Phase One & Asa Buchanon are Bugnanas (Source: Katie Piper)
It’s slightly more than a quarter past 8 p.m. After exchanging pleasantries, a few old stories, some jokes and finally finding a spot to sit in the cafeteria in Macys Cellar two rappers I have been following since college finally sit down with me. We are doing what we call “break bread” even though neither of us is passing around condiments or components of a meal. Phase One and Asa Buchanon have been involved in hip hop the majority of their lives living it and breathing it. They have some pretty awesome and funny stories to tell. Particularly Phase One since we’ve known each other dating back to our days at the Lehman College Radio Station WHLC 590 AM. These are stories for another time and maybe another article.
A lot of time has passed since 1997. That’s fifteen years to be exact and in that time this rap duo has put out quite the body of work in the underground hip hop scene both individually and collectively. After some more jokes and laughter Phase One then begins to tell me how all things Bugnanas came together.
“We were like you know what freak that we should be a group man! That’s it! Because we’re running around like too much crazy like together! We should just be a group regardless! That’s it!”, exclaimed veteran emcee Phase One of his decision to officially join musical forces with fellow Bronx emcee and producer Asa Buchanon nearly ten years ago. It is a partnership that has grown by leaps and bounds since it was officially established after a performance at the legendary club Shrine. The early roots of this partnership were fostered in a tight circle of other well known emcees and producers from the New York underground hip hop scene such as DJ Static (the Bronx), Rugged N’ Raw (Harlem) and Poison Pen (Brooklyn) just to name a few.
In fact the name and concept of the group can be traced to an underground single Phase One and Poison Pen worked on with DJ Static called “If You Wack”. “Poison Pen at the end of that record had said Phase we gonna go bugnanas on ‘em. Yo Static talk to ‘em with your hands son and Static was cutting up the record. Then when we started talking I was working on an album I didn’t get to release (Déjà Vu All Over Again). We immediately stopped and started getting into this whole Bugnanas thing,” Phase One divulged. But before Bugnanas officially formed both Buchanon and Phase One took some time to work out the kinks both musically and vocally. It was at the insistence and encouragement of Buchanon that convinced Phase to change his vocal style from the amped and high energy approach he had adopted when he started rapping in the early 90’s to utilizing his natural speaking voice when he took to the microphone. Anyone who has listened to Phase One from his early beginnings up to now can see the difference and how it has paid off over the course of time.
After going through what both Phase and Buchanon described “dark spot” the two decided to officially embark on a project. “I was like you Asa we should do a project and we should call it Bugnanas! And he was like what?! He was like ight fine! That’s it! He immediately went with it,” said Phase One with great vigor in referencing a very animated phone call he had with Buchanon in front of a landmark New York transportation hub. This phone call between the two ultimately bore the trademark phase they coined “Going Grand Central On ‘Em”. From then on that’s when the fun began for the duo and it can be seen to this very day with the release of each single.
In describing the concept behind the name Bugnanas Phase One explains it as, “Bugged out but at the same time bananas meaning its ill. And it also gives us room to venture in whatever lane we want to go in. It doesn’t leave for any expectation or box as to where we want to be in. It allows us to do whatever and it’s still tasteful. And it’s still us.” This kind of mind set has allowed Bugnanas to approach music from different angles and be one of the more experimental groups in hip hop. This is evident in their 2009 release “Phase One & Asa Buchanon Present: Bugnanas” and has continued with their current single “UH HUH!”. Their hodgepodge of musical influences (A Tribe Called Quest, The Police, Big Daddy Kane and The Eagles just for starters) and mature approach to constructing the overall sound of the group has opened many doors for them in more ways than one.
It has pretty much put them in what many may see as an emerging hip hop category which Buchanon takes full credit in creating. He describes Bugnanas music as “adult contemporary hip hop”. “It can be considered as sophisticated. Yeah we can roll with the best of them. As Phase can freestyle with the best of them. The dirty, the grimy, the dudes who are just straight up brain surgeons on that intellectual scientifical he can do that. As far as the tracks I can roll with the best of them. We can ride in the same truck. It doesn’t limit us from going here, there and there. We see who are music gravitates to. It’s the guys in a certain age group that are professionals. They do have the home, the kids and the dog. But yet they can go home when they’re on their way home and knock it something crazy loosening up their shirt and tie knockin’ Bugnanas. On the train knockin’ it and not feeling like they are dumbing themselves down,” Buchanon explained. This demonstrates a savvy marketing move by Buchanon in approaching an audience mostly comprised of today’s thirty something crowd that may feel left out by current music trends and are looking for modern music that encompasses the tastes of its youth. He fully understands that a target core audience exists for Bugnanas and is not only unafraid to cater to it but also expand upon it.
Another avenue that was opened up to Bugnanas since the group formed is the continued collaborative effort with super producer and engineer Ariel Borujow. The collaboration started in Borujow’s C 4 Studios in Astoria, New York and would eventually move on to Stadium Red in Harlem. “I had started working with Ariel when he had his home studio in Queens. He prided on his mixes and he’s a very good engineer. He did a mix for T.I.’s King album that Just Blaze did the intro and he did that in his crib. And people we’re like damn son I could’ve sworn you did that on a big SL Board, which shows how good he is. And if he had that mixing board at the time how much better it would have been,” shares Phase One of his beginnings in working with Borujow.
Buchanon would eventually jump in to working with Borujow after he relocated to another studio in Queens thus cementing the musical partnership between the three men. “The experience with him is very ill. He’s very talented and is willing to tryout things to make sure that he knows what we like. To make sure that a better sound is manifested from the original idea”, says Phase One of Borujow’s production skills. Both Phase and Buchanon went on to add, “You don’t want an engineer that just sits there and presses play, which is technically what they’re supposed to do. But when you’re invested in a person that you’re vibin’ with, because you’re name is on it you want to make sure you get the most and the maximum out of that project.” This effort, attention to detail and all out experimental approach by Borujow can be seen on the first album which took a grand total of three months to make according to the group. According to Buchanon the chief reason the production moved as swiftly as it did was due to the fact he had his beats prepared prior to the start of recording.
As for a second album the duo has confirmed that one is on the way tentatively titled “League of The Ill”. “That one is going to be even more bonkers. Asa is actually creating a lot of these beats for this particular project. So now his heart and soul are really going into it. It’s going to be like a 2.0 or a 3.0 to what the first record was,” states Phase One. Both men have pledged that their signature approach to making music, experimenting with different sounds and having all out fun will be applied to this album.
With regard to other future endeavors Bugnanas does have one more right around the corner. The group was selected to be the first act to perform at the new Apollo Theater Café and will be playing there on February 11th. Tickets have already gone on sale this past Wednesday. If you’re looking for an upscale and sophisticated hip hop performance then look no further and reserve your seats. Anyone who has seen Bugnanas perform can attest to having a great time when they hit the stage and captivate a crowd.
Bugnanas will be perforning live at the Apollo Music Cafe which is adjacent to the legendary Apollow Theater on February 11th. For ticket information or to join their A-List you can log on to their website at www.apollotheater.org.
You can follow Asa Buchanon on Facebook and Twitter . You can also follow Phase One as well on Facebook and Twitter. For all things Bugnanas you can find it on their Facebook fan page and Twitter.
If you have any questions, comments, or story suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at DanielRivera2424@gmail.com. Also, follow me on Twitter @DanielRivera24 and I will do the very same.