The Boot Camp Clik is nothing if not military in their approach to hip-hop. Their dedication to excellence, their impeccable lyrical marksmanship, the precision with which they plan their attack on the ears of listeners, and all decisions follow a hip-hop chain of command. In days past that leadership was provided by Buckshot, often described in rhymes as the general of the Boot Camp, but even generals retire. After four collective Boot Camp albums including most recently “Casualties of War” in 2007, it was time for a new member of BCC to rise up and claim the mantle of leadership. Who better to fulfill this role than Steele from Smif-N-Wessun, one half of the Boot Camp’s most popular rap groups in the last two decades? Actually to say “one of” is an exaggeration, because other than Black Moon (which Buckshot was in) or Heltah Skeltah there was really no comp that came close in the crew. While both BM and HS may have gotten more mainstream radio play, it was Smif-N-Wessun who held it down for the underground massive supporting BCC. Even when briefly forced to change their name to Cocoa Brovaz for legal reasons, their popular support amongst the hardcore never wavered.
To be clear Buckshot is in no way retiring from rhyming, just from being the commander of the troops. In fact if you’ve been listening to the Hip-Hop Shop then you’ve no doubt heard his song “Robot” with KRS-One. Buckshot is simply passing the torch off to the newly dubbed General Steele on “Welcome to Bucktown,” a phrase which should be familiar to long-time Smif-N-Wessun fans as well as hip-hop heads since the early 1990’s. Going one step further, the Boot Camp has even established Bucktown USA as its own imprint underneath the Duck Down Records umbrella, meaning Steele can put out a whole line of compilations like these as well as solo or group albums at his own discretion. That puts the mantle of leadership squarely on his shoulders – General Steele is not just a vanity title here. Steele is in charge, Steele is calling the shots, and Steele decided to fire the first salvo by releasing what he likes to call a “soundtrack” inspired by the 1975 movie “Bucktown” which in turn inspired Smif-N-Wessun in the first place. Things tend to come full circle in Bucktown USA a.k.a. Brooklyn.
A very unapologetic tribute to the blaxploitation soul-singing of Curtis Mayfield can be heard in the opening to “Bucktown Baby,” before the cinematic beats of Che Triumph take over. It’s the perfect opening salvo in General Steele’s war on complacent banal hip-hop, with his partner in crime Tek reuniting Smif-N-Wessun to help unload lyrical ammo, and newcomer Stormey Coleman joining the war. Steele features on a lot of the songs on this soundtrack, which at times makes this feel like a solo album, but the sheer amount of Boot Camp guest stars prevent him from totally taking over. Highlights include the jazzy piano banger “Bucktown State of Mind” produced by DJ Revolution, J Scrilla’s pulsing “I’m From Brooklyn” featuring the return of the Smith Brothers (Smoothe Da Hustler and Trigger Tha Gambler), the swinging smoothed out R&B of “A Toast to Brooklyn” laced by Che Triumph and DJ Evil Dee, Ayatollah getting his Kanye on for “Made Me Do It” featuring 5FT of Black Moon and the posse-all-in “Hometown,” sounding like a throwback to the early 1990’s bangers thanks to Kevorkian & Suaze.
I only have three complaints about “Welcome to Bucktown.” First I would have liked to hear more Sean Price up on it. He shows up on “Riot” produced by Che and Evil Dee (the duo consistently providing the album’s tightest beats) but that’s it. Second I would have liked to hear more production by Da Beatminerz, but unfortunately Mr. Walt doesn’t show up until the album’s closer “Things Are Getting Better” featuring Steele flowing solo. It’s a fitting finale for the CD although at only 2:21 in length it’s over far too quick. Last but not least is the overwhelming number of names of newcomers to keep track of. As the first release on the Bucktown USA imprint I would have preferred that General Steele showcase only a few of the best soldiers under his command; instead you get the feeling every enlisted man on his label was asked to put down 16 bars for at least one song. I mean no disrespect to VBS Verbal, Young Coke or Mantecha Music but quite honestly you all get lost in the mix here. In fact the only person who really emerges from the collective on the whole album is Steele, which is at least appropriate given his name is on the cover. “Welcome to Bucktown” is another in a long line of albums by the Boot Camp for fans OF the Boot Camp which will please their loyal audience that’s not likely to achieve broader appeal. That may sound like a negative when in reality it’s not. The best general knows that an army travels on its stomach, and when the Boot Camp releases quality albums our ears remain well fed and our loyalty remains strong, marching on for another 15 years of albums from Duck Down Records.