Red Bull Music Academy x Duck Down Double Header
Last week, the Red Bull Music Academy sponsored a Duck Down double-header in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, at the Public Assembly. The night started off with an intimate discussion of the label’s 16-year history, capped with a Duck Down show headlined by Smif-n-Wessun. Chairman Mao hosted the discussion, which included founders Buckshot and Dru Ha, and newcomer Skyzoo.
Buck and Dru recalled their times at Nervous Records, from striking up a comical agreement (Buck would school Dru on rhyming, and Dru would teach Buck how to drive) to Buck meeting Steele (Smif-n-Wessun) for the first time as his dancer at the Apollo. Buck and Dru would later make a deal with Priority Records, signing on as the first East Coast group in the midst of West Coast spitters like Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. Duck Down got a taste of the good life, from the fancy cars to the big offices with skyline views. A friendship with Tupac grew, which led to talks of extending Death Row Records out east. Pac took Buck to get his first tattoo and even gave him the nickname “Beady-Eyed Thug”. They had worked on the notorious One Nation album together; sadly, neither the Death Row deal nor the album came to fruition as Pac passed shortly after.
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1999 to 2000 was a turning point for Duck Down. Having been dropped from Priority, they were back at square one. But as Dru said, “you’ve got to get knocked down some times to get back up”. Sean Price had signed onto the label and it was time to re-invent themselves. Up and coming producer 9th Wonder invited Duck Down into his home, where they banged out 4 albums in a month’s time. It was a humbling experience, writing lyrics on the floor and laying down the vocals in 9th’s living room, but no one complained. The Triple Threat 3-CD set was the outcome, which debuted Sean Price’s Monkey Barz, 9th Wonder and Buckshot’s Chemistry, and Smif-n-Wessun’s Reloaded. A modest 150,000 copies were sold, but they made more money off Triple Threat as an independent label than when they sold millions of albums working with others. Today, Duck Down stands tall as one of the premier indie labels, offering refuge to artists who are ready to grind and make quality music without the hype of the corporate machine behind them.
Text & Photo: Steven Lau