In thinking about the lack of respect in the mainstream hip-hop community for intelligent, experimental rappers like Regan Farquhar (a.k.a. Busdriver), it seems the majority of hip-hop seem lost in this purgatory of simplicity and embrace of the status quo. The Crunk dudes are rapping about PCP and Robitussin. The more "sophisticated" mainstream rappers like Ghostface Killah talk about selling cocaine. Generic mainstream hip-hoppers assume fake gangsta personas for cred. And the indie kids are inexplicably eating it up alongside the MTV generation.

Conversely, Mr. Lif and Akrobatik consistently take on racial and political issues, while backpack rappers like Subtitle and Busdriver incorporate sociopolitical discussions into their more internal, sensitive verses. Others, like Saul Williams and Orko Eloheim traverse aesthetic landscapes mainstream rap will probably never touch. Yet their audiences have plateaued almost exclusively at college-aged white kids. Busdriver watched the phenomenon occur in Los Angeles during the mid-1990s as more and more white college started coming out to Project Blowed gigs.

"I've never heard anyone make a dead-on eloquent argument to encapsulate that whole phenomenon. There definitely is something there. There is a reason why underground rap doesn't appeal to your average black youth. There's a reason why it's not as accessible as anything else," Busdriver says. "Black people are the most conservative people in the U.S. Classically, black people aren't allowed to appreciate anything outside of what they're fed - what's being handed out by American society.

They're not as able to roam or explore as the average white kid in a white family who is able to go outside of his bounds or has a few more options. Black people just accept what's given to them; accept what's on the radio. This is what happened to jazz. This is a recurring thing. I don't really know how you avoid it. You may not really be able to, because it would take a complete paradigm shift in the whole stratification of the socio-economical setup. That's not going to happen anytime soon. Be happy when white kids show up to your show. At the end of the day I'm happy that someone shows up. I'm happy. Thank you so much. I don't care who you are, where you come from. Thank you. You are making my life possible.

That conservatism combines with a generally ill-equipped listening public to throw up a barrier akin to the one that keeps bands like Sonic Youth and Deerhoof from becoming true mainstream successes. If the music doesn't meet casual listeners' expectations, they're not going to connect with what they're hearing. Busdriver, whose quirky delivery actually recalls Les Claypool more than most MCs, carelessly drops verbage ranging from "anachronism" to "zeitgeist," while critiquing everything from his career and existence to mainstream hip-hop on last year's "Fear of a Black Tangent" (Mush). His postmodern complexities and mental gymnastics breathe academia, and that scares people. That his beats come from the likes of avant-garde producers like Thavius Beck, Danger Mouse and Daedelus and are unfamiliar to the ears of mainstream hip-hop listeners doesn't help either. The dude's weird and it comes as no surprise that Busdriver lists Brian Eno and Animal Collective as primary influences for his as-yet-untitled new album, due out this fall on Epitaph.

Busdriver wouldn't say whether that indie rock appeal led to his signing with Epitaph ("I don't know why I signed with them. I have no idea. I'm more concerned with the record itself than the business entity it's going to go through. I'm more concerned about the work.") He did, however, acknowledge the problematic elements of the fact the indie kids are now into mainstream drug hip-hop because it amuses them.

"Irony - a lot of people do it in the spirit of being ironic, but a lot of that mainstream southern rap is becoming the new 'underground.' It's becoming the shit that people want to hear. I acknowledge that," Busdriver says. "Mainly the reason why is because it has a direct link to club culture. Southern rap and other kinds of hip-hop like that are entering an interesting phase where it's mainly for the club atmosphere and the club culture. People are into that, you know? I can't really be mad at it, because a lot of that stuff is alright. I'm not mad at it. I think we're moving out of the era where backpack rap is relevant. It may not be relevant any more in a couple years. So, what are we gonna do?"

Perhaps the phenomenon related to the folk idea of "Sambo," the ignorant-yet-entertaining "darkie" character perhaps most commonly recognized by watermelon eating in early racist cartoons. Think Tommy Davidson or Martin Lawrence today. But why is there an inherent need to have this amusing, ignorant black character to amuse American fat cats?

"There is still a need for that. People still want that," Busdriver says. "People will still look towards the blackface minstrels for their entertainment. I dunno. People like irony, you know? They want to be into this down South crunk shit because they want to show their street cred. I don't know why. It's kind of sickening. It's a whole other facet of hipsters I can't really fuck with. It aligns itself with some of my own interests. I've always been into some kind of mainstream rap. It's not all shitty. It's all rap. There is a need to chuckle at 'ignorant' music from black people. People need that sometimes. That's fine. I'm not really mad at that though because it is hip-hop. I'm not mad at people for being racist because that's how people are. I'm more mad when people don't acknowledge that there is such a thing. There definitely always is. Whether people are aware of it or not, it's always there. I can't expect people to not act in accord with that. If people don't, then I'm going to be surprised. They're doing what they're doing."

As Busdriver's career developed over the past decade, he found himself at a sort of personal crossroads. His lack of success despite all of his work and effort forced him to turn inward on "Fear of a Black Tangent," analyzing his choice to stay underground, despite the fact it ensured nothing more than modest success.

"Fear of a Black Tangent was mainly about that. And that was because of my frustration with being on the grind as hard as I was, and being marginalized a bit, or feeling that way because of certain factors," he says. "I don't really feel that way as much. I do in certain ways. As I learn more about this whole independent music industry and this whole fucking monster called the music business, none of those factors are going to be a constant. Some of them are, but some of them get phased out by other things. I'm not really worried. I thought it was important to do a record that talked about that because I thought it was funny and it was vaguely interesting and it was something I could speak about from the heart and consistently throughout the record. It's something that's a pretty frequented subject when I talk with my other friends who are in the music business or who do hip-hop or do God-knows-what. It's mainly a homage to them and me and my crew and everybody. We feel that we're the underdogs and the kings of the undertow."

His new untitled album will tackle some more political issues - including attacking the weak left side of things - rather than personal ones. Although for a guy like Busdriver, they're probably related.

"I honestly don't know what the fuck this record is about," he laughs. "I dunno. I merely do it (criticize the left) to rid myself of these clichés that are a part of the language of the conscious rapper. They use these outdated keywords like 'revolution,' just all this stuff that's in the spirit of the '60s and the '70s and doesn't apply to right now. It's all about appearance and it has nothing to do with actual action and actual politics and actual impetus for change. Not saying that I have an idea on what that should really be, but I'm more in circles with lefties than I am with neo-cons and right-wing teamsters. I'm more prone to critique people who share my ideas than people who don't. Shit. I'm mainly just telling them not to be so caught up in the motions and try to actualize how to resolve issues, or actualize how to enact change in your everyday life. But I don't have any solutions. I'm just complaining about the complainers, which is a bit of a paradox. I dunno. I'm just taking shots at hippies and shit."


Mush Records