If I’m like most teenagers, then my crisis of being born in the wrong era is simply a thing that happens. We romanticize and fabricate this idea that our heroes who constructed epochs lived in the pulse. The revolutionaries get the glory. But what if your time was between those two blips on the cultural EKG? What if you are Busdriver; a late generation Project Blowedian who never received the glory of his predecessors and treaded water through the aughts until he aligned with the next generation in Hellfyre Club—a collective that would never have existed were it not for his unwavering missionary work in outsider hip hop? What then?
I can’t rewrite history entirely, Hellfyre Club would exist without Busdriver and did for many years based on the curatorial decisions of founder Nocando. But Hellfyre as it is now, a movement spearheaded by flagship artist milo, is indebted to Busdriver. He carried the torch for art rap before Open Mike Eagle was able to elevate the tongue-n-cheek genre to its current status. He believed in Nocando’s vision early and formed the rap duo Flashbang Grenada, putting out the 10 Haters record on the label to lukewarm fanfare. For milo, Busdriver’s mere existence, consistent in milo’s formative years, was like Linus’ blanket. When it came time to unite the crew, he executive produced the Dorner vs Tookie mixtape that ignited the movement.
As a result the past year of Busdriver output and guest appearances has felt like a second wind, a re-branding for a new legion of potential followers and critical galvanizers. This is a false conclusion. To suggest the peer group has inspired a new Busdriver would be a discredit to his fearless genius that predates Fear Of A Black Tangent. There are no bad Busdriver records, there only those who do not have the capacity to appreciate Busdriver (his Metacritic score a consistent 71 median). But as he recently expressed in a FACT magazine interview, he’s known his audience for a long time. Each record is written with “a very particular type of dude” in mind and that “doofus, dorky guy” exists across the globe. Which is why Busdriver’s Perfect Hair hardly requires the benefit of this escalation in profile. Danny Brown verses that earned the attention of Pitchfork aren’t vital to the success of Perfect Hair. It changes nothing in the Busdriverse. The title even, an innocuous side-nod to an MF Doom and/or Adult Swim coinage, does not require justification. All Perfect Hair must achieve is to never alienate the faithful fans who never wavered.
If that’s the litmus test, then Perfect Hair is flawless. Even with Busdriver obsessing over his station on “Retirement Ode” with “I’m dope as fuck / I know what’s up / but I did not blow up… and so you never would admit how sick I always was,” it does not detract. The thesis is adjusted ever-so-slightly on “Eat Rich” and “Ego Death” with Danny Brown and Aesop Rock. He’s never wrong and never bitter, despite having good reason to have developed such a cancer. And with each blanket statement of obvious criticisms he’s endured since his first release, he restates “c’mon” like a double entendre of “let it slide already” and “resistance if futile, come into my world.”
If there’s a change in Busdriver he wants us to understand, it’s that he’s more comfortable being accessible than ever before. “Upsweep” sounds like it was lifted from Caribou’s impending record and remixed by Thundercat, and that is a comparison that will still keep Busdriver on the fringes. “When The Tooth-Lined Horizon Blinks” borders on disruptive were it not for the silver-tongue of Open Mike Eagle offsetting Busdriver’s gratuitous vocal distortions. Throughout Perfect Hair the stylistic flair and esotericism synonymous with past albums is blunted from a desire to be understood. The album title might suggest egotism, but for the past year Busdriver has invited the layman’s language into his lexicon. Biographical lines like “I spent every second rapping / that was method acting” allow you to follow the bouncing ball without losing pace over verbiage in need of unpacking. The desire to connect outweighs the satisfaction of lofty polemics, which is summed up best in “Motion Lines”. Busdriver’s last album, Beaus$Eros, was a break-up record and assessing a failure. On “Motion Lines” he admits “this rap shit left me worse for wear,” as though after purging all the hundred dollar reasons he failed on Beaus$Eros, the honesty was all that was left to express; “I’m impossible to love / and cannot keep an open mind.”
So what happens to the genius between two epochs? Well, if he’s strong of will he never lets the FOMO eat at his delicate brain and carries on with diligence until that second big bang. He colonizes the moon when everyone else assumed life could not sustain.