In 2004, a group of teenagers from just outside of Atlanta released what would become one of rap's most adored anthems. From the moment it dropped, Crime Mob's "Knuck If You Buck" offered three and-a-half minutes of liberatinghead-banging. The beginning star member Diamond's verse ("I come in the club, shaking my dreads") prompted you to swing your head from side to side, even if there wasn't anything on it to shake. The song ultimately peaked at number 28 on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay list but its value has long transcended commercial performance.
What "Knuck If You Buck" has proven over the years is that there is a crucial need for black and urban youth to exercise their angst and aggression through music. Waka Flocka Flame's rise in the late 2000's and Chicago's drill movement at the early part of this decade gave credence to that notion, but few have stood the test of time like Crime Mob's debut single. But what's most curious about the song's staying power is that, until now, no one has dug into the backstory of how it was made and what happened to the kids who made it.
Earlier this week Gimlet Media's podcast The Nod did God's work when they released an oral history of the song by talking to group members, former managers, and Atlanta-area journalists to get to the bottom of what made the song so magical. In the episode, we found out how the beat was first constructed by producer Lil' Jay, how a group of teens suffered financially from their manager's business dealings, and why the song continues to permeate through hip-hop culture. To get some more insight and details that didn't even make the episode, we caught up with Wallace Mack, a producer for The Nod and the guy who reported the story out over the span of three months. The Nod also shared some of the unused passages from their interviews with the Crime Mob and their associates, some of which you can also find below.
NOISEY: What led you to this story? I feel like anyone working in journalism is always trying to find that story that’s kind of a no brainer but no one has done it. Tracking the history of “Knuck If You Buck” is a classic case of that.
Wallace Mack: I had actually been thinking about this story for maybe a year and a half. When I started at The Nod as an intern it was actually a part of my application—we were supposed to pitch three stories. One thing I’ve always been interested in was oral histories, but the written versions of them. But I was very curious what that would sound like translated into podcast form. I consider myself very nostalgic. So if there’s anything from the past or anything that reminds me of childhood, I’m automatically gravitated towards those things. For me, “Knuck If You Buck” is one of those songs that perfectly captures a moment in time in my life. You know how certain smells bring stuff back? This song activates a whole host of sensory memory for me in terms of smell, feeling. I can hear the song and remember exactly where I was, enjoying it with my friends at various points of my life.
One thing you said during the episode that stuck out to me is that the song helped you get out some teenage angst. And that was key because music like Crime Mob, Three 6, and Lil Jon were artists served the same purpose for young black kids or kids that grew up in the hood as punk did for majority white and suburban kids.
Just to add to that point, we’re culturally at this moment where certain forces and gatekeepers get to dictate what’s culturally important or highbrow. With Crime Mob, we’ve talked about this group in a certain way that they’ve been connected to violence and lowbrow art but I think a song that has this kind of impact definitely deserves to be elevated in a way that a lot of black art is being elevated right now.
"I'm on the phone with this chick, and she like, 'Lil Jay, your song on the radio.' I said, 'Bullshit. My song ain't on no damn radio. Quit playin'.' 'Nah, for real, your song on the radio.' She put the phone by the speaker. I hung up the phone, ran upstairs. Put it on V-103. I said, 'Mama, we on the radio! Oh shit.'" -Lil' Jay
Are there any particular reasons for why you think the song isn’t highly regarded? Because we’re coming up on 15 years since it came out and it’s still going strong.
I think one thing about it is the stigma around the song from back then. I don’t know if you remember this but there was a period of time in which this song was being very directly connected with violence that was happening in school and teen clubs. One of the things that Diamond talked to me about that didn’t make it into the story was how they would show up at shows and there would be people there protesting with signs.
Yeah man, she told me a really crazy story about how they pulled up to a show, and there’s a helicopter circling the air. There’s police outside in riot gear. Then, you have on one side, these adults and parents holding signs saying things like “Change your lyrics. Your songs are hurting our kids.” Then, you have kids on the other side of that barrier screaming “Diamond! Princess! We love you,” banging their fists to “Knuck If You Buck.” Their manager was getting emails from certain cities saying they weren’t welcome to perform there. So I think that stigma kind of persists and even though people don’t address it anymore, it does have a lot to do with why we haven’t been able to have a real conversation about this song.
Were there any particular challenges in putting this whole thing together? Like, were there moments when you felt like it wasn’t gonna come together the way you hoped?
You gotta think about it: this is a group of people who have all gone on to do other things in their own lives. Generally trying to make contact with them and trying to lock in interviews and locations—it was most difficult with Diamond because she’s had the most exposure since that time. You know, with doing the Love And Hip Hop thing and all that. It took me at least three months to get in touch with Diamond. And since a lot of them have gone on to do things outside of the mainstream, a lot of the correspondence was a lot of commenting on Instagram pictures, sliding in people’s DMs, using booking emails. But those booking emails aren’t being managed by professionals. It’s like people’s homeboys. I was working with a guy who claimed to be Diamond’s publicist for at least three months before he messaged me back and said he actually didn’t have access to her anymore.
"More bookings, certain magazines would highlight me and put me in their magazine and say me from Crime Mob but would not highlight them so it started to affect us. We would take pictures, go on red carpets, or interview people would wanna ask me more questions or fans would wanna speak to me." -Diamond
You also mentioned a conversation with one of Crime Mob’s former managers in which he bragged about taking most of their money?
When I made contact with him, he wanted to talk right away and he was adamant that we speak at a studio in Atlanta called Patchwerk. That’s where they recorded the CDQ version of “Knuck If You Buck.” That interview was wild from beginning to end. As soon as the interview was over—about an hour after—I got the studio tape. So I send it off for transcription and I remember certain things from our talk. But I can’t find any of this crazy stuff he said in the interview. I reached out to the studio to say the interview is missing about five minutes of tape. From there began a series of back and forth that started like “Sure we’ll send it over.” Then it became “Actually nothing is missing.” Then the owner of the studio called me and told me that he reached out to the engineer to see what was going on. Apparently, the machine stopped recording in the middle of our interview and he had to pick it back up. It was really fishy at that particular part of the interview when he started gloating in the ways in which this group has been screwed by the contract he made, that the tape goes missing. They weren't aware that we recorded the interviews on our end. So they thought if they cut that part, it could never see the light of day but we had to tell them that we had it and were going to use it.
Last year, Crime Mob announced that they’d be releasing their third studio album by the end of 2017 but it never happened. Did you get a sense of anything like that ever happening?
Based on my conversations with J and Princess, they say Crime Mob already has one studio album recorded that hasn’t been released and they’re working on another one. All new material.
With Diamond in it?
I doubt if Diamond’s in it. But J did get very excited to tell me about how a lot of their new stuff will include a gospel influence. Princess also hinted at praising God and how far he’s brought them. Now, we both know that Crime Mob tends to—every year—say that something is going to drop and we don’t usually see it. But, what I hope from this—at no point during this process did they all sit together in a studio to talk about this. All their perspectives are individual. I hope that in hearing this project and hearing how serious we at The Nod took it, that it will inspire them to want to get back together and give the streets what they looking for. I think there is an audience that wants to know if Crime Mob still has it.