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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Busdriver defies the rules of rap's road

Is it funny ha-ha or funny strange? Both. Eclectic lyrics from this artist are also plain fun.

December 24, 2007|Jeff Weiss | Special to The Times

"Sorry, underground hip-hop happened ten years ago." So read a T-shirt on sale at abstract rapper Busdriver's homecoming set at the Troubadour on Friday night. The slogan seemed an apt summation of Busdriver's left-field aesthetic, mordant wit and salient desire to push the boundaries of hip-hop forward, a stark contrast to many of his peers who are a decade into their careers and still writing lyrics about how good their lyrics are.

Of course, the L.A.-bred rapper has earned the right to playfully mock his brethren, having long since solidified his hip-hop cred with his involvement in the Good Life/Project Blowed scene that spurred this city's underground hip-hop revival in the '90s. Not to mention that Busdriver's father, Ralph Farquhar, wrote the seminal hip-hop film "Krush Groove." And onstage, beneath his tongue-twisting mad-auctioneer rapping style, Busdriver's b-boy roots come through in the form of his unimpeachable microphone skills and ability to mesmerize the crowd.

But it's about to be 2008, and Busdriver's live show reflects that, with its stylistic postmodern mishmash of sounds, a genre fusion encompassing guitar rock and techno, Baltimore club rap and reggae, Southern bass and good old-fashioned boom-bap. Lyrically, Busdriver doesn't as much write songs as spew tangents (a fact he slyly acknowledged with his Public Enemy-referencing 2005 album, "Fear of a Black Tangent").

Performing a set list hewing heavily to cuts from this year's "RoadKillOvercoat," his first on oddball haven Epitaph Records, Busdriver spun stories lampooning a broad spectrum, including self-righteous vegan hot-dog-scarfing hippies ("Kill Your Employer") and George W. Bush ("The Troglodyte Wins").

Clad in a tee reading "I'm the gangster of love," flailing Gumby-like around the stage, Busdriver delivered a set that defied easy genre categorization. And that was the point. Like his contemporaries El-P and Subtle, Busdriver makes experimental hip-hop that's sometimes hard on the ears and always impenetrable on a first listen. Yet when he connects, as on the set's highlight, "Sun Shower," Busdriver's weirdo eclecticism not only allows him to stand out above the pack of "underground rappers," but it also validates him as one of today's most original musicians.

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