September 19, 2009
Duck Down Records Show the World Their Survival Skills
THIS WEEK IN HIP HOP
This week, while millions of music lovers were scratching their heads wondering how they hadn’t realized earlier that Kanye West – the self-proclaimed voice of the modern generation – really is a complete douche, two of hip-hop’s earliest verbal icons paired up and released a battle-cry for the preservation of the values they helped to establish within their art form. KRS One and Buckshot’s new album, Survival Skills, is not the type of record that receives awards from MTV. There is no particular song for the club, there’s minimal talk of money, ho’s, and shiny chains, and neither MC boasts about being the thug or player of the century. Yet this won’t surprise or disappoint fans of the men behind Boogie Down Productions, the Stop The Violence Movement, Black Moon, and The Boot Camp Click. Buck and KRS “The Teacher” provide their audience with a lot of the same lyrical deftness and personal perspective that has allowed both men to survive in the harsh world of music for the past 20 years. While their lyrics might lack some of the tenacity that each artist built their reputation on, the two rappers prove that maturation in hip-hop does not have to mean simplification. With heavy bass-laden musical backdrops provided by some of today’s most sought-after producers – including 9th Wonder, Havoc of Mobb Deep, Nottz, Black Milk, Khrysis, and Ill Mind – the two vets manage to sound fresh in the new era. In a recent YouTube video, Big Boi of Outkast describes the effort as “one of the purest forms of hip-hop,” Raekwon of the Wu Tang Clan calls it “a legendary clash,” and up-and-coming sensation K’Naan says it is “really what should be on the radio.”
While at this point of the year many record labels would hang their hats on Survival Skills and start thinking about 2010, this album is only one part of an impressive string of hip-hop releases from Buckshot’s own label, Duck Down Records. These albums – starting with February’s Smoke N Mirrors, the first solo album from Cypress Hill front man, B Real – are meant to provide hip-hop fans with unadulterated rap music from the nation’s most talented artists, free from the creative restraints of a major label. Since the release of B Real’s solo, Duck Down has also been responsible for the critically-acclaimed collaboration album from Toronto born producer Marco Polo (who also provides a beat on Survival Skills) and Brooklyn native Torae, entitled Double Barrel, as well as the OOF! EP, a six-track ode to Hawaii, from one of the most down-to-earth and musically gifted hip-hop acts on the scene, The Blue Scholars. Throw Survival Skills in the mix and keep in mind that they are still planning on churning out future releases from Skyzoo (Sept 29), Sean Price (October), Blue Scholars, and the supergroup Random Axe (Sean Price, Guilty Simpson, and Black Milk), and it becomes undeniable that the people at Duck Down are grinding their asses off to do as much, if not more than, any other label in the industry to promote the culture of hip-hop.
One of Duck Down’s most important characteristics is that they don’t limit their roster by region, sub-genre, or the career stage that each artist is in. By doing this, and maintaining strong relationships with some of the most talented producers in the US, the music coming from Duck Down is guaranteed to provide serious pound from your speakers, and succeeds in sounding rugged and aggressive yet refined – as well as innovative – throughout .
This is by no means to say that every Duck Down release is immaculate. The label and its artists are having a difficult time producing an album that is fun and easy to listen to from beginning to end. While each song on albums like Double Barrel and Survival Skills does a good job of standing alone, when grouped together with thirteen others, there is very little to differentiate one track from another: this frequently results in a boring listening experience. It appears that each album would strongly benefit from the MCs addressing a wider diversity of subject matter, as well as selecting beats that convey more than just one or two moods.
Yet the most important question to ask about Duck Down Records is not necessarily what they could be doing better, but how long can they continue to do what they are already doing. As we all know, the record industry is going through a period of serious economic troubles, largely due to the fact that the number of people who still spend money on recorded music is minimal at best. While there is plenty of talk about the quality of music coming out of Duck Down, there is no talk of them bringing new life to the Billboard charts. Which leads one to wonder, if they can’t make money from selling CDs and MP3s, how long can they continue to produce high quality new releases? Let’s all hope they’ve honed their survival skills and have found a way to keep it going, because, as The Alchemist said, “Duck Down is pretty much the illest label on the East Coast and rap music in general.”
by Matt Moretti