Busdriver – Fear of a Black Tangent

Fear of a Black Tangent

Hip-hop has always been a sort of collecting pot for weirdos. The genre was born out of a sense of frustration and untapped creative spirit, so this would seem pretty natural. Public Enemy started the weirdo-rapper trend (see any of Flava Flav’s TV shows on VH1), and since then, we’ve seen Eminem, and, well, the entire roster of Anticon. But, as always, there existed a person willing and capable of reaching as-yet un-aspired-to heights of weirdness. Yes, readers, this man is Busdriver.

Busdriver’s discography is filled with titles that point to their content’s weirdness. Busdriver’s website contains pictures of him looking weird with and without dreads, as well as pictures of him looking weird with or without glasses. For those who are unfamiliar with Busdriver, allow me to introduce him.

Busdriver’s delivery is characterized by his baritone-deep voice and his remarkable ability to flow at the speed of light. If images of other speedsters like Twister come to mind, ignore them. Busdriver rhymes so fast that sometimes he loses control of his flow, reeling out of his orbit around the beat and off on some tangential line into outer space. The result is a confusing (and often compelling) frenzy of ridiculous rhymes cascading over equally confusing (and equally compelling) beats. And it’s quite weird.

“Reheated Pop!” features a buzzing beat and a frolicking Busdriver ruminating about Hello Kitty and cockroaches. “Unemployed Black Astronaut” is an entertaining song built on a sunny guitar lick and bouncing percussion. “I am the first black astronaut to walk the bare moon from my air balloon,” Busdriver cooes on the hook, right after talking about being sodomized by a pool cue. Weird. “Happiness is a Unit of Measure” offers a beat that actually keeps up with Busdriver’s speed, and he rises to the challenge. He haunts the space in between percussive hits, spitting self-degrading lyrics and pausing only for a brief interlude of vocal melody. Fittingly, this too is sped up to a chipmunk pitch.

“Map Your Psyche” breaks from the formula, slowing down the pace to mid-tempo – or, for Busdriver, a gratingly slow crawl. Malevolent strings and rolling bass drip over a crashing hi-hat while Busdriver lowers his voice and lurks just below the surface. “We mapped your psyche, we know what you do / before you do / we packaged it nicely / and sold it to you,” goes the hook.

Throughout Fear of a Black Tangent, Busdriver is caustically sarcastic. He spends his breath either viciously mocking others or degrading himself with the same zeal. Though this sometimes gets played out, it’s often entertaining. For example, on “Cool Band Buzz,” Busdriver spits, “Why did I choose to do weird shit / I steered my career of a cliff / in a flaming stunt car / so now I’m falling down a bottomless pit / but I’m trying to be optimistic!” Even better, in the intro, Busdriver says, “Now, some of your friends will reboot your computer and do a Google search and will be discouraged that the truth will hurt when they see that I’m not their zeitgeist, nor am I Christ-like, nor do I dislike whites / I just want a better chance because, most likely, I’ll sell more records in France.”

Alternately charming and annoying, effortlessly witty and forcedly clever, Busdriver is, if nothing else, a complex character. Whether or not he should be loved or hated is hard to say; maybe a little of both is most appropriate. Each song on Fear of a Black Tangent is, taken alone, quite good, but after 17 tracks (including three remixes) and one hour, the shtick gets a little old. An overflow of ideas is, to be sure, a double-edged sword for an artist, and unfortunately, Busdriver allowed it to get the best of him on Fear. He would probably be served by a more discerning selection of tracks to be included in the final cut, but given his brutally honest personality and his lightning-fast delivery, it’s unlikely that any filter at all exists between his brain and his mouth. Ultimately, Fear of a Black Tangent is a good, if not great, outing. There’s certainly enough good material to go around, but like any one Busdriver song, you can only pay attention to so much of it at a time.