison about raising these kids, cleaning up our communities, voting. I ain’t gon’ front like I don’t be in the club participating in the shenanigans, but I also know there’s got to be something more.
Challenging the listener can be pretty risky…
Well yeah, it’s risky but how else can change occur? I think we can all agree that everything ain’t all good in the black community, and it ain’t all the white man’s fault. A lot of it is, but not all. And since the white man don’t care, I figure we should. So I challenge my people to do better, just as I would hope they would challenge me. And again, you may come up short, but you tried. It’s like on “Never Fall,” when I say, “Niggas, is scared to do great things.” I’m kind of giving my secrets away, but I said that on purpose. I didn’t say “people,” I didn’t say “rappers,” I said “niggas.” And if you say, “Wait a minute, who is scared to do great things? Me?” then maybe you’re not trying hard enough.
Questions like this are normally sort of cliché, but your album title made me wonder. What made you name it There’s Only One?
I like simple titles that can mean a bunch of things. Like, most people would think Pure was pertaining to Hip Hop. Partly, but it’s moreso about people and life. Most may think There’s Only One is about Buff1. Partly, but it’s mostly about cherishing the one life you have.
You’re having one album release party in Michigan, and one in LA. Why one party in both locations?
Because people love me in both locations, and I love the people in both locations. [laughs] LA is like my second home. My management company is based out of LA and I get a lot of love there, so I wanted to share the release experience with them.
You had planned to roll out there for the rest of the year too, right?
Yeah, I’ll be out there when I’m not on the road, till around December.
A lot of cats from here do a lot of work out there. You, NowOn, Black Milk, etc. Do you see any musical links between the two areas?
It’s a certain sound that’s appreciated in both areas. I can’t really describe the sound, but I think there’s a reason why Dilla got so much love out there and why Mr. Porter works with Dr. Dre. I can’t really describe it. I don’t know what it is, but it’s gotta be somethin’.
Also, when the hell did the LabTechs production team get that dope?
They’ve been that dope, in my humble opinion. They’ve got so much stuff they just be sittin’ on. A lot of the beats [on the album] are two, three, four years old. I recorded “The Sky,” and “Electrifying Music Maker” for Pure. And “Man Up,” but that got touched up by Zo! The beats for “Electrifying Music Maker” and “Once” are from ’04. I’m telling you and everybody, these dudes need to makin’ millions soon come. I’m trying to do my part in helping make that happen.
Buff1 “There’s Only One” drops on August 12.
Buff1 “There’s Only One” CD release party @ the Blind Pig on 8/9 from 9:30pm-2am. Click here for more information.