Whether you preferred Buckshot’s Black Moon material where he was tearing it up over grubby Beatminerz productions, or the more recent, squeaky-clean 9th Wonder instrumentals; “Backpack Travels” feels very much like the happy medium. As enticing as Buck’s vocals are, over 9th Wonder his rhymes became dangerously minimal to the point that unless the beat was an absolute peach (“You” on “The Solution”, “No Comparison” on “Chemistry”) – it became style over substance. It’s undeniable that Buckshot has an exquisite voice, one that captivates without ever really saying anything memorable – an art in itself. Thankfully, in P-Money, Buck has found the perfect complement to his style that he hasn’t had since the KRS-One project “Survival Skills” over five years ago. “Backpack Travels” surprised me, having heard all of the 9th Wonder records and ultimately being underwhelmed by hit-and-miss combinations of crashing soul samples and beats so polished they often lacked the necessary impact that Buck’s smooth tones require. Don’t get me wrong, pick up any of “The Solution”, “Chemistry” and “The Formula” and you’ll be entertained – it just felt a bit wishy-washy.
That’s not to slate 9th Wonder; I’m a fan and maintain that his work alongside Murs, Jean Grae and Little Brother is exemplary, but P-Money’s style allows us to do as the hobbit of hip hop often says – “take a sec to think back”. None of the songs drag thanks to a steady BPM that also seems to breathe a little more life in to Buck than usual. Even played out song names like “Killuminati” and “Just Begun” end up being the more addictive songs on the album, with P-Money laying claim to some instrumentals that deserves a wider audience than the secretive, underground hip hop crowd they will inevitably find favour with. For such a short record, there’s so much replay value in the snappy, sing-a-long approach to tracks such as “We In Here”. Buckshot even admits that he is a “backpack rapper with a mainstream flow” on “The Choice” and he has a point. With this latest album boasting some of his best songs in years, Buck may not be a thinking man’s emcee, but he certainly knows how to craft songs. It’s also nice to hear younger cats such as Pro Era’s Joey Bada$$ and CJ Fly assist on “Flute”, which adds another dimension that’s sadly not explored further.
There aren’t any abstract references or cute metaphors here, this is direct and to the point hip hop music. The one mis-step lies with “Red Alert”, a masochistic approach to sampling from P-Money that sees the New Zealander put the listener through an air raid siren for three minutes. THREE MINUTES. This album clocks in at a succinct thirty minutes and sounds remarkably fresh. Buckshot has proven countless times that he can construct effective hooks and tie them together with occasional wit and that dependable charisma, but “Backpack Travels” shows that P-Money’s production is the perfect balance of old and new school sounds that Buck’s been craving all these years. Highly recommended.