Just when you thought hip-hop couldn't get weirder...
“Man, genre labels are some bullshit.”
This was my main thought as I finished Perfect Hair. The experimental wing of hip-hop keeps outdoing itself in weirdness this year. Young Fathers set the oddness-bar high, but then along came Clipping., Ratking and Death Grips. I thought we had finally reached the peak with Shabazz Palaces’ excellent trip Lese Majesty, but no, Busdriver found another summit.
It’s hard to even call this hip-hop, and that’s not a detraction. It feels like Busdriver has made his own version of a TV on the Radio album; a delirious record that bounces between dizzying amounts of sounds. A quick warning, if you’re a hip-hop purist, you’ll probably hate Perfect Hair. Busdriver don’t care though. “Who is hip-hop dating… what does hip-hop check in the gender box?” he asks with a smirk. He ain’t here to save hip-hop, he wants to mutate it. Instead of worrying “what hip-hop had for breakfast", Driver has concentrated on making some of the most gorgeous music of his career. The shimmering synths of “Upsweep” nearly sound like a Twin Shadow song, if it wasn’t for Busdrivers’ tongue twister exercises. The stuttering “Eat Rich” is an anti-1% rant hidden in catchy gloss, and “Motion Lines” has Busdriver going into near soul territory with weeping piano and with Driver dropping that he’s “impossible to love".
“Motion Lines” also points to the undercurrent of sorrow that runs throughout Perfect Hair. Divorce, broken hearts and long tear stained nights are hidden in between the insane rhyme schemes. The false bravado of “King Cookie Face (for Her)” dissolves into “she thought I was better when I was less me". Epic finale “Colonize the Moon” (nearly 10 minutes long!) is a mad power fantasy warped out of control, both in lyrical and sonic structure. It’s Busdriver’s most ambitious piece yet, a two part prog-rap slice of insanity that reads like the rantings of a truly cracked individual that turns partially auto-biographical in the second half… maybe. It’s his job to confuse. He claims he’s “a decent lair and that’s a lie in itself, but you knew that!”
Perfect Hair does briefly sway towards more traditional hip-hop, but it’s not '90s boom-bap. “When the Tooth-lined Horizon Blinks” rocks a beat that seems like a lost take from Death Grip’s No Love Deep Web. It speeds ahead, only to suddenly lurch as Open Mike Eagle spits the album’s best guest verse and Driver reveals how he creates the manic state of his album, by "treating home studios like panic rooms". The lumbering, six-minute monster that is “Ego Death” features Aesop Rock and Danny Brown as Busdriver delivers his mission statement: “Downtime is never met with an overjoyed grin / ’Cause sleep and death have always been conjoined twins,” revealing his manic work ethic. The hardest, and best, track here is “Can’t You Tell I’m a Sociopath”, which is one part Wu-Tang and one part Alice in Wonderland. Busdriver and VerBS discuss the absurdity of music scenes and Driver taunts the listener with half formed images that evoke shudders. The chorus is a massive beast with Busdriver demanding you to “wake up!”
Perfect Hair is no doubt a great album, but its tendency to fidget between ideas leaves it the idea of cohesion in a shallow grave. It’s also odd to hear Driver shake his head at the youngsters when he spits: “You can’t turn up in a text message / Without at least a million views / Watch the millennials brood.” Considering how ahead of the curve Busdriver is, it’s jarring for him to act like a nagging elder. Still, it’ll be fascinating to look back at Perfect Hair in a few years. Busdriver seemed to be stuck in the future back in 2005 and he’s still evolving at that pace. Who knows what he’ll come up with next. Knowing Driver, it’ll be as weird as it is great.