Partly because of his unparallelled hustle, and partly because of his work in genre-defying group Culture Cry Wolf, Botzy has become one of the most recognizable names in Twin Cities hip hop in recent years. So it’s hard to believe that he considers Buck Fotzy, the solo album that he’s releasing tomorrow night at the Triple Rock Social Club, to be his first official debut as a solo artist.
Botzy, known in his civilian life as writer and computer programmer Adam Botsford, says he first discovered the Twin Cities music scene when he was still a teenager living in Massachusetts. Seated at Muddy Waters this past Tuesday with a box of freshly pressed CDs displayed proudly on the table next to him, Botsford explained how his discovery of one of Minnesota’s most famous rappers eventually led him to uncover more underground, independent hip hop and explore the genre himself. Like a young Patrick Stewart with Cecil Otter’s haircut, Botsford has a warm and magnetic presence, and he smiles often as he reflects on his earliest days as an artist.
“When I grew up, I wasn’t really a hip hop head,” he says. “I listened to a lot of metal— and not good metal either, I would listen to Slipknot and Kittie and things like that. I had blue spiked hair.” He pauses and exchanges looks with his hype man Jord Plord, who is seated next to him, and both rappers stifle laughs of disbelief. “How I came into hip hop is really funny, because as cliché as it is, it was Atmosphere. I was online, and somebody mentioned to me, hey, you should check out God Loves Ugly by Atmosphere. And I didn’t think about it really, but I worked at Best Buy, as like a 15- or 16-year-old kid, and I worked in the CD section. And I came by the God Loves Ugly CD in Best Buy, on the clock, and was like, man, somebody told me to get this, I’m going to get it. That opened a door.”
Atmosphere led Botsford to discover P.O.S. and the Fifth Element online store, and by the time he moved south to Arizona he was hosting a wide array of Minneapolis artists as they came through his town on tour.
“Toki [Wright], Carnage, Ernie [Ball], all the Doomtree heads, when they came through Arizona they stayed at our place. So that was the budding of networking and learning,” he says. “And I wasn’t a rapper at that point; I was a hype guy to somebody else. I was in silent observer mode, just watching other people and learning. The person that broke through that was Carnage; Carnage would be like ‘You need to stop doing that. Do your thing.’ He’s very awesome when it comes to teaching people.”
Though he was already writing, Botsford estimates he spent approximately two years creating the beginnings of 100 to 150 songs before he felt comfortable enough to share his own rhymes with an audience.
“The whole two years I was in Arizona I was making things, and I was performing, but I wasn’t trying to be established, he remembers. “In the Arizona scene it was really easy to do that, because you could play a show and there might be four people at the bar, and they might even be annoyed that you were doing stuff. So it was very easy. Had I been here and learning that, it probably would have been more difficult, because you have your friends that want to hear your stuff, and they’ll tell you it’s good even though it might not be. I was so much more timid at that point, and just knew my place.”
Watching him these days, it’s hard to believe that Botzy was once a shy, hesitant performer. When he’s on stage, whether playing with his recently disbanded group Culture Cry Wolf, guesting with one of his many talented friends in the scene, or holding court at a solo show, Botzy demands attention. When he raps, people stop and listen, even if they’ve never heard of him before, and that conviction also seeps into his work before and after shows, where he can often be seen working the crowd and handing out flyers with a reassuring grin.
From the first spin, it’s obvious that Buck Fotzy is the result of all those years of practice. Botzy has never sounded so comfortable on tape, or so in control; he comes out with guns blazing in the Doomtree-channeling “I Was in Jaws” before working into one of the album’s highlights, “Thrill is Gone.” With a staggering and staccato beat hammering away beneath him, Botzy falls into mesmerizing cadence that only gets more convincing in “Couldn’t Breathe,” a duet with Lizzo.
Botsford has already received a decent amount of attention since moving to Minneapolis in 2008, but he says he doesn’t know if he would have grown as much as he has if he hadn’t spent a significant amount of time practicing out of the spotlight first.
“Some people are Lizzo-talented, where you’re just born and everything you do is awesome,” he reflects. “But for somebody like me who had written, but never written to beats—I just wrote because I wanted to write, as an outlet—so to transition that into music, it was definitely necessary for me. If I tried to reach out to people at that point in time, I would have built a bad image for myself, and I would have been doing it for the wrong reasons.”
Even now, with a solid solo album under his belt, Botsford isn’t content to sit back and celebrate himself. With a new touring a distribution agreement with Fake Four (a label that has released albums by like-minded independent artists like Astronautalis and Busdriver), Botsford says this is just the beginning of his journey as a solo artist.
“[Buck Fotzy] is the first thing that me as an individual I’m just proud of, and the most polished project to date, but in no means is it what I see in the future,” he says. “I want people to know that this is me, but I don’t want them to think that that’s the end of me, or all they’ll expect. I’m already recording new stuff with many different people, and making the new music that I’m making now, I know there’s still so much growth that’s going to happen to me as an individual, and I’m just so excited about that.”
Botzy plays a CD-release show for Buck Fotzy with surprise special guests tomorrow night, Saturday, July 13, at the Triple Rock Social Club.