It took Harlem rapper Neek Bucks three years to realize he'd been shot in the head.

Back in 2011, at the annual Brooklyn-Queens Day celebration in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, a clash between two groups led to gunfire, which sadly took the life of a 16-year-old girl and wounded others. Neek—born Unique Herbert—was in attendance, and while he fortunately fled the confrontation believing that he'd merely been grazed by a bullet, the aftereffects proved otherwise.

“With that situation, it was kinda like the wrong place at the wrong time," Neek tells XXL of the incident that inspired him to get serious about pursuing music for a living. "We got into a situation that didn’t really involve us. Shots got fired, a girl was killed and two other people got hit; and then I got hit in the head. I thought I was grazed so I didn’t even go to the hospital. I just went home and took care of it myself."

Three subsequent years of severe migraines finally prompted him in 2014 to go to the emergency room, where a doctor's diagnosis changed his life. Turns out, metal scraps from the bullet actually pieced him. The life-changing brush with mortality inspired him to take music more serious—he released his Here For a Reason EP that same year, with cover art that pictures Neek's actual X-rays that shows shrapnel in his head.

Neek Bucks has since built his buzz Uptown and beyond, working with the likes of Jim Jones and producer Dame Grease. His latest project, January's El Barrio—named for the Spanish Harlem neighborhood that the raised him—is a gritty, pragmatic look inside Neek's upbringing, with features from Dave East, Cory Gunz and Tim Vocals. "The sounds on this mixtape really represent where I'm from," Neek tells XXL of the project, which is mainly produced by Dizzy Banko. "I just want the world to see how diverse my music really is. New York has been putting out a lot of good music lately, and I want people to know that I'm bringing it with the best of them."

He's not getting comfortable. Earlier this month, Neek Bucks dropped the visual for his Vino World-assisted “Ain’t No Fun,” their take on Snoop Dogg’s “Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None)." He's back in the studio with Jones, and is prepping an album with Banko, set to drop toward the end of spring. "I'll be making a lot more visuals for myself and directing for some other artists, and of course I'll keep recording more music," he says. "I'm building up my merchandise line and also getting into the independent film world. Overall I'm spending my time trying to be the best artist and entrepreneur I can be."

Learn more about the Harlem spitter on the latest edition of XXL's The Break.

Age: 23

Hometown: Wagner Projects, Harlem

I grew up listening to: “50 Cent and Dipset. I’ve been bumping [Lil] Durk since 2012, and I’ve seen how much he’s progressed as an artist—I’m really a fan of his music. I really think he’d bring the best out of me if we ever was to work.”

My style's been compared to: “Meek Mill and Big L. Before Meek went to jail he had just followed me—he was probably doing his research.”

Most people don’t know: “How well-managed and loyal I am. My personality is what you don’t see on social media. People just know I rap, they don’t know me; they don’t how good of a person I am.

My standout records or moment to date have been: “I song that I have called ‘Everybody,’ which was one of my biggest songs."

My goal in hip-hop is: “I want to bring bars back; bring real New York [music] back, but in a young way. I wanna bring the culture back.”

I'm going to be the next: “Jay-Z.”

Follow Neek Bucks on SoundCloud and Instagram.

Standouts: El Barrio

"When I Lost It" Freestyle


"Summertime in Harlem"

"Where I'm From"

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