Duck Down 15 Year Anniversary

A New York label celebrates a milestone anniversary with a new album and a big show.

  • SPECIAL FORCES Boot Camp Clik affiliates initially formed the heart of the Duck Down label's roster.

SPECIAL FORCES Boot Camp Clik affiliates initially formed the heart of the Duck Down label's roster.

Click #2 for a 3-D image (3-D glasses required).

A decade ago, few would have pegged Duck Down Records as the last man standing in what was then a crowded field of local independent rap labels. Founded in 1995 by Brooklyn MC Kenyatta “Buckshot” Blake and White Plains native Drew “Dru Ha” Friedman, the imprint had just lost its backing from Priority Records. Its acts—Black Moon, Heltah Skeltah, O.G.C. and Smif-n-Wessun, Brooklyn rap groups collectively known as the Boot Camp Clik—were mired in midcareer slumps.

“We scrambled a little bit,” Friedman says, reminiscing at a Brooklyn Starbucks. “A lot of people will tell you [how they] started in a one-bedroom apartment and got their money up. We started in a studio apartment, got the offices, got kicked out of the offices and went back to the apartment.”

Yet Duck Down, which celebrates its 15th anniversary on Tuesday 13 with a compilation CD, 15 Years of Duck Down, and a show at B.B. King’s, is a rare survivor. After years of exclusively issuing militaristic Brooklyn street rap, it now hosts a geographically and stylistically diverse roster, including Penn-educated preppies Kidz in the Hall, Cypress Hill MC B-Real and Seattle’s Blue Scholars. “They catered to their core audience who love what the label did in the past, but still looked to sign new, young artists to carve out a newer lane,” says Bed-Stuy rapper Skyzoo, who released his debut, The Salvation, on Duck Down last year.

Dru and Buckshot first joined forces at Nervous Records, the house-music label that issued Black Moon’s 1993 debut, Enta da Stage. They formed Duck Down as a management company in 1994, then secured a Priority deal to issue records by Heltah Skeltah and O.G.C. Establishing a rep for innovative street marketing—Duck Down’s van was ubiquitous at late-’90s NYC rap shows—Dru and Buckshot were soon running Priority’s East Coast office.

While Duck Down wouldn’t officially expand beyond Brooklyn until 2007, it nearly signed Eminem—Priority brass passed—and Tupac Shakur, who enlisted Buckshot as a collaborator just before his death in 1996. Regarding Tupac’s planned One Nation project, Buckshot recalls, “It was supposed to come out through Makaveli/Death Row, then the second album was going to come out through Duck Down. But before we could, he got killed and [the label] fell apart.”

Duck Down rejuvenated itself in 2005 with releases from Sean Price (Monkey Barz), Smif-n-Wessun (Reloaded) and Buckshot & 9th Wonder (Chemistry). Three years later, it scored its biggest success of the blog-rap era with Kidz in the Hall’s The In Crowd, which fueled a subsequent wave of new signings. With releases by Pharoahe Monch, Pete Rock & Smif-n-Wessun, and Random Axe (Price, Black Milk and Guilty Simpson) slated for the fall, 2010 could be the most productive year in Duck Down’s history—a remarkable feat, given current industry conditions.

“A lot of [independent] labels put the $100,000 budget into their next act thinking that was going to make them the $2 million, and they lost it all,” Buckshot says, sounding more like a financier than a rapper. “Being rational and moderate is one of the approaches that’s kept Duck Down in business.”

The Duck Down 15th Anniversary Show with Boot Camp Clik, Pharoahe Monch, Kidz in the Hall and Skyzoo is at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill Tue 13.

Buy music by Boot Camp Clik on iTunes

Buy music by Pharoahe Monch on iTunes

Buy music by Kidz in the Hall on iTunes

Buy music by Skyzoo on iTunes

Download these Duck Down milestones now.

Heltah Skeltah
Nocturnal (1996)

The duo of Rock and Ruck (a.k.a. Sean Price) launched the label with an LP as whimsical as it was mean and menacing.

Da Storm (1996)

Starang Wondah, Top Dog and Louieville Sluggah mixed youthful nihilism with grim beats.

Sean Price
Monkey Barz (2005)
Jesus Price Supastar (2007)

The “Brokest Rapper You Know” emerged as Duck Down’s unlikely star.

Kidz in the Hall
The In Crowd (2008)

Naledge and Double-O’s sophomore LP bridged the gap between Native Tongues--style lyricism and club rap.

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