ALBUM: Perfect Hair
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."