Busdriver is in trouble. A product of L.A. hip-hop’s mid-’90s zenith, the acerbic emcee is a Project Blowed vet who crafted his “abstract rapper” niche with an impressive guest-spot C.V. and a spate of solo releases on Mush Records and Big Dada. But somewhere along the way, the straps of the Jansport loosened.
In March of ’05, Busdriver teamed up with ex-Unicorns, future-Islands Nick Diamonds and J’aime Tambeur in genre-mashing Th’ Corn Gangg and certified himself as an indie-rock darling. “There are no more backpackers, it’s all hipsters now,” Busdriver said at the time about his live shows. But Roadkill Overcoat is being released by punk-rock label Epitaph: Will his new hipster buds scoff at the label choice? Have his old hip-hop buds really been so quick to forget? Busdriver is in trouble.
And the only way out is clear: Drop a banger of a record; quell both camps. Because despite the larger profile, Busdriver is not, and never will be, a rapper for the masses. It’s clear from the outset, in the way he wraps his nasal whine around woodpecker-catchy opener “Casting Agents and Cowgirls,” in the way he dramatizes its refrain: “You did, you got it: You wowed the world/ of casting agents and cowgirls/ fess up, you dressed up, to kill yourself./ Well, I’m still on the shelf.” Speed raps that demand rewinds (did he just shout out “Lou Reed” or “used reeds”?) and on-off British affectations make everybody happy.
Sometimes. Throughout, Busdriver doesn’t let up on his dense, full-mouthed flow, so spacey hooks sung either by the ‘driver himself (“Less Yes’s, More No’s”) or by anonymous female guests (“The Trogylodyte Wins”) are welcome aural respites. The flow itself is never smooth, and when it’s overpowering already jerky, schizophrenic beats, the result is difficult to embrace. But that’s kind of the point: Roadkill Overcoat is a thorny album, one that doesn’t give itself over easy, and definitely not on first listen. “I got people to disappoint, I got mistakes to make,” the dude tells us. The first step in failing to live up to other people’s expectations is to pander to them. But Busdriver’s got mistakes to make, people. He’ll be just fine.