Busdriver - Perfect Hair

Buried within flows and vocal timbres that are obviously experimental, Busdriver questions and pokes fun at everything from music politics to the very nature of how we understand life.

Additional Info

7.6

ALBUM: Perfect Hair

ARTIST: Busdriver

2014

Hip-Hop/Rap

Applying numbers to anything Busdriver does seems counterproductive. The very idea of grading music implies there is a defined "right" way to make it, a notion Busdriver scoffs at both lyrically and sonically throughout his latest record Perfect Hair. "We make mistakes real good," Busdriver announces at the tail-end of lead single "Ego Death", after shouting out the song's co-conspirators Aesop Rock, Danny Brown, and Jeremiah Jae by saying none of them have perfect hair. It's a sarcastic title that suggests the outward expectations surrounding the left-of-the-margins material, but Busdriver is past directly establishing his work as a challenge to tropes. He's always been unapologetically weird, and the specifics of that expression has fluctuated throughout his discography. Here, he's trying to get somewhere specific about perceived truths, disturbing realities, and individual expression, and is reaching out in multiple directions to try to get there. To give the album a number is to define whether I thought he achieved that end, but the end is not as important as the seeking itself, and Busdriver's explorative nature is the key to the record more-so than the how the final tracks gel.

You can come to expect an explosion of ideas on a Busdriver record, which often have individual songs with more radical concepts embedded than the average whole rap album. Perfect Hair actually seems a little toned down in comparison to some of his earlier works, but perhaps that's more of a function of the larger rap sphere shedding some of it's conservatism. There's manic flows, glitchy beats, and schizophrenic song structures everywhere, but the average rap listener's ear in the age of Young Thug and Migos is likely more accustomed to hearing the kind of shrill-voiced fast-rapping Busdriver trades in. In many ways, Busdriver uses this to his advantage, with melodic hooks and off-kilter one-liners that contain some intensely radical concepts just beneath the surface. Buried within flows and vocal timbres that are obviously experimental, Busdriver questions and pokes fun at everything from music politics to the very nature of how we understand life. Even after nearly 15 years of dropping albums, Busdriver has managed to remain strikingly original, even in comparison to his own work.

The glitchy beats find Busdriver in a space perfectly suited to his desire to jump around stylistically. At times his flows are reminiscent of jazz solos, other times he aims to hit ear-catching choral harmonies, but either way the lyrics themselves are the sort of oddity only he could truly achieve. Sometimes the concepts are easy to grasp on immediate listen (his joking questioning of what hip-hop had for breakfast this morning in "Bliss Point" is a great play on the inherent silliness of "state of hip-hop" talking points), other times he'll craft lyrics that will take several listens to even decipher, much less truly understand. There's a lot going on, and it begs multiple listens, each of which will be rewarded as new layers unveil themselves. It has less instances of indie rap's insufferably contrarian nature, but it will require more intensive work on the listeners part than they might be used to. It's esoteric but fun, complicated but palatable, and multi-faceted in ways few rappers can touch.

"This is depressing man; get over it."

1. Retirement Ode
Busdriver opens with a tongue-in-cheek cost analysis of the album you're about to hear, establishing the comedic angle he carries through much of the album. Creating a song structure by following three rhymes with "but you knew that, come on", Busdriver reigns in his typically spastic flow over a bouncy and catchy backing track. The dual use of the word sick, both in terms of quality rapping and internal insanity, is another great representation of the themes throughout: a letting go of reality told through some impressive flows.8.0
2. Bliss Point
This song hits the ear with a lot right off the bat, rapping about leaving behind your "glittery hinderance" of a body before cracking jokes about the state of hip-hop, then flying into a solidly catchy but jittery hook that shows off Busdriver's melodic grasp. The final verse is jazzy and rhythmically everywhere, with snares following syllables and cut away the easy listening aspect of the chorus. It's a summation of Busdriver's intriguing but confusing style, and somehow works as a tight three minute pop-rap song.7.5
3. Ego Death
The inclusion of Aesop Rock and Danny Brown is so perfectly calculated that it seems simultaneously obvious and shocking. The trio are wordy, marble-mouthed spastic rappers from different sides of the spectrum, and their collective energy is so beautifully manic at its core that you can imagine a whole record with these three voices. The beat is intense and dark, and allows each rapper to get as raw as necessary. Danny Brown carries a wide range of influences into the new generation of rap voices, and it's great to hear him channel his underground influences alongside two of independent rap's legends.9.0
4. Upsweep
Coming off the ugliness that is "Ego Death", Busdriver's melodic side on "Upsweep" brings a contrast that sums up how all-over-the-place the album can be. The falsetto hook matches the synth washes Mono/Poly lays down in the background, and the sudden influx of swung fast-raps contrasts the harmonic prettiness with some jarring roughness. It's worth digging into the lyrics on this one but Busdriver doesn't make it easy for you, rapping about the temporal lobe and swingsets built from dragon ribs in slightly grating tones.6.5
5. When the Tooth-lined Horizon Blinks
Open Mike Eagle's presence here highlights the interesting comparison between the two Hellfyre Club cronies. Mike is just as weird in comparison to the average rapper, but he's far more accessible than Busdriver, and you can parse his lines far more easily. Busdriver's chorus and verse flow is a little bit annoying frankly, an issue some may have with the album across the board, but it's certainly attention-grabbing.6.0
6. Motion Lines
Many points on Perfect Hair have an intentional jarring nature to them, so it can be just as jarring to hear some genuinely pretty melodies sprinkled in. The hook really makes this song, and the faint, glitchy beat serves both the jittery verses and smooth choruses. "This is depressing man; get over it," Busdriver ad-libs at one point, and perhaps it is, but the floating flows always keeps things relatively light, avoiding the downtrodden plodding nature of some depressive rappers.8.0
7. Eat Rich
This glitch-swing beat is perfectly suited to Busdriver's off-kilter slow flow, and you don't really have to know what he's talking about to enjoy the askew rhymes. It's hard to tell how much of this contains the class war sentiments of the chorus or if he's just goofing around, but Busdriver's confluence of heavy subject matter with the nonsensical is perfectly on display here.7.5
8. king cookie faced(for her)
This beat is simply lovely, simple and pleasant with subtle glitch elements that hold the piece together instead of interrupt it. Busdriver keeps his flittering flow in check enough to match the beat, which jumps around a lot without calling attention to itself. Ruminating on the idea of being a better person to some when he's high, Busdriver lays out some great, thoughtful lines that come together from a few different angles to create a picture of the author, his situations, and his perceptions. One of the album's highlights, and an intriguing place for Busdriver to take his style.8.5
9. Can't You Tell I'm a Sociopath
Fellow Project Blowed rapper VerBS joins Busdriver with a fairly straight-forward (and quick) verse that contrasts his style well, over a nice beat with Banjo-Kazooie horns and flutes. Busdriver is not a rapper that has to tell you that he's weird but that seems to be the theme here, though being a bizarre black man is a political statement in and of itself considering the representation of African-Americans in media.7.0
10. Colonize the Moon
Another really great hook on an album surprisingly full of them, Busdriver and Pegasus Warning turn the reverb all the way up and float over a skeletal synth beat beautifully. Busdriver lists off the way he bent the truth in previous songs about "world peace and street fashion", hitting some pretty funny lines like ""important that my life resemble Pimp C fan fiction" in quick succession. You'll want to listen closely several times to catch everything going on here, and the excellent earworm chorus will definitely make that a pleasant pursuit.8.5
Written by Jack Spencer
A freelance music writer from Minneapolis that has been featured in the City Pages, Bitch Magazine, 2DopeBoyz, The AV Club, Consequence of Sound, Thought Catalog, and more.

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