Buck 65 with ANOTHER BLUe Door at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Tuesday (September 23). $15. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Since Rich "Buck 65" Terfry first stepped up to spit one of his characteristically unhinged narratives, the Halifax hiphop hotshot has been all about messing with the accepted rap conventions of the two-turntables-and-a-microphone format. The conspicuous lack of gratuitous gunplay, bitch-slapping and macho boasting in his autobiographical breakdowns has definitely knotted the do-rags of many hardcore hiphop headz who've caught his act. He's grown accustomed to the usual "playa hater" taunts.
But the music of Buck 65's groundbreaking new Talkin' Honky Blues (Warner) disc - recorded in a real studio for a change instead of his bedroom - has been met with an even more vociferously angry response.
"I've been getting booed a lot onstage lately," sighs Terfry from his Halifax home, "and that can be a terrifying experience.
"I certainly don't always feel comfortable in the hiphop ring to begin with, so when I get surrounded by an angry crowd of people shouting at me, that's very intimidating. You feel like you could get beaten up at any second."
So what's causing the furor? Well, as the title of his new disc suggests, Talkin' Honky Blues unabashedly plays up Terfry's country and blues inspiration. While he's made no attempt to hide the fact in interviews that he's drawn considerable inspiration from the music of Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Hank Williams, this is the first time he's had the recording budget and the backing band - complete with pedal steel - to realize his music in all its twangy glory.
"For a long time I've been telling people that I listen to a lot of old country, blues and hillbilly music, and they'd always tell me they couldn't hear any of it in the stuff I've released. I'm pleased to finally be able to show people who I am and where I come from."
However, the perception that Buck 65 is somehow meddling with the sacred hiphop form has drawn fierce opposition in the States, expressed in a way that Terfry finds troubling yet strangely intriguing.
"I keep getting called a fag. When you stop to consider the psychology of the situation, where people react to something they don't understand by concluding, 'Oh, he must be gay,' it's just ridiculous. But it's been happening over and over again in the U.S.
"It's amazing how few people understand that the lesson of Afrika Bambaataa was that it's healthy to keep an open mind about sounds that come from other places. Even some journalists, who you'd hope would know better, are asking me, 'Are you gay or somethin'?' The narrow-mindedness I'm up against is unbelievable."
But the naturally competitive Terfry - once scouted as a promising major-league baseball prospect - isn't the sort to back down from a challenge.
"Maybe it does have something to do with my sports background, but I really do thrive on adversity. If I'm deep in my set and someone boos me because of the sound of the pedal steel or they can hear the drumbeat, I'll be like, 'Oh, you didn't like the last tune? Well, you're really going to hate this...' and go into a Woody Guthrie cover.
"If people don't like my stuff, then fine, but if they're gonna hate on me because I'm white, from the country and in my 30s - and that's what it often comes down to - then I'm not going to try to placate them. I refuse to apologize for who I am or where I'm from."