By Pat Gunther
California based Busdriver has been the captain of left-field art rap since he came up in the LA beat scene in the late 1990s. With the release of his eighth studio LP, Perfect Hair, Busdriver has been in the media spotlight since the release via Big Dada on Sept. 9th. This past week, I caught up with the legendary MC to talk about everything from his unique rise to spinach and his favorite stop on the tour.
DIG: Your sound is truly one of a kind in terms of rap music, what kind of music did you listen to growing up, and has it shaped your sound throughout the years?
Busdriver: Well I was uh in the mid 90s I was just really into LA underground hip-hop which was very particular and kind of its own beast at the moment. So, that’s kind of the core of where my musical sensibility comes from. Like The Good Life Café, it’s just that whole ethic of doing things and four-track culture that kind of slap dash way of doing stuff, of just recording things that were really rough. I don’t know, uh, beyond that in the aught’s I really got into a lot of electronic artists in LA. When I started working with Daedalus in like 2003 it really kind changed how I did things, and it really broadened what I thought could be done musically with rap.
DIG: What’s your favorite record and why?
B: I don’t really know, I don’t really have absolutes. But, there’s a record that just came out recently that I’m absolutely in love with. I actually, uh, just listened to it like 20 min. ago, and that’s the new Aphex Twin album. I don’t know, it’s one of the few records that I just really get lost in, and I don’t think there’s anyone aware of what’s happening except for me and him. There’s certain moments in those songs where I feel completely engrossed in the mania, and just virtuosity and amazing song writing. Yeah, I’m really fuckin’ with that one.
DIG: What do you think led to the explosion in popularity of the “underground” scene in LA, particularly Low End Theory and electronic music in general?
B: I think what really, the first thing that turned that place into the epicenter of beat music and what came and all the permutations that followed was Warp. When Warp signed Flying Lotus that gave a stamp of approval that was just unmatched, and from there, everything just kind of snowballed. When that happened it brought a lot of focus over there, when Warp signed Hudson Mohawke it became clear that there was a kind of global scene in certain hot spots, it kinda just made it all make sense. The guys at Low End Theory they would play all this music from guys like Hudson Mohawke and random people from all over the world that were kinda doing it and mostly playing stuff from LA guys and guys from Cali and what not. It was just a very insular nerd culture; it was a bunch of beat nerds making beats. I think the first few years at Low End Theory were so far removed from what it is now. It was literally just a bunch of nerdy, geeky guys trading CD’s, giggling and playing with little light boxes pleasing themselves. It was really kind of funny, almost laughable, I played the second night and I just can’t tell you how uncool it seemed. It was a very pure happening.
DIG: A huge part of all of that is obviously the Internet, do you think the immense sea of music out there has influenced your sound and if so, how?
B: It can localize trends that aren’t necessarily from where I’m. I think what it does is gives everyone a similar set of tools, it gives them a similar reference point so everyone can kind of get into what everyone else is doing. I think the real challenge is making something unique in the midst of that. I think there’s a certain amount of saturation in producer culture and especially rap culture. It kind of just turns into like some kind of arms race, you know, and I don’t think right now what’s really important is people are able to take this huge cache of sounds and approaches and make something new out of it, people like FKA Twigs who’ve taken a lot of those tools and just made them hers, I think that’s really what people are looking for now. It’s a lot different than say like 5 years ago, where you could pretty much just wow someone with something pretty middle of the road. I really like to pay attention to songwriting, I try not to get caught up in all the programming wankery that goes on cause there’s so much of it that’s so good. Like I said, it’s hard to make yourself heard.
DIG: You’ve traveled all over the world touring over the past fifteen years, what place besides LA do you think shaped your current sound the most?
B: Um it used to be Paris, honestly after I worked with Daedalus that sorta attracted a French audience to me and so I started spending more time in France. Then, in the mid aught’s when everyone was kind of going through the Def Jux and the Anticon period, when that whole kind of indie scene was taking place, the kids in France were obsessing over pop music like Lil’ Jon, and shit that purists in the States thought was taboo, what they were doing was taking the tools from that shit and intermeshing it with the IDM tools from that decade. And so, one group in particular really kind of exemplified that, and that was this French rapper called TTC, and to me they’re like the quintessential rap group that had taken the best parts of electronic and bombastic poppy, rap shit and difficult left-field rap shit and they made it into this beautiful body of work, this beautiful act. They were one of the first groups to take the frivolity of pop music and top 40 rap and kind of own it in like a highbrow way. Those guys, TTC, really told me that you don’t have to be afraid of these borders between electronic music, pop music and rap music, they all meet at a certain juncture.
DIG: How’s the current tour treating you?
B: I’ve enjoyed Moscow the most, I don’t know why but the kids are very appreciative and loving out there. I fell in love with my staff out there, and I’m very appreciative of that. Major shout out to Helen.
DIG: What’s the inspiration for the title perfect hair?
B: I just thought about an idea of some kind of unattainable ideal etched into our society. Some kind of unattainable goal that we all need to try to aspire for, in order to be considered decent people, in order to identify with who we are. We all have unattainable standards of beauty that we’re supposed to live up to, so that’s one thing, you know, being wealthy and well off, all these goals that seem so far and such a reach for people. And I was kind drawing off of the Apartheid model of how they would categorize people to be black or white in South Africa. They would put a little pencil or stick in their hair, and if it fell out you were white and if it stuck in you were black.
DIG: How was the process of making this record different from your previous projects?
B: Well for Busdriver albums it usually changes just because I don’t have a studio. Nor have I ever taken my money and pooled it away to where I could’ve built a studio, but that’s cause I’m irresponsible. Over the past few years since I’ve been working with Hellfyre Club, I’ve fallen into a certain groove of making albums. When I made 10 Haters with Nocando in 2010 that kind of kicked off a process of working with Hellfyre Club. Last year we did a record called Dorner V. Tookie and I executive produced that, and we did that in a kind of similar way. So, I’ve kind of just fallen into a groove that I can just fall into and I did Perfect Hair in kind of the same way as Dorner vs. Tookie, and truthfully PH is kinda indicative of this new way of doing things for me.
DIG: On the album, you worked with an eclectic group of musicians. How’d you pick the one’s you ended up working with?
B: I mean, if I’m completely honest with you, these are just the immediate people right there. I mean, Jeremiah Jae was my neighbor and was like “yo, can you give me a beat?” and he was like “sure!”, I literally went right next door. Low End Theory is like Cheers, everyone who’s on the record cut their teeth there, Great Dane, Jeremiah Jae, Mike Gal, all these people are well known in that scene. It’s all family; it all kind of connects. I didn’t want to really stretch out of my comfort zone for this record. For my last record I went to a Belgian producer who I didn’t even meet while making the entire album. So, on this record I really wanted to use the people who were right there. It’s the truest production staff that I could’ve had; they’re all just homies.
DIG: Hellfyre Club is a unique imprint, and honestly with a bunch of recent releases has come with straight fire, what made you join?
B: Well cause my homie Nocando was doing it, you know. I met Nocando when he came to the Project Blowed and he couldn’t even RAP yet. Me and Pterodactyl and Otherwise saw him and were like “oh, ok, who’s this kid?” He literally came into a cipher that me and Ptero were in and started rapping and you know, we kind of just caught shine to him and started battling him, going back and forth, and Pterodactyl just came and kept going at him. Nocan couldn’t even really rap decently back then, that’s how long ago, and he kept coming back in that battle and rapping back at Ptero, and so years later he turns into this absolute beast and he’s like the cipher slayer, you know what I mean, to me Nocando is like my brother. I will support any venture that he does, and so when I saw Hellfyre Club and their first tape, Prometheus, it was clear to me that this is where I needed to be. This is it. I didn’t have to guess. I told James “I am with you, I’m with this venture.” I trust our lineage that much. I just really trust Nocando, I really trust Mike Eagle, and I really trust Milo. It’s resulted in good music, I think.
DIG: How do you think you’ve developed as an artist and the sound you have on Perfect Hair?
B: Hellfyre Club has helped me be honest. It’s helped me stay at home and really be confident that I have a world to exist in. I feel like I tried to put out records for a while in which I try to force myself into a groove. I’ve tried to get deals with Rhymesayers and people like that and I feel like those were bad choices, I feel like I should’ve realized years ago that I need to make my own home instead of trying to join someone else’s household and so Hellfyre Club gave me creative license. Milo approached me and pretty much said, “I rap because of you” and when someone as creatively cavalier and clearheaded and genuinely brilliant as Milo tells you that, it’s humbling. You feel like, ok there is a culture I need to pay attention to.
DIG: The most recent music video “Eat The Rich” is pretty food heavy, what’s your favorite food?
B: Shoot. My favorite thing to eat is spinach. I think eat more spinach than I eat anything. I make shakes with it, I cook with it, and it’s always there. I think it’s a very versatile staple. That and quinoa; me and spinach and quinoa hang out just hang out all day.
DIG: Why’d you pick the name Busdriver? Is there any deeper meaning to it?
B: We would rap a lot when we would leave school, and we’d take the bus home and so we’d rap in the back of the bus most days. So, it kind of became our identity as rappers and so my friend called me Busdriver casually, and it stuck. And, I remember when I went to the Good Life Café for the first time in ’94, I was Busdriver then and that’s just what I was.
DIG: Have you ever been to Louisiana?
B: Yeah, Louisiana is very depressing. The third world state of so many cities are in, the people are crazy, as in they are full of charm and full of zeal, you have some of the most gorgeous people in the country in general, and I’m really a fan of creole culture. I’ve played uh, New Orleans before Katrina and then after Katrina, and I didn’t see that big of a difference, that place has always been kind of in shambles. When I go to LA my heart hurts, I just try to kick it with people and try to let them know that I feel y’all and that everything’s good for ya. But Baton Rouge is dope. I don’t know a lot about Baton Rouge, but everything I do know about Baton Rouge is fantastic.
DIG: What’s the most important part about putting on a good show, in your opinion?
B: Just not mess up too much, that’s it. I just pray that I have a receptive crowd and if I do I can try to lose myself a bit in it and hopefully time will pass and it will be over and everyone will be happy. I just hope that the chemistry is there?
DIG: What should we expect when you hit the stage at the Spanish Moon?
B: Um, I want them to not be afraid. And I want them to I don’t know, just to witness it and to know I’m being as honest as I can. I don’t really have an idea of what a rap show is supposed to be, nor do I model my show after anyone else’s rap show. I don’t have a big stadium crushing show with a big intro and a DJ on a riser; I don’t have any of that. And there’s a reason why, they’re impediments and I just want a more direct relationship with the audience. Performance is very visceral for me and it’s something that I take seriously and that I really need at the end of the day. The stress of touring is merely getting to where you need to be. Playing becomes more of a cathartic release than it needs to be. I won’t hold anything back if they won’t.