Feature Stories

Zen Principles are the Inspiration for Buffalo Black’s New Album, Be Like Water

Buffalo Black is a fan of Bruce Lee.
Buffalo Black is a fan of Bruce Lee. Roderick Pullum
Hip-hop artist Jamil Kelley has received critical acclaim since he began his career in 2013 under the moniker Buffalo Black. The Oak Cliff native aims to validate past accolades with the release of his new album, Be Like Water. Buffalo Black unveiled his latest project Friday at Spinster Records, where he hosted a listening party.

Buffalo Black’s inspiration for his new album is rooted in the peace of mind obtained after surviving hardship. He credits much of this to embracing an Eastern Zen-like mindset.

“The concept for this album stems from me dealing with difficult relationships, trials and obstacles in my life over the past couple of years since I released my last project [Surilla in 2015],” Black says. “Being that I’m a Bruce Lee fan and student, my album to me is philosophically in line with where I am right now in the sense of allowing myself to adapt with the ebb and flow of life. Basically, it’s just about being a sponge to whatever comes at you and learning how to be reactive in a positive way. It’s all about coming out stronger on the other end, and that’s what the album represents.”

“Blackout” is the lead single from Be Like Water. The song perfectly displays Buffalo Black’s eclectic skillset. He effortlessly transitions from smooth R&B choruses to verses that display his exceptional lyricism. Chicago-based producer Kavern constructed the track for "Blackout." It’s a euphoric mix of melodic synths, accented by sparsely placed snare hits that pace the beat to perfection.

The meaning of “Blackout” is not exactly concrete. Multiple factors inspired the song’s creation.

“Blackout was a song that I wrote pertaining to … say, for example, after someone has a breakup in life," Black says. "You tend to look inward, and you question the choices you made. You can find yourself falling to the bottom, falling into drugs or whatever it is that you feel keeps you on an even keel mentally. I don’t have alcohol or drug problems, but everyone can relate to those instances where they felt at a loss in life when it comes to dealing with relationships and friendships. I wanted to encapsulate those feelings into a song."

Societal and mental health issues affecting Buffalo Black's demographic played a part in the creation of "Blackout" as well.

“I think most African-American men share similar experiences, whether it’s racism, discrimination, or micro-aggression." – Buffalo Black

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“I think most African-American men share similar experiences, whether it’s racism, discrimination or microaggression," he says. "I know there’s an epidemic of mental health issues that go on within the black community. I feel it’s important for us to learn how to cope with those types of obstacles. The way I deal with it is by making music. Aside from that, the song deals with things that everyone from all races can understand, which is love lost, identity issues and just trying figure out your place in life. Those things all played a huge role in crafting the song."

A team of frequent collaborators, both local and international, assembled Be Like Water.

“I’ve worked with the same handful of producers over the past few projects that I’ve had, and they’re from all around the world,” Black says. “I didn’t always want to be a rapper. I went to school to be a filmmaker. These are people who I networked with online, which is how I got my start [in music]. I met so many great producers in online forums, which is how I met Kavern.”

Buffalo Black secured features from fellow rappers Bobby Sessions and Curtis Mayz, vocalist Franky Sans and trumpeter Thaddeus Ford for this album. In addition to “Blackout,” Buffalo Black believes “Mega Man” and “Hustle” are songs that will whet your appetite for the rest of the album. Be Like Water will be available Friday on Spotify and other streaming platforms.
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Roderick Pullum
Contact: Roderick Pullum