By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
Without his famously long dreads, newly short-haired Busdriver looks less like an MTA employee and more like a high school teacher, especially with his just-as-famous black glasses. But he’s got the personality of the coolest kid in the class—brain-burstingly smart, deadly deadpan humor, impeccable comedic timing—and that’s set him up a hip-hop career a bit unlike any other.
He started out at the famous Goodlife open mic as a young teenager, catching the last moments of one of the most famous scenes in hip-hop history, and transitioned easily into the landmark Project Blowed crew. By now, he’s gotten classy international acclaim and has worked with many of Los Angeles’ hip-hop elite, including Aceyalone, Abstract Rude, Mikah 9, 2Mex, Xololanxinxo, Fat Jack, Daddy Kev, Paris Zax and Omid (and has even scored a track on one of Tony Hawk’s skateboarding games).
His trademarks are a certain jazzy sense of pace and dynamic, as seen in the European-only release with Daddy Kev called Cosmic Cleavage, and blisteringly hilarious (and self-deprecating) lyrical content, dissecting underground hip-hop in general and his own career (and life) in particular with rigorous precision. It’s a testament to his character that he thought his last single, “Unemployed Black Astronaut” (with production by the formidable Paris Zax), sounded very MTV2 and everybody else thought it was a little closer to Captain Beefheart. (The truth: late-night MTV2, and dedicated fans will definitely want to check out Nobody’s fifth-dimensional “Astronaut” remix.)
But his previous album, Fear of a Black Tangent (“It’s a fear of a black tangent, idiot,” he sighs on the intro, like a professor grading papers, “a Public Ene-mee spoof.”), boasts a low end that Don Van Vliet never touched and a dizzying display of hyper-literate word cramming. Over a tottering stack of songs and several remixes, Busdriver spins spirographs around the weird world of underground rap: on the cheerful “Avantcore” (observe that chorus: Bus is a master of careful inflection, dispensing sarcasm in eyedropper-exact amount), he remembers doing tracks with so-and-so, who just got signed, though the checks will never clear; on the bracing “Note Boom,” his “rap quiz-bowl champ” from LA (“which means I’m a style snob”) faces a tough crowd of “hipsters who dress like Russian spies who are painfully cool”: “Hold on, I’m still important! Wanna hear some exclusive tracks?”
He’s not an easy listen, but he is an exhilarating one, which might be why—like a lot of other independent hip-hop artists—he’s found more of an audience in Europe. Right now, this LA native is touring France—it’s the only place he can make money, he smiles. “Do you cheer and clap when weird rap bands commence?” he asks during the first 30 seconds of Tangent; the correct answer is pretty obvious.
BUSDRIVER PERFORMS with swiss precise AT QUE SERA, 1923 E. SEVENTH ST., LONG BEACH, (562) 599-6170. WED., 9 P.M. CALL FOR COVER. 21+.