Saturday, January 27, 2007

Busdriver - Whiteboy Hipster Rap

For a couple of months, I have been reading post after post about Busdriver on great indie music blogs (Marathonpacks, fluxblog, and so much silence). I have listened to five tracks from his new album Roadkill Overcoat and read many reviews.

After reading this review in Radar this morning, I decided to give the songs another shot to see whether I was missing something:

He doesn't preach, like fellow do-good underground MC's, he seems to cut a little deeper with anger and irony, and to actually paint a picture of urban dissatisfaction. With "I got people to disappoint, I got mistakes to make, how can you believe that I'm not a waste of space?" Busdriver shows he is existential and prolific in his use of vocabulary words without losing the humor, the self-deprecation, and the absurdity (even rhyming about "taxidermy for the newly chic"). He grabs samples and sound and call-backs, weaving them together in his own audio roadkillovercoat.
This passage is actually insulting on many, many levels and betrays a shocking lack of knowledge about underground hip hop. Hell, even the subtext is insulting.

Setting that aside, I relistened to Busdriver and now I totally get it. He's the ultimate whiteboy hipster rapper. He's like one of them . . . he's clever and ironic!

The problem is that it is really awful hip hop. His flow is awful, his tracks are worse, and the lyrics are just there for the sake of being clever, there is very little rhyme or reason. Also, the mixes are so muddy as to make them nearly unlistenable.

Frankly, it's bad hip hop.

I know the blogosphere is all about finding the next big thing and being first, but here are some examples of excellent "underground" hip hop (though I am defining underground as non-mainstream, rather than how we define it here):

Deltron 3030 - a post-apocalyptic concept album by Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Dan the Automator and Kid Koala. The tracks are excellent, Del's flow is always on point, and the lyrics are both clever and reinforce the concept.

Devin the Dude. I am always amazed that Devin is not more famous. His lyrics are clever and paint a portrait of his world so clearly, I can see, hear, and smell him rolling around Houston. Seriously, the aroma of wafting weed permeates all of his lyrics. It's not club music, it's rolling music.

Z-Ro. Okay, another Houston rapper, but Z-Ro has been getting more love lately because of the deal Rap-A-Lot has with Warner Bros. His undergrounds are amazing, and I have the ones he's done with Street Figgaz. Kelefa Sennah wrote in December that:
Z-Ro begins his new album by rapping about the streets. But ''City Streets,'' is an indictment, not a tribute. ''Damn these city streets,'' he declares, and instead of boasting that he has what it takes to survive them, he worries that he doesn't: ''I used to keep a pistol by my side/But it don't matter if I'm strapped, I'm still gonna die.''
He has a new album coming out this year and I hope that this year starts to turn things around for him. Once he's back out of prison, again.

The last artist I would recommend is probably not underground, even using the hipster argot. Still, Dead Prez is far from mainstream. Any music this angry and militant can never be mainstream. The group has gone to great lengths to maintain their separation from the cd-buying, iTunes downloading, LimeWire stealing white audiences that embrace most of hip hop. My favorite song is still "Hip Hop" and it's one of the only two ringtones I have ever had on my phone. (The other: Miles Davis, So What.)


Christopher said...

I'd suggest checking out "Temporary Forever", "Cosmic Cleavage" and "The Weather" before you write the guy off, unfairly.

And you're way offbase about his flow.

J said...

Thanks for the recommendation.

The great thing about hip-hop is that it's a big enough universe that we can completely disagree and still find stuff we each love.