TO THE BEBOP AND YOU DON'T STOP
I ASK BUSDRIVER if he thinks the process of writing raps is more important than the end product, and he responds: "I think there are a lot of conscious rappers who tend to really beat to death a certain theme. I don't like to pigeonhole myself into [conscious or political raps], even though I'm very for that. I don't like to lock myself down to one theme; I like to be broad. I just think it's more interesting to see how thought occurs and how you think things to be thought out, rather than what there is to think about. You know what I'm saying?"
The rhyme, the cadence, the circular thought - that last part was spoken like a true MC. And the fact that Bus says he doesn't like to pigeonhole himself is a testament to what kind of MC he is. Busdriver is painfully skilled at a million different styles, from light-speed spits to cutting, clever testaments of wit; his production overflows with tight beats and odes to jazz and classical samples. Busdriver challenges himself with diversity, and it pays off. The Los Angeles rapper, who came up through the famous Project Blowed and Afterlife crews, has guest-rapped on many cuts in the pantheon of hallowed underground hip-hop - CVE, 2MEX, Abstract Rude, Daedalus. But of course, where he really shines is on his own records: 2001's Memoirs of an Elephant Man (Afterlife) and this year's self-released Temporary Forever, a mind-blowing example of boundary-pushing emceeing and tight production (by Paris Zax and Daddy Kev, among others).
Temporary Forever, like Bus' style, is all over the map, but two things thread the record together: One is Bus' terrific sense of humor; every track has at least one line that's a little bit chiding, a little snarky, a little tongue in cheek. It includes one of the best skits ever, in which Bus actually went to a Carl's Jr. and rapped into the drive-thru intercom when they asked for his order. Subtle irony is a recurring theme; appropriately, Bus often gets his inspiration from absurd shit on the TV. "It's pretty funny to watch the news. They do a lot of random themes, from one extreme to the next with the stories they highlight. Like, 'A thousand people died in Iraq todayÉLook, little rabbits are being taken care of by little dogs! It's so cute and cuddly!"
The other main thread is jazz music. Live, Busdriver has been known to rhyme with breathtaking speed in a jazzy, scatty a cappella; he sounds like a saxophone or some sort of next-level beatboxer. The jazz influence, which also appears in the production and swinging beats, is no coincidence. Explains Bus, "Jazz is a very integral part of what we [Project Blowed and Afterlife] do, and I feel that bebop is the closest kin to underground hiphop as there is in American music. Well, shit like bebop and punk rock - those things are very akin to underground hiphop. Jazz singers I've studied over the years - like John Hendricks and Eddie Jefferson - I think they do the same thing we do. We put it in a more contemporary context, but it's really similar."
But the jazz influence isn't just based in a comparable music approach, nor does it stem solely from Busdriver's affinity for bebop. "We - me and some of the other Project Blowed guys - used to do these exercises where we'd play the jazz station on the radio," he says, "and we'd have to rap along to whatever it was playing to toy around and practice our chops. It's definitely a platform from where our styles come from."