“Scotty, beam me up.”
— William Shatner, Star Trek IV
Before I get started, I have to confess that Regan Farquhar (a.k.a. Busdriver) is one of my favorite emcees kickin’ it today. He could scat fart sounds for an hour and I would still buy it. As such, this review is bound to be a little biased. So, with objectivity as my aim, I will do my best to examine the weaknesses of Regan’s seventh odd full-length throughout this review.
First, the beats; there is little fault to be found in the raw instrumentals. Regan enlisted the finest producers in Los Angeles for his third official album, Jhelli Beam, including the likes of Elvin “Nobody” Estella, Daedelus, Free the Robots, and future legend Nosaj Thing. As such, the instrumentals are the absolute cream of underground hip-hop today.
That said, while he is usually solid gold every time out, the Nobody beats here are something of a letdown for me. They land more on the club bump side of things as opposed to his usual ethereal downtempo. However, underrated Mush beatsmith Omid makes up for any disappointment with some of his best work to date. The bloopy, broken toy loop for “Unsafe Sextet/Gilded Hearts of Booklovers” is easily the album’s dopest beat, while his “Me-Time (with the Pulmonary Palimpsests)” is clearly the album’s most unique. The latter reinterprets the third movement of Mozart’s “Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major” in a natural fashion that works a lot better than it may appear on paper.
That just leaves Busdriver himself as the possible source of the album’s weakness. Knob sucking fan dribble or not, Regan is one of the most interesting rappers in the game, with his unique flows, distinctive voice, and deft perspicacity. His vocabulary and nimble vocalizing are unparalleled, somewhere between MF Doom and Doseone. Slim Shady may be able to spew unintelligible bigotry at fantastic speeds, but Busdriver blows him away when you add up both the mental and physical aspects of his art.
Now, for a stab at objectivity: I have to admit that Regan consistently falls just shy of drawing the listener into a different world. While he can rant on any given topic until the cows come home, he lacks the intense storytelling quality that makes the likes of Buck 65 and Gift of Gab so compelling. Regan is a man of non sequitur, obscure cultural references, and cheeky turns of phrase. At that, he can easily out-Dada the annoyingly popular Lil’ Wayne any day of the week, but it would be nice to see him kinda fall out of character once in a while and let us in.
As a result, the sum of Jhelli Beam comes off like a series of loosely grouped observations. For example, “Quebec & Back” is about a doomed trip to, um, Quebec and back, that Busdriver and his partner in crime Matt “Antimc” Alsberg embarked upon in 2007 in support of Roadkillovercoat and Alsberg’s debut record. It was a mixed bag of a tour. At best, they slept in sketchy beds. At worst, they slept in their car down by the river in Detroit after a junkie in Montreal smashed the back window out. As interesting as the actual story is, little of it comes across in the track, though it does include witty references to Charlton Heston, Don Johnson, and the Gap.
Luckily, Busdriver is a true talent. In the hands of a lesser man, Jhelli Beam would be a train wreck. Instead, fans are treated to another dose of verbal head-trip with a side of phat so wacked out and freewheeling that an energetic hummingbird on crack would have trouble keeping up. Still, I would not count on this album sparking many new conversions. It is too intelligent and challenging to the status quo for the mainstream media to truly embrace, and Anti- seems to be lacking a little on the side of their hip-hop promotion department. Busdriver will likely remain an obscure genius until he lets his guard down a bit and finds some more reasonable common ground.