Underground rap is an anachronism. What it is and what it was about is kind of gone. It’s lost its ability to truly and really be, although a lot of people still perpetuate it.
story by Matthew Partington
photo by Brian Tamborello
When Ragen Farquhar (a.k.a. Busdriver) declares that “underground rap happened ten years ago,” you might begin to wonder what exactly is left for the movement — and for one of its most prodigal students. Since 2002, Farquhar has embodied many derivations of the underground hip-hop scene: creative lyrical assaults, do-it-yourself musicianship, and intellectually honest sociopolitical commentary. What Busdriver does not embody, however, is the self-congratulatory patting on the back bullshit which is unfortunately so commonplace in much of underground rap. On the contrary, some of Farquhar’s music even features him dissing himself as much as others.
“Underground rap is an anachronism. What it is and what it was about is kind of gone. It’s lost its ability to truly and really be, although a lot of people still perpetuate it,” Farquhar said. The aforementioned line in which Farquhar disses himself “is just a self-deprecating roar and stab at myself and something I find funny at the time.”
This type of ironic creativity has defined Farquhar’s music since 2002’s Temporary Forever, cementing Busdriver’s reputation as an incredibly quick-witted and quick-spoken representative of independent hip-hop. For many listeners, Farquhar’s speed-of-light meter and dadaistic references are as polarizing as they are enjoyable, but the man’s lyrical talents and eccentricities are hard to ignore. With Jhelli Beam, Busdriver’s most recent release for Anti Records, Farquhar has created what he considers to be the spiritual endpoint to the music that he has been making since Temporary Forever.
“I think that it’s a bookend to the things I have been doing since 2002. This’ll be the last record that will sound like that in a particular way with more difficult grabs, irreverence, and cluster-fuck writing styles. I think the records after that will be a slight shift,” Farquhar said. While he says he’s not quite certain of the direction his future music will follow, Jhelli Beam was perhaps Busdriver’s easiest album to produce. Instead of focusing on heavily conceptualized ideas, which formed the basis of 2007’s RoadKillOvercoat, Jhelli Beam was brought about from a more instructive creative place.
“It didn’t take much prodding to make this record. I just ignored some of the outside pressures that would normally guide the final product and made a record that I really wanted to make. It wasn’t anything unusual; I just pushed it towards where I went,” Farquhar explained. “These are the songs that my skills have led me to, without leaving any serious guidance…I just wanted to challenge myself and make sure I was still able to do things I was doing five or six years ago. It wasn’t as goal-oriented as the last [record]; I just let myself freely do whatever I wanted.”
The end result? A distinctly Busdriver album full of juxtaposed pop-culture references, self-referential insults and inspired wordplay. Jhelli Beam also features the work of electronic producer Daedelus, Farquhar’s longtime friend and collaborator. The two combined on the 2003 album The Weather and serve as interesting compliments to one another, layering Farquhar’s breakneck vocals with Daedelus’ buzzing synth loops.
“In most respects, we are kindred spirits,” Farquhar said. “One thing he definitely taught me was that songs should not have the rigid confines that people give them, especially in rap music. Those rigid confines don’t need to be there.”
Busdriver :: with Abstract Rude :: Empty Bottle :: September 8.