There was a brief moment in the mainstream when originality in hip-hop was both praised and expected. As time has proven, the public is concerned less with uniqueness and more so with the easily accessible. This disdain for innovation gave way for the underground to grow its numbers and challenge the listeners at every turn. Many of the artists who took the charge have failed more often than succeeded. There are plenty of artists, however, that continue to innovate. Busdriver is one of them. His eighth studio album, Jhelli Beam¸ goes against convention at every turn yet remains enjoyable despite the many difficult moments that are present.
The LP begins with “Split Seconds (between Nannies and Swamis).” Producer Nosaj Thing provides Busdriver a piano-laced track where Busdriver matches the key’s tones expertly with critiques of the failures of “conscious rap” music. The lyrics are dense, but clearly Busdriver’s aim is to make the listener pay deep attention to the entire song. The song haunts long after it has finished. “Me Time (with the Pulmonary Palimpsest),” is an amazingly agile display of rhyming from the MC. Producer Omid employs a familiar Mozart sample and Busdriver matches it with his vocal pyrotechnics per usual. The song switches mood and pace abruptly towards the end – which would be impressive normally, but instead just distracts. “Handfuls Of Sky” is produced by Nobody and Busdriver and continues the seemingly breathless, wordy assault. If a point to this song exists, it is hard to determine what it is. Much of it appears to the casual listen to be noting more than Busdriver flexing his vocabulary at breakneck speeds. The concern for clarity or understanding is nil; it works more often than not.
Producer Daedelus, also known to push an envelope or two, provides the backing track for “Scoliosis Jones” and it is beyond a chore to digest this one. The track is a noisy, electronic mess complete with rapid tempo changes. What impresses is the way Busdriver matches the track with ease. What doesn’t, is that for a short song, it labors on for some reason. The humorous “Least Favorite Rapper,” featuring NoCanDo, is one of the LP’s more straight-ahead offerings. The track from Free The Robots is epic and simple enough to allow Busdriver and NoCanDo to stay in their respective, battle-heavy lanes. The self-depreciation works in their favor as well. Daedelus surfaces to produce another track, “Do The Wop.” Suffice it to say, this song is not about doing any dances from the 80s. As the album wraps up, the oddly delightful weirdness forges ahead with “Fishy Face” featuring John Dietreich of Deerhoof and produced by Daedelus. There is so much happening here, but what is clear is Busdriver’s message; he’s not afraid to take his art to places many wouldn’t dare. The album closes with “Sorry F*ckers,” a self-produced track. By now, we’re in on the joke as Busdriver jovially refers to this as his “club song” – there’s not a club on this planet that would play this aloud and that’s almost a shame. Busdriver offers one of the most exhaustive lyrical displays ever. Many will write this LP off as nothing but experimental sludge but if one allows some patience, this album will grab hold of you in parts and lose you completely in others.
- D.L. Chandler