Busdriver: Jhelli Beam

Photo by Brian Tamborello

The latest from Regan Farquhar would be a train wreck in the hands of a lesser man. Instead, fans are treated to another dose of verbal head-trip conscious rap with a side of phat.


Jhelli Beam

Contributors: Nobody, Nosaj Thing, Omid, Daedelus, Mykah-9, AntiMC, Free the Robots, Deerhoof, Islands
Label: Anti-
US Release Date: 2009-06-09
UK Release Date: 2009-06-08
"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.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.