Listening to Busdriver for the first time can be a rather jarring experience. His lexicon is as wide as his speed is blistering, and the sonic palate that his music draws from is incredibly diverse. Anyone expecting hip-hop by the numbers best check their expectations at the door. My first exposure to the underrated MC came in the track “Pretentious Friends” off of Modeselektor’s latest release Monkeytown. The track was definitely weird, but it was catchy, and the lyrics were appropriately absurd: most lyricists wouldn’t think to rhyme “Saudi chemist” with “Orange County dentist”, but Busdriver did. His style isn’t a gimmick, though it may sound like it’s just based on his lyrical oddities. His brand of hip-hop does take from places one can recognize, but on the whole his sonic is a smorgasbord that stands out on its own right. The best comparison I can muster for Busdriver (the nom de plume of Regan Farquhar) is not anyone within hip-hop itself, but one of rock music’s greatest innovators. Simply put, Busdriver is the Frank Zappa of hip-hop; while Kanye West may get all of the accolades (and to his credit he is creative; not many would think to sample “21st Century Schizoid Man”), he’s got nothing on Busdriver’s gonzo imagination. The abstract art on the album’s sleeve art is only the beginning of the hectic music within.
Beaus$Eros marks Busdriver’s 9th album proper. While the album features many of his requisite talents, the album isn’t just lightning-fast raps and eccentric blends of various genres, though there is a lot of the latter. In comparison to his past outings, Busdriver sounds as if he’s taking a breather. The fastest he gets is on the two-minute run through racial politics “NoBlacksNoJewsNoAsians”, and with the record running almost an hour, it’s a very brief moment. The album’s most striking trait is not its fast raps but instead its variegated musical experiments, which are many. The album is the sonic equivalent of a Pollock canvas; there’s a lot to be heard, and it all happens in a rather crazed fashion. The instruments and beats are often all over the place, even within a single song (album opener “Utilitarian Uses of Love”). For the most part the album works, but it is by no means an accessible listen. While part of the beauty of Busdriver’s work is the challenge it presents, much of Beaus$Eros isn’t really challenging but instead confused.
After the album’s scattershot first track, the album kicks off powerfully with its two best tracks. “Bon Bon Fire”, a mash-up of hip-hop and Euro pop, features the rapper’s creative way with words (if I’m correct, he might be the first to use “clam chowder” to mean semen) as well as a catchy chorus. Better yet is “Kiss Me Back to Life,” which in a more musically adept pop culture would be a bona fide crossover hit. Here Busdriver trades in his raps for a killer vocal performance in the album’s best chorus. The song is the album’s most conventional moment, but it’s also its best.
The album’s wild-eyed ambition only goes further off the reservation from those two tracks, and the results don’t quite live up to the bar set by the early half of the record. The biggest issue with the album’s many experiments is the album’s length; while 54 minutes isn’t terribly long by most standards, the weight of the album’s many ideas wears heavy about halfway into the record. By track nine, the songs start to get a little less inspired. While his vocals on “Ass to Mouth” are great, the annoying chorus isn’t. The album’s strangest moment comes on the collaboration “Electric Blue,” which mixes a psychedelic atmosphere with random bits of French. The song would be utterly incomphrensible were it not for the randomly placed yet hilarious verse involving “plastic penile excitement.” Busdriver’s creativity sets him apart from most other rappers, but like most rap and hip-hop sex is a pretty consistent subject of his.
Fans of Busdriver will likely praise Beaus$Eros as further proof of his artistic uniqueness, and in one sense they’d be right. There isn’t much else on the hip-hop scene like this, even as new and emerging artists in the hip-hop scene continue to put out incredibly innovative stuff. Busdriver’s Zappa-like ingenuity is enticing, though prolonged exposure to it might give one the impression she has gone crazy. Like Zappa, Busdriver’s creativity means that for every brilliant track he records there will be several tracks that are just plain weird, and Beaus$Eros is no exception.