Ann Arbor emcee Jamall Bufford releases “Victim of a Modern Age”
“First of all, I want to make it clear that I, by no means, feel that I am a victim,” says Jamall Bufford, whose new album, “Victim of a Modern Age,” was released in December, marking a new era for this accomplished Ann Arbor hip hop artist.
“I wanted to speak on rap music being a victim of circumstances, this era of technology,” says Bufford. “I also wanted to speak on how — in a lot of areas like Chicago and Detroit — easy it is for kids to get guns now, automatic weapons. It’s a war zone in a lot of our communities. I wanted to speak on me and my relationship with rap music and how it’s changed.”
Hip hop music has indeed changed drastically over the four decades of its existence, and Bufford has been an active participant and witness for the past 15 years. He is a well-established Michigan rap artist known in the hip hop community as Buff 1 from the Ann Arbor collective Athletic Mic League. This stage and studio group also included 14KT, Grand Cee, Vital, Vaughan T., Tres Styles and DJ Haircut, who is best known now as the pop singer Mayer Hawthorne.
Bufford has toured internationally and won accolades for his two previous solo albums, “Pure” (2007) and “There’s Only One” (2009). His last project, “Crown Royale,” was a 2010 collaboration album with DJ Rhettmatic of The World Famous Beat Junkies of California. The project honored the roots of pure hip hop with top caliber emcee and DJ talents working together.
Bufford says his new album represents his maturing process — hence the move from using the name Buff 1to his legal name. He says he has grown as a man through his work with the downtown Ann Arbor teen center, The Neutral Zone, where he works with youth struggling to stay in school and on their own path towards success.
“Just getting a chance to know these teens and see what they go through; and how just expecting them to get up and go to school and get good grades, there’s so many factors in that and things that affect them,” he says. “Did they have food on the table last night, did they have a place to sleep last night, did they have adult guardians in their life?
“These teens come into the teen center, they’d be like, ‘yeah, I just got kicked out of school today because I didn’t do my homework.’ The natural response is: ‘Why are you acting up? You’re being bad.’ Come to find out he had to work, or she had to work all day yesterday, a 12-hour shift, so they were tired, they missed their assignment.”
Bufford has seen the difficult circumstances in the lives of others, the victimization traps that play out in people’s daily lives, and chose to express this through hip hop. Not many rap artists are able to maintain the same type of career longevity as he has, and he shows gratitude to still be a focused musician.
“I’ll just speak for myself. When I was growing up, my mom raised me a certain way,” says Bufford. “So even though I was listening to a lot of crazy stuff, I was only influenced by the art of it, I never wanted to live a life they were talking about. I never wanted to be a pimp. I never to be in a gang. I never wanted to shoot anybody. But I appreciated the art form, and that’s what I was into.”
The song “Nineteen” is the first track on the album and filmed as a music video, opening with Bufford’s father calling to let him know his younger brother is running reckless with the wrong crowd. The soft organ fades in as the black and white camera shows Bufford crafting his verse through his thoughts for his family and the emotions he confronts within.
“The whole premise of the song is just thinking about how different my life was when I was 19, the age of my younger brother, and thinking about how to be a better big brother. When I was growing up, I didn’t know my younger brother that well, we didn’t live in the same household, my dad left my house when I was five, so I was raised primarily by my mom. I’m thirteen years older than my younger brother.
“I talk to him on the phone and tell him things he needs to be doing, but that’s not working, there’s a disconnect. Like should I go out there and visit him more? It was really about me thinking I can do better.”
Jamall Bufford “Victim of a Modern Age“ is available for online sale through iTunes, Amazon and www.MelloMusicGroup.bandcamp.com.