It certainly takes something special to pave a path to success in the current hip-hop climate. Cincinnati’s Buggs Tha Rocka had an early ambition to take his music in the same direction as hip-hop legends Q-Tip and Biggie. Beginning with the release of his first mixtape ‘Hip Hop Supa Hero‘ hosted by Mick Boogie in 2009, Buggs caught the attention of locally established artists Donte (MOOD) and Hi Tek (Reflection Eternal) who recognised his potential and helped with Buggs’ gradual progression into the hip-hop industry.
He soon became regarded as one of Ohio’s most talented emerging lyricists and named “Hip Hop Artist of 2014” at the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards. Co-signed by iconic artist Talib Kweli, he featured on his Prisoner Of Conscious Tour in 2013 and performed with him at this year’s A3C Festival in Atlanta. Over time Buggs has attracted a worldwide audience, while sticking to his policy of retaining full creative control over his artistic direction.
This year, Buggs promises to establish himself further with his latest album ‘Scattered Thoughts of an American Poet’ which releases on 10th December 2014. We caught up with Buggs on the night before he performed at the “Reflection Eternal Reunion Show” in Cincinatti on 30th October to discuss his rise into hip-hop, details of the release and his perspectives on the industry.
Let’s take it back to the beginning – when did you begin rapping, which people in your life inspired you to start making music?
Buggs Tha Rocka: I’ve been doing music for a very long time. I actually started writing poems and performing at the age of six, my mom bought me a keyboard and a harmonica. I started playing music from there and I got into hip-hop a little bit later around nine or ten years old. I wasn’t allowed to really listen to hip hop early on in life so I kinda like sneaked a listen to it, and my older brother would give me tapes and what not of different rappers from different regions and I kinda just started feeling a love for hip-hop.
Q Tip and Notorious BIG, those two artists really stuck with me early on in my career, and I wanted to go in the same direction of hip hop as they were kinda in.
When was your first show?
Buggs Tha Rocka: The first show I ever did was actually a local high school talent show. I did a Bone Thugs n Harmony cover for ‘Crossroads’ (laughs). That was around 6th grade I think, and that was the actual first show I ever did. The first “official” show I ever did was at a club called The Ritz nightclub, predominantly more southern style based music, but I was just taking what I could get at the time.
One of my friend’s dad owns the spot, and they just let me open up. That was one of the earliest shows which I can remember that really kicked off everything, taking experience from performing and doing things of that nature.
What were the highlights of your 2014?
Buggs Tha Rocka: South by Southwest last March, that was a good show, it was my first actual official South by Southwest showcase, that was pretty cool. Of course A3C in Atlanta with Talib Kweli and before that I went on tour with him. We did a couple of regional dates on the Prisoner Of Conscious tour together and things kind of just went from there. We built a relationship. He brought me out on his show in A3C last year in Atlanta and he returned the favour by coming to my showcase and performing with me as well. That was definitely a highlight, I’ve always been a fan of Kweli in my younger years.
What made the experience of touring with Kweli memorable, was it the crowd reception or was it just the experience of sharing stages with icons?
Buggs Tha Rocka: Honestly a little of both. As a kid coming up listening to Talib Kweli, Nas and Mos Def, all these legendary hip hop artists, and then to spend my last 20 dollars to go get their CD and have to walk home because I ain’t got no change to get on the bus because I’d just bought a CD and batteries. To go from listening to their music and then sharing the same stage with them, not just opening up but actually performing with them on the same stage is kinda surreal.
The crowd reaction was amazing, they went crazy, especially when we did the show back here at home because it was a great feeling for people in the city to see that happen and feel that energy you know? Me being home and a legendary artist co-signing you is always a good thing. So I’ll have to say a bit of both, it was just an experience within itself all the way across the board because I learned a lot from him. Just about touring and the business of music, engaging with him, you know know what I’m saying?
How did you decide which artists would feature on the project?
Buggs Tha Rocka: I just wanted… well I’m a fan of those people’s music and I’m proud of their music. Everybody who was involved in this project is so special to me, I kinda wanted it to be like that.
Rather that than getting an artist who’s hot on the block or an artist who’s popping right now in the game and putting them on a single just because they’re hot, while we have no emotional connection with each other but just kinda doing it because it is what it is…
I didn’t want this CD to be about that, it was kinda more organic, everything that I did, and that’s why I went about it the way I did.
How have you tried to create this release differently to your past releases?
Buggs Tha Rocka: I looked at all the best things that I did for every previous project, like older mixtapes and then kind of compiled all the things that I did good off each one, and took on board the things I learned from a lot of the processes. I just put all of that into this project, right from the song writing aspect, to how I pick my production, the way I’m structuring songs, and things of that nature.
I just kinda wanted it to be an all around album that fits the song for every type of emotion that I had along this journey that created it, so that people could kind of relate when hearing it and just have a good time. I didn’t focus so hard on the concept, though usually I’m real big on concepts and things for albums.
What would you cite as the main theme of the release?
Buggs Tha Rocka: It’s really all in the title, it’s scattered thoughts of things and situations, experiences and thoughts that I just have to myself that I wanted to share with people. It’s kinda scattered because that’s how life is, life is unpredictable, honestly. One second you’re up, next second you’re down, so you know that’s kinda how the album is.
I’m just talking to my friends and people, and hearing their stories and kinda just my life experiences and putting it all into one. It just kind of really explains the album and that’s why I called it scattered thoughts. It’s a beautiful thing though man, the process and from the beginning to the end on this album. You know I went over to Amsterdam for the first I time when I first started recording this project, and it really just opened my mind up, I got time to really sit and think musically what I wanted to do and where I needed to take it to reach the next level.
I feel like this album could definitely be that one to do that for me, so I’m real excited about it.
What impression do you want to make on the hip-hop scene?
Buggs Tha Rocka: A lyricist who’s influenced by pop culture, that’s really the main thing I want to come across because at the end of the day not only is this influenced of pop culture – you can hear it in this music, in these rhymes, but also just lyrically skill-wise and the technicality of it like flows and how I put my words together.
Really that has a lot to do with the people I’m influenced by as well like Kweli or Nas, or Kanye or Jay, or Biggie who I’m real influenced by.
You’ve become more recognised for your consistent workrate – from your perspective how easy is it to earn a living from hip-hop in 2014?
Buggs Tha Rocka: Ah man, music is kinda in a weird place right now I would say, it’s definitely hard, especially as an independent artist. I gotta do a lot more gigs than say a mainstream artist, so you know just like you said with the consistency part, really trying to maintain a balance, putting out music and just living my life. It’s pretty hard but you know it’s one of those things.
I feel like any artist having a little better time now as far as knowing how to run their business model to make them money and sales flow, and try to battle the machine but it’s definitely hard. Right now the requirement in music is pretty rough, so to be an indie artist is like a gift and a curse, you know what I’m saying, really it’s about maintaining the balance and just really trying to stay consistent and relevant.
So your music is out on the internet every second of each day, and it’s like trying to keep your relevance. To do all of that is a hard job definitely so it takes a little bit more then just being a good artist now. You’ve gotta have business savvy and have the right people in your corner on your team to put your music out so people even know about it. It’s definitely hard.
What aspects of the scene would you like to see decline, and what would you like to see more of?
Buggs Tha Rocka: I’d like to see more lyricists in general, I’d like to see the machine, the industry on TV and radio, promote more creative individuals in the game, with more substance in general. Like dance music, I love dance music it’s cool, but we need less dance and more substance I think.
I feel like if we have a little more of that, it’ll kind of balance off things. I think that the whole thing about Nas saying hip-hop is dead, you having people categorised with different artists and it kinda separates artists. I think it just lacks balance right now, so hopefully we can change that with this project, and a few other people coming out with the indie rap can steer things in the right direction and create some balance.
Have you got more visuals in the line for the release?
Buggs Tha Rocka: The album was supposed to be a visual album when we first created the music, but of course it didn’t go like that. We thought it’d be better just to release them one by one, so we plan to release visuals for most of the album, if not the entire album. More or less 75% of the album will have visuals, I mean we already have Angel Of Death, that was the last concept video released, and we’re working on like two other videos. We’re just gonna keep bringing the visual game to the internet.
I know that’s a real big part of our music right now and it’s a big part of what we do. Visually it goes hand in hand. Bad Habits was the previous official video we put out, and I got two or three others I already released so far.
Do you see the internet as beneficial to hip-hop’s ongoing development?
Buggs Tha Rocka: That’s a good question. Honestly, the internet is a gift and a curse within itself! I mean for independent artists, the internet is really how people know about me. Of course we put in a lot of ground work but I used the internet to its maximum potential and kinda just went from there. The internet is good but then you also got the bad side of the internet, coping with unwarranted opinions, heckling for a lot of mainstream artists, people having to put out a lot of free music, illegal downloading, taking money from the business… but also you can look at it from a lot of different perspectives.
Me personally, I use the internet for what it’s worth, so I like the internet. But I think for artists like me, there’s positives and negatives.
Have you got any shows / tours lined up following the release?
Buggs Tha Rocka: Well there’s the one tomorrow (laughs) that’s definitely one people should know about, shit’s gonna be crazy. And yeah I planned a tour, this is actually going to be my first official touring experience that I’m kinda like spearheading, so I’m doing it in the States and we’re going to hopefully be in Europe as well. So we’re planning that now and I’m pretty excited about touring for this project.
You can plan to see us definitely sometime in the Spring / Summer. We’re looking forward to the festival experience to, no doubt we’re gonna be down there in the UK for the music festivals.
“Scattered Thoughts of an American Poet” will be available as a free download from 10th December 2014 through Monopoli Management at http://www.buggstharocka.com.