Busdriver: Fear of a Black Tangent

Most of the bus drivers I've encountered were near silent, so it's initially disconcerting to confront the non-stop babble Busdriver (Regan Farquhar) maintains throughout Fear of a Black Tangent. Having established a strong presence in underground hip-hop with his freestyle skills and dexterous flow, the new album finds the LA MC railing against the music industry and itemizing the innumerable trials he's endured. If the theme sounds dispiriting, the music itself is anything but with song stylings ranging from psychedelic funk (“Reheated Pop!”) to Ammoncontact-styled raveups (“Wormholes”). Busdriver receives invaluable support from producers Daedelus, Danger Mouse, Thavius Beck, Omid, and Paris Zax, while guests emcees Abstract Rude, Ellay Khule, Mikah-9, and 2Mex offer intermittent contrast to Farquhar's theatrical style.

As Busdriver's torrential delivery sometimes renders words unintelligible, it's heartening to discover lyrics are included, enabling one to better appreciate Farquhar's witty wordsmithing. Despite the album's serious, often scathing message, Busdriver presides as more goofball court jester than embittered misanthrope. His self-mocking persona can verge on self-pity (he decries the likelihood that he'll “sell more records in France” and proclaims “I wield words and I pilfer the country with the underground who's who / But I feel like I've been sodomized with a billiard's pool cue”) and his words drip with sarcasm and disgust (“It's the resurgence of the happy black rappers”). “So at industry parties I piss in the punch and won't take a business card” he says in the scabrous “Note Boom” while also pondering “what ever happened to the undying purist fueled by the wishful rant.” Levity and seriousness regularly collide, though, as shown by this excerpt from “Lefty's Lament”: “Why do you hate me? / Is it my numerous releases on Ninja Tune? / Or my on-going fling with Reese Witherspoon? / Or is it because I'm the indecent Mr. Coon?”

As might be expected, the Daedelus productions are the most baroque. The opener “Yawning Zeitgeist Intro (freestyle)” can be enjoyed just as much for Busdriver's freestyle rap or Daedelus's sweet flute- and organ-flavoured production. “Befriend the Friendless Friendster” pairs Farquhar with a sing-song chant (“Let's make friends”) and an old-style backing of '50s blaring horns and soupy strings, while “Lefty's Lament” marries Busdriver's flow to the sparkle of a delicate lullaby.

While Daedelus's settings might be the most eccentric, they're matched if not bettered by those of Thavius Beck and especially Paris Zax. The latter fashions a countrified hip-hop backing for Busdriver's rapid-fire delivery in “Unemployed Black Astronaut” and gives the midtempo “Sphinx's Coonery” a bluesy edge with Isaac Sprintis's slide guitar. Opening with a Taxi Driver excerpt, “Map Your Psyche” segues into a lurching groove with Busdriver augmented by more relaxed delivery from Abstract Rude and Ellay Khule. Best of all is “Avantcore,” rollicking hip-hop funk sweetened with romping piano hooks and sing-song chants. And, with its hypnotically ululating chipmunk vocal and dizzying Busdriver torrent, Beck's “Happiness('s Unit of Measurement)” production impresses too. In addition to the thirteen originals, three remixes are included, all fine enough though none strong enough to supplant the originals. D-Styles replaces the pianos and rollicking beats from “Avantcore” with an ominous rattlesnake groove, Prefuse 73 gives “Happiness('s Unit of Measurement)” a snapping lurch, and Nobody adds his instrument-of-choice harpsichord to “Unemployed Black Astronaut.”

May 2005