Busdriver: Fear of a Black Tangent

Pierre Hamilton

You're standing at a bus stop. The bus is late, and when it pulls up, the driver looks a little freaked-out and is blasting some bastardized, neo-prog rap. Question: Are you on or off?"


Fear of a Black Tangent

Label: Mush
US Release Date: 2005-02-15
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate

It takes a certain kind of breed to ride the bus, especially when the driver's only map is his maniacal, stream-of-consciousness flow and a penchant for stringing together lyrical couplets from the zeitgeist. But, as Tom Wolfe said to describe the LSD-induced antics of the Merry Pranksters, a group who traveled America freaking out the establishment in his psychedelic tome The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, "You're either on the bus or you're off the bus". And if you're on the bus, you have to hang on for dear life. Busdriver forces you to do exactly that, going off on absurd tangents, whipping around this obtuse album blindfolded, wildly veering from rap's standard course.

When he says his album will sell more copies in France, he acknowledges his limited fan base. His "prog rap" is like how jazz sounded to the ears of most Americans -- too strange. U.K. grime has yet to find its footing in North America, so it's hard to believe an emcee claiming to be "the first black astronaut to walk the bare moon" will be anything but the hero of the pseudo-intellectual hipster crowd.

On "Reheated Pop!" he attacks the posthumous success of rapper's corpses. The Omid-produced track barrels through space and time, deftly defying gravity with a shuffling drumbeat as Busdriver asks how an emcee's death has become a label's greatest cash cow. His gut-busting verses are rife with references to Hello Kitty, winged gnomes, and Dick Clark's head and often leave you doubled over in laughter or, alternatively, dumbfounded.

He gleans some knowledge from physicist Stephen Hawking for "Wormholes" and takes a stab at his hipster audience on the fast-paced rhythm of "Befriend the Friendless Friendster". And he does it all with moxie, spinning complex but perhaps meaningless narratives. "Happiness ('s Unit of measurement)" finds him explaining that Fear of a Black Tangent doesn't mean white kids can't listen to it. It's just a spoof on the Public Enemy album Fear of a Black Planet.

Enlisting his own crew of Merry Pranksters, Busdriver requisitions producers with names every bit as mysterious and eclectic as their unorthodox styles. They include Daedelus, Thavius Beck, Omid, Paris Zax, and some cat named Danger Mouse. Their contributions combine to form something mainstream audiences rarely embrace, an album that ventures way out past the fringe with no intent to return. It's a rap space odyssey; the sound charts new and unexplored territories, latching onto Busdriver's unorthodox delivery and pace, producing tracks that range from the overpoweringly hallucinogenic "Low Flying Books" to the narcoleptic nursery rhyme "Lefty's Lament".

Busdriver is either an emcee from the future or the future of the emcee. Not the first prog rapper to appear, he dons the aesthetic of an MF Doom or Kool Keith, two guys who broke barriers, winning over fringe audiences in droves. Fear of a Black Tangent is a genuine freak-out. Elements of jazz, downtempo, old school/futuristic hip-hop, and psychedelia weave in and out of the album. At times, it's sheer hilarity. At others, excruciatingly tedious. What you always get, however, is the unexpected, and that's the music I like to hum in my eardrums. He makes lyrical connections where none seem to exist. He stops abruptly, then loops back with an inspired dose self-indulgence, sarcasm, and acid logic, making Fear of a Black Tangent a trip that you'll wanna buy a ticket to ride.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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

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