When it comes to word speed and creativity, rapper Busdriver runs over Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg and the rest of mainstream hip-hop culture.
Born Regan Farquhar, he delivers his rhymes with dizzying, almost brain-frying quickness and clarity. He blurs ideas and quirky humor in a style of hip-hop that is challenging, if not purposely difficult. Musically, Busdriver can be equally surprising. His best-known song, “Imaginary Places” — used in the video game “Tony Hawk’s Underground” — is driven by Bach and Paganini flute melodies. Midway through the hyperactive tune, Busdriver slows down enough to declare, “Kids, if you want to (tick) off your parents, show interests in the arts!”
(Anti-; US: 9 Jun 2009; UK: 8 Jun 2009)
Phoning from his home in Los Angeles, Busdriver, 30, spoke — surprisingly slowly — about his new album, “Jhelli Beam” (Epitaph Records), and his current tour with fellow rapper Abstract Rude:
Q. The type of words used to describe you have always been “crazy auctioneer” or “Gatling gun vocals” or “tongue-twisting speed.” How did you come up with that approach to rap? How did you develop that style?
A. Well, I didn’t come up with it. I’m from an open-mike called Project Blowed, which was an extension of another open-mike, the Good Life Cafe. That kind of approach to rap was kind of patented there. Or it was a very unique spin that was done on there. And I’ve always kind of had that instilled in me. So, yeah, it’s part of my, my independent rap upbringing. But aside from that, I do have a musical sensibility that — I mean what sets me apart from everybody in Project Blowed and the Good Life is that my music sensibility is not always akin to everything that Aceyalone and Abstract Rude would do. But I just get it from my roots, my old rap crew, my open mike, stuff like that.
Q. When you talk about your music sensibility, are you talking about beats and production? I heard Paganini in “Imaginary Places.”
A. Well, I’ve always had a willingness to seek out electronic musicians to do production with me. ... Nothing that I’ve ever seen as being unusual, but things that people wouldn’t necessarily see as being traditionally rap or not necessarily even traditionally leftist rap, which is usually electronic musicians and indie-rock people and stuff like that, and using them in ways that aren’t necessarily recommended.
Q. If you are forced to label yourself, is indie-rap what you would call the genre? I don’t think “conscious hip-hop” fits you. Maybe unconscious hip-hop.
A. (Chuckles.) Maybe subconscious hip-hop, I don’t know. It’s all rap music. I don’t know what kind of subgenre to assign it.
Q. But when you say it’s all rap music — there’s such a wide variety of music out there.
A. Yeah, I mean that’s something that’s not really appreciated with rap music. I think there’s just a whole lot of pockets that get opened and overturned. I know that it was called underground hip-hop when it was in the ‘90s, the kind of stuff I would do. But I don’t think you would call it that anymore. And post-underground, I don’t know what it is. I have no idea. I guess indie hip-hop or whatever. I really don’t know. I’m not an expert.
Q. Was making “Jhelli Beam” more of a trying undertaking than your other albums?
A. It felt like it was more so. I just think I did more. I actually did more in the same amount of time. I recorded a lot more songs than I usually do. And I wasn’t really sure where I was going. But I ended up trying to make a throwback record, a record that sounded like something I did in the early oughts, like 2002 or 2003. I kind of wanted to make a record that harkened back to my second record, “Temporary Forever.” That was kind of the goal. And I think that kind of got done somewhat.
Q. What is Abstract Rude’s role on this tour?
He’s an old friend of mine. He’s one of the original founders of my little open-mike crew, Project Blowed. He recently signed with Rhymesayers. There’s a lot of approaches that he really, I think, brought to the forefront of indie-rap in the early ‘90s. He was signed to Beastie Boys label Grand Royal, and I’ve just always been taken by his work. I’ve had an intimate knowledge of it. So his role is to kind of bring the lighter side or the more accessible, lighter, fun, vaguely neo-soul-like side of the phenomenon that I kind of am an extension of — this whole L.A. ‘90s underground hip-hop thing gone wrong. So we’re like two facets of the same thing. We’re like two sides of a coin. So it’s more for people who aren’t aware of him or aren’t aware of the dynamics of the kind of approach that I use to make rap music.
He’s more accessible. He’s more of an elder statesman of things, and I’m way more irresponsible.