ew artists understand the changing face of Hip Hop as well as Buggs Tha Rocka. Buggs is no mere street spitter, banking cred on marginal talent and inflated bravado. He’s a knowledgeable Hip Hop student, canny entrepreneur, gifted and erudite composer and savvy technology/social media guru, creating a buzz around his releases and then giving them away via his various outlets (buggstharocka.com, Bandcamp, etc.). That flexible formula has driven the success of his various solo efforts, and it will propel his latest album and possible breakthrough, Scattered Thoughts of an American Poet.
“The type of Hip Hop I do has always focused on technicality and emotion,” Buggs says. “I take pride in being a wordsmith. That’s where the ‘American poet’ came from. And ‘scattered thoughts’ is really what it is. It’s everything I’ve been through, things I’m seeing in the news, a little bit of everything. My ups, my downs, my life in one CD. Instead of putting on a facade and an image, it’s really organic and natural.”
It’s no stretch to characterize Scattered Thoughts as Buggs’ masterpiece, but he easily envisions scaling even greater heights with his next projects. For now, he’s content to bask in the glow of his latest and best creation.
Scattered Thoughts is packed with Buggs’ patented flow, a contemplative stream of hyperconsciousness that displays his writing skill and his social/cultural awareness. The album’s dazzling aspect is the soundtrack that Buggs and his talented team — including Donte from MOOD, Moxy Monster, Tanya Morgan, Aida Chakra and Cool Kids’ Chuck Inglish, among others — have crafted to accompany his powerful lyrics, blending Jazz, R&B, Rock, Soul and Hip Hop into a hypnotic musical stew. The stylistic range on Scattered Thoughts exemplifies Buggs’ early musical environment and the eagerness and openness he brought to his musical tutelage.
“When I was 6, my mom bought me a harmonica. I sucked at harmonica,” Buggs says with a laugh. “My mom listened to a lot of Motown, Kenny G, Stevie Wonder; a lot of musical genres was in the crib. I was always a big fan of Indie Rock, and of course Hip Hop. My mom wouldn’t allow us to listen to Hip Hop, but my older brother used to have cassettes that he would secretly let me hear. When I was outside of the house in the projects I could hear Rap music, too. I started doing poetry, which turned into rhymes. My mom ended up buying me a keyboard so I wrote raps to the keyboard.”
Buggs’ Indie Rock exposure came as the budding artist became a fixture at former local music haven Sudsy Malone’s. Enamored by the stage presence and energy of the bands, Buggs ultimately incorporated those ideas into his own live persona.
“I’ve always been a fan of live instrumentation,” Buggs says. “[Sudsy’s] owner used to let me in because he knew my mom, and he thought it was fun that I would come to listen to Rock and Jazz bands. Clifton has always been a melting pot, then we moved to the projects in Northside, so I always had a chance to see something outside of Rap music. I always had different elements around me and I appreciated it.”
Buggs turned his musical love into a solo Rap career nearly a decade ago. A 2009 musical collaboration led to the formation of the full live band Gold Shoes. After initial success, the band dissolved over differing opinions on direction and Buggs revived his solo gig. Rather than an immediate return, Buggs leisurely recharged his creative batteries before starting on Scattered Thoughts. Given the album’s stellar results, it was time well spent.
“I wanted to bring people who had the same energy of wanting to work and once I had that in order, it gave me a comfortable space for the first time in my career to write music,” Buggs says. “I always felt like I was pressured, sometimes the pressures of wanting to be the greatest, not just from here but the greatest period. Rap has always been a competitive thing and I want to be the best. This is the music I’ve been working on from 2013 to now. I didn’t give myself deadlines or dates for the first time ever. I think that’s why the project came out so good.”
Many musicians have seen their work as a way to escape their hometown, but not Buggs. His fervent wish is that his raised profile will reflect on the place that cultivated it.
“It’s about the movement, showing people you can stay and bring the industry to Cincinnati,” Buggs says. “For an indie artist like myself to do a show with John Mayer and The Black Keys, to do so many shows at Bogart’s, I kind of started that wave and broke the mold for Hip Hop artists. It’s crazy to hear how newer artists look at me like I’m an old guy and I’m still young myself.”
Buggs sees his musical mission as the reinvigoration of Hip Hop itself. That might seem like an unrealistic goal, but given the achievements Buggs has notched in a relatively short time, the musical brilliance of Scattered Thoughts of an American Poet (and the five videos he and Alvin Jordan have assembled so far for the project) and his confidence in his own abilities, he’s already made significant strides toward that very end. The recent Reflection Eternal show at Rhinegeist was largely Buggs’ doing; he was opening shows for Talib Kweli and suggested Kweli rejoin duo partner Hi-Tek for a Cincinnati show. It was a triumph and exactly what Buggs envisions for Cincinnati and the Hip Hop world at large.
“To do something like [that] means the world to me and I know it means something for the city; to bring quality, once-in-a-lifetime events,” Buggs says. “The diversity in that crowd, it almost brought a tear to my eyes. To see young kids, the 35-and-up crowd, black, white, Asian, Hispanic and everything in between, when you can do that, it’s bigger than the money.
“I don’t want to be complacent in my music and I don’t want to be complacent in my life. And my life is my music, so it’s all connected. I love my music.” ©
BUGGS THA ROCKA’s album will be available as a free download on Dec. 10. He plays Maudie’s Dec. 12.