Welcome to the inaugural edition of BET.com's new interview series, Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself. We'll be sitting down with artists who are "reintroducing" themselves to the music game after long absences. Setting it off in style is Neef Buck, one half of the Young Gunz, aka Chris and Neef. The Philly duo — part of the city's State Property, which also included Beanie Siegel, Freeway, Oschino & Sparks, Peedi Crakk and others — were signed to Roc-A-Fella in the early 2000s along with the rest of State Prop. They had a massive hit with 2004's "Can't Stop, Won't Stop," and made appearances on classic Roc material like Jay-Z's Blueprint 2 and Beanie Siegel's The Reason. But the duo fell back from music in the wake of upheaval of Roc-A-Fella and State Prop infighting. Neef's partner, Young Chris, reemerged with a series of acclaimed mixtapes a few years, building up a strong buzz, but Neef Buck himself has been more or less quiet until recently. He launched his own solo mixtape series, Forever Do Me, and has released a series of videos that have lit up hip hop blogs. With the fourth installment, Loyalty Before Royalty, his most talked-about solo work yet, and several other projects on the way, Neef sat down with BET.com to talk where's he been, what's next and old beefs.
BET.com: Young Gunz’ debut album, Tough Luv, hit No. 3 on Billboard in 2004, but you’ve been mostly M.I.A. from then until now. Where have you been?
Neef Buck: For a minute I fell back from the game. We came up with a plan. My partner [Young Chris] was going to do a solo project. ’Cause I used to be in so many different things in the music game, helping other people out behind the scenes, and I was cool with that position. At the end of the day, it’s money. I learned a long time ago, sometimes the people behind the desks make more money than the artists. I was helping Chris out behind the scenes. But then I thought, I gotta brand myself and start building my own buzz, ’cause eventually we’re going to do another Young Gunz album, and I want it to be as big as ever, as big as Tough Luv. So I started doing this Forever Do Me series. Now I’m all the way up to No. 4, and I see how it’s growing and growing. The fans, they motivated me. That’s what social networks do. They motivate me. I need that. Sometimes when you’re an artist you never know you’re appreciated until you do shows, until people give back that love and sing the songs with you. But on social networks they let you know you’re doing a good job, and to keep it up. They give you that hope and that belief. So I’ve just been going hard and investing in myself, ’cause if you don’t nobody else will.
How has the music game changed since you’ve been gone?
Nowadays, the kids buy into the person before they buy into the music. With the Internet, it’s like a gift and a curse, but like any obstacle you gotta make it work for yourself. Things change — you gotta try to change with the times. Broaden your audience, be different, be consistent, ’cause there’s so much going on. I try to keep something out there once a week with the vlogs that I do. I launched my own site so I could get all that traffic to my own space. I’m just trying to build a brand and a movement, ’cause those things last longer than any record. People nowadays got a real fan base, people like J. Cole and Wale; people loved them for them even when they didn’t have number-one records.
Are you still cool with your old State Property boys? There had been a lot of internal drama in the mid-2000s.
Definitely. I deal with everybody. The next thing I’m doing is a joint-venture project with Freeway called With or Without a Deal. He reached out to me once he saw the buzz and the momentum I’ve been getting. Everybody’s cool and still tight and works together, but me and Freeway had a nice bond and we both Muslim, so we always had a great relationship. My latest tape, Forever Do Me 4, Freeway and Peedi Crakk are both on it. Oschino just reached out to me to do a mixtape. Everybody’s still cool with everybody — but everybody’s doing their individual things. But if we need each other we’re always there for each other. Sometimes promoters call us to do a show all together and we get it done. It’s all love. It’s never really been no beef, it’s just been differences with making the music.
What about your old Roc-A-Fella bosses — Jay-Z, Dame Dash, Kareem "Biggs" Burke?
I haven’t talked to Jay in a little while, but that’s always been my guy. I ain’t have nothing bad to say about that guy. It’s love every time he come to Philly, we make sure we’re there with him. Never been no issues with that. All of them, Biggs, Dame, they changed my life. They helped move my mom out the ghetto. I can’t never s--t on that. They gave me the opportunity. They spent millions of dollars marketing us, and I can use my name forever with that. I still do shows like a person that just came out. That’s what we always try to do.
Curren$y recently sued Damon Dash, accusing him of releasing some of his music without his permission. As one of Dame’s fellow former acts, what do you think about that situation?
That’s crazy, ’cause I seen them guys together from the outside looking in. They looked like they had a good thing. Curren$y is a good worker; Dame go hard with everything. When Dame believes in you anything’s possible. That was kind crazy to me. I didn’t know he was putting music out and not breaking him off — that was surprising to me. But we never know all the details from the outside looking in — what their conversations were, what their relationship was like. I hope they can work it out in some type of way ’cause they both good guys.
What’s up with Young Chris? You both have burgeoning solo careers now. Will another Young Gunz project happen anytime soon?
He’s still my partner, my dog. He had a label situation at Division 1, but now he’s a free agent again. He got a couple of deals on the table, and he’s focused on that. I’ve just been holding him down whenever he need me. We still around each other every day. I want him to do that first, that solo album, ’cause the buzz has been building up for a while. I don’t wanna mess that up with a new Young Gunz album. So that’s why I’m just starting my movement too, so things are popping whether it’s my project or another Young Gunz album after his — whatever the people want.
You guys used to have some serious beef — Game and The LOX are no slouches on the mic or off. Have things been smoothed over with your old rivals?
[Chris] was recently in L.A. and he ran into Game and they took a picture and everything and sent it to me. Sometimes with beef, it’s just rap. We got older and a lot more mature. Back in the day we were going through it with the LOX and just running up to New York and bombing on Hot 97. We was running around and it was really on sight whenever we saw certain people. I even caught a case up in New York; I got caught with a gun. We was young and immature just running around and living. We didn’t have any responsibility yet, but we do now, once we got a little money and people we gotta take care of that we gotta stay here for. We wasn’t thinking at the time. A lot of people, it just be rap — you do different things for attention, and I guess that’s what it was.
So now that you’re back in the game, what do you have planned?
In February, I dropped the fourth part of my Forever Do Me mixtape series, Loyalty Before Royalty. I’ve been dropping one video blog every week to get people hyped for the record. Nowadays to me visuals are damn near everything. Sometimes a video can make you like a record more. I always had a vision. People may not know, but as part of Young Gunz, I wrote the treatment for every video. So I just dropped the video for the single “Louder.” The song just shows brings it back to the essence of hip hop, just one of them breakbeats and nonstop rapping, raw talent. I wanted to put that out first to let people know I’m coming back strong. That’s what we try to do: make forever music. We don’t wanna make music forever — we wanna make forever music.