Before Danny Brown coined his cartoonish flow and inflection, before Open Mike Eagle spit off-timed raps over absurd instrumentals, and before Milo referenced Schopenhauer and Latin proverbs, there was Busdriver. One of rap’s most unsung “weirdo” heroes, Busdriver has been pushing rap’s boundaries more than most for over 15 years. As the co-head of L.A. based Hellfyre Club, he’s been an integral part of the art-rap movement of the past few years that’s blowing up the indie sphere in the most nonchalant way. Although his influence may not be apparent due to him never breaking through to the masses, his constantly forward thinking brand of Hip Hop has paved the way for many a left-field emcee.
On his 8th official solo album, Perfect Hair, Busdriver once again takes his rightful place as rap’s eccentric professor. And as with most eccentrics, his brilliancy sometimes has to be found within his spurts of mania. Opening cut “Retirement Ode” sounds like a collage of multiple songs crammed into a tight three minutes and 19 seconds. He switches from explaining the monetary costs of the album in three different currencies to explaining to the listener “how sick [he’s] become.” The following track, “Bliss Point,” follows in the same direction with a disjointed beat filled to the brim with sounds that can’t possibly be within the confines of what we normally consider Hip Hop. A fair warning, these openers are meant for the diehard Busdriver fans or the most hardened art-rap stans.
The lead single “Ego Death” is where (and probably the only place) traditionalists will appreciate ‘Driver’s skill. Aided by two of rap’s biggest oddballs, Aesop Rock and Danny Brown, the Jeremiah Jae produced banger is a display of what could be the most lyrically impressive song you’ll hear all year. All parties involved bring their A-game with stellar, mind-boggling verses on the mic and a deceptively menacing surge on the boards. Busdriver compares the night to a “cellulite-laden thigh,” Danny Brown references The Prodigy, but Aesop nabs the top spot for being able to put the words “Analog mono-poly Man’o’War/ Walloping the auto-poly avatar / Mind on his Mallomars” together.
The remainder of the album has Busdriver switching between rapping and his slightly off-key, yet oddly endearing croon. On his grind, the lyrics range from almost nonsensical tongue twisters to shocking stretches of the English language. Hearing him jump on a beat, start with triple-time, multisyllabic lines then slow down to a conversational pace is pretty incredible, especially when it’s in the span of a only few bars. His singing, on the other hand, is where some might get lost. Busdriver’s voice is by no means “pretty” in the traditional sense. It’s a slightly off-key, strained wail to be honest. But that doesn’t mean it’s ineffective. Rather, it’s the way he rides the beats and the passion in which he delivers that make it fun, and even immensely enjoyable at times. Over his own productions, such as the introspective and poignant cuts “Upsweep” and “Motion Lines,” he sounds the best. It’s more proof that Busdriver might be the only one who can keep up with himself.
It may take quite a few listens, but the more you invest in Perfect Hair, the more you’ll extract from one of rap’s singular minds. No one other than Busdriver could have made an album like this – like the ones he’s been making for a decade and a half – and still stay ahead of the curve. If that’s not reason to celebrate, your hair games probably weak.