First there's the voice, which is seemingly full of helium and blowsy charm. Then add the lyrics, which are so loquacious that they spill over the crazy, fun-house beats. Case in point: "Kill Your Employer (Recreational Paranoia Is the Sport of Now)."
With elements such as those, it's clear that Busdriver doesn't make music for hip-hop dummies. The L.A. rapper doesn't feel committed to corny backpackers stuck in the late '80s or white-tee thugs who can only appreciate strippers and tearing the club up.
"I think this genre is so underdone in so many ways," Busdriver says of underground hip-hop, the subgenre under which he's usually categorized. "The medium needs to grow. It's not about idolizing what happened in 1991 and 1985. Start doing it now. That's the problem with a lot of hip-hop trends ... no balls. They want to do the same shit over and over."
Perhaps that's why Busdriver will spend most of the spring as an opening act for artists who aspire to make weirdly inventive and unclassifiable music. He's started the year with Deerhoof; the RJD2 tour brings him to Variety Playhouse on March 20; and the CocoRosie tour comes to Masquerade on May 10. "To be quite honest, being billed with Deerhoof makes more sense," he says. "I can be indulgent at times, and that doesn't always lend itself to the backpack-rap contingency."
Since the mid-'90s, Busdriver has established a modestly strange career. His early recordings, leading up to the wonderfully eccentric 2002 album Temporary Forever, were elaborate B-boy put-ons reminiscent of bebop-era in-jokes, and marked by cuts such as "Everybody's Stylin'" and "Imaginary Places." These humorous satires, however, often contain serious social analyses. Although his smooth, fleet delivery sometimes masks it, there is real edge to his recordings. On his controversial 2004 album, Fear of a Black Tangent, he explored the difficult subject of intelligent black artists who are often ignored or ridiculed – sometimes by blacks themselves – for being too smart.
On the just-released RoadKillOvercoat, Busdriver continues to play Elvis Costello, biting the college kids who feed him. Although his wordy and dense lyrics take getting used to, it's a hilarious album. The music, crafted by L.A. producers Nobody, Boom Bip and Daddy Kev, is warm and clubby, both complimenting and contrasting Busdriver's rosily thorny delivery. "I wanted to play with grander forms, like psychedelic pop and electro-techno gay music, and lure children into the bear trap," he says.
For example, "Sun Shower" addresses gentrification, noting how trust-fund-enabled rich kids move into working-class neighborhoods and drive up rents, oblivious to the resulting economic effects. The clubby dance beat, fashioned by Boom Bip, only underlines the critique. "You view the poverty line as a threshold/For truth in pricey slums," he raps. "Return to the bourgeoisie while I sift through debris."
"I thought the idea of poking fun at the hipster contingency that moves into the low-rent part of town – and their aspirations to become God knows what, to start a band – was funny ... and when it doesn't work out, they can always go back home," says Busdriver. "I think [the song is] funnier than it truly is."
RoadKillOvercoat has drawn mixed reviews from critics. Some can't get past the beats because, when combined with the lightning-quick raps, they can make the songs confusing and complicated. But Busdriver also admits that he sometimes exaggerates people's negative opinions of him. RoadKillOvercoat was released via Epitaph Records' Anti imprint, a sign of the respect many have for him as an artist.
"I don't feel afraid. I don't feel like hip-hop, or music in general, is something I'm estranged from and need to adhere to certain rules," he says. "I feel comfortable having my way with it."