Neek Bucks was 14 years old when he first encountered the legal system. A product of the cold, desolate blocks of East Harlem, Bucks learned to adapt to survive.
“I’m a quiet person all around. I’d rather not speak and observe. That’s where these stories come from, you know what I mean? Growing from that violence and being broke and hungry pretty much sums up El Barrio.”
Translating from Spanish, ‘El Barrio’ means the neighborhood. Amongst heavy Spanish Harlem influences, Bucks’ first two projects titled El Barrio & El Barrio 2, were a direct testament to the destitute conditions of the block. While many 14-15 year olds were playing high school sports, Neek was watching friends be charged, indicted and sentenced to prison – all before they could drive a car.
“When I started seeing police indicting my kids my age, I knew I had to focus on my shit. A lot of them are my friends. That shit happened back in 2012, and they’re just coming home. I can’t imagine doing seven years. I put my head down and went to work.”
While Neek Bucks might have avoided the long term sentencing, he wasn’t out of the reach of the legal system yet. Stemming from charges in his childhood, the Harlem prodigy wouldn’t get off probation until his mid-twenties.
Reminiscing on his childhood, Bucks’ explained how he managed to find a glimmer of hope amongst the pitfalls. “Music has always been there for me.” Whether it’s 50 Cent or Hov, Bucks was immersing himself in verses since his inception.
“I remember when I was nine years old, I wrote a song. I was heavily influenced by 50 Cent and the music he was dropping at the time. He’s the reason I wanted to rap. Back then, we were using cassette tapes and popping them into the recorder. It was the only way to do it. I still got the tape to this day,” Bucks explains.
Now 25, Bucks has released multiple tracks with heavyweights like Dave East and Lil Durk. Aside from the sheer notoriety he’s receiving, the praise and respect from his fellow rappers is what motivates him. For Bucks, the praise went far beyond the prospect of simple respect.
“Durk and I met online. He came across my shit and respected what I did. After we connected, he came out to New York and did the verse and video free of charge. The energy is genuine, it’s a blessing,” Bucks reiterated.
The track ‘Energy,’ along with the video, amassed 1+ million streams and counting. Released as a single leading up to El Barrio 2, the stage was set and the lights were now beaming directly on Bucks.
Although things seemed to be lining up on all fronts, the months leading up to El Barrio 2 were a test of resolution for Bucks. While we spoke on the album and it’s versatility, I notified Neek that I personally found the last track, ‘Still Here,’ to be my favorite on the project. Without hesitation, he agrees.
“That’s crazy cause ‘Still Here’ is actually my favorite song. When I was making that song I was going through a lot. I put everything I could into that. I was in the studio with 2 other people, and it was done within 20 minutes of recording. They just let me go, it was all from the heart.”
The 2:55 second track packs in the highest degree of emotion seen on the album. As it kicks off, we hear Neek reminding us of the losses that were taken to get into the position he is today. Whether he was sleeping on the floor of the trap spot or playing the streets till the break of dawn, the lifestyle was dangerous.
“You don’t know the time I had to sleep up in that bando.
I ain’t think nobody love me, thank God for my daughter” – Still Here
Now a father, the tables have changed for Neek. He credits his daughter with saving his life.
“I’m always watching how people move, especially being a Dad now. People always want you to do something for them. I second guess everything. I gotta see my daughter every day and night. She expecting me to walk through the door. That’s everything to me. Once she came into my life, it helped slow me down. I was not trying to be in the streets with a newborn. It made me plan and orchestrate my strategies. She changed me a lot for the better.”
Trust is hard to maintain, and Neek is aware of such. “I was able to get a lot of wisdom from guys who came before me.” Nipsey Hussle, who influenced the sound of El Barrio 2, is one of these mentors.
“First things first, you know Nip is a Leo. Our birthdays are four days apart. That alone explains what type of person he is. You know, I actually got a chance to meet him and feel his soul. I know what kind of person he is. Even after he passed, I learned a lot more about him. I related to him so much. So he’s definitely influenced me through the process of making this project.”
In stride with life’s up and downs, Neek Bucks is ready to take on the game. When asked what advice he would give to the ones coming after him, it was simple yet undoubtedly profound.
“You can’t ever quit. You have to keep going. There’s going to be so many days where it feel like it’s never gonna work. You gotta preserve, the biggest and brightest just don’t quit. If you quit, there’s no other advice I can give you.”
If that doesn’t motivate you, I’m not sure what will. Stream Neek Bucks latest album, El Barrio 2, on all major platforms.