Freestyle fellowships

The indie rap of Busdriver and Von Südenfed
By FRANKLIN BRUNO  |  November 6, 2007


VIDEO: Busdriver, "Sun Showers"

Although crunk partisans probably won’t care for the comparison, LA rapper Busdriver might be thought of as the indie hip-hop analogue to Lil’ Wayne. Both are born freestylers, prone to a hyperproductivity that makes individual songs less the point than an accumulated body of work. Two differences. Busdriver’s persona is decidedly non-gangsta, as befits his position in the SoCal lineage leading from the undersung Freestyle Fellowship to the crew surrounding Stones Throw Records. Also, whereas Wayne’s leaked tracks are a genre unto themselves, Busdriver has managed to release his own album in 2007: RoadKillOvercoat (Anti-), his fifth official full-length and first on Epitaph’s boutique imprint for commercial fringe dwellers. (He supports the disc with a show this Tuesday at Harpers Ferry.)

As on earlier standouts like 2002’s “Imaginary Places,” Busdriver’s style is more an articulate spray than a flow. But this time it coalesces into hook-driven units. Credit producers Boom-Bip and Nobody, who draw on 50 Cent’s stroll (“The Troglodyte Wins”) and high-viscosity dub (the hippie-baiting “Ethereal Driftwood”), studding their beats with harmonic shifts that clue the MC as to where the memorable bit ought to land.

What Busdriver does over these settings is another story. The disc’s catchiest chorus runs, “Recreational paranoia/Is the sport of now/So kill your employer,” whereas “Go Slow” (which does) frames the pseudo-mystical exhortation “Mutter those Ginsberg poems/Cool those worn hooves/Face your death.” (That track also features Coco Rosie’s Bianca Cassidy; like his tour with Deerhoof early this year, it shows that Busdriver knows he’s less likely to win over commercial rap fans than catholic indie types.) The peculiar “Sun Showers” is a smooth, unswinging electro-pop confection that could pass for one of Junior Boys’ replications of that style. Over it, Busdriver indulges in the kind of singing-badly-as-a-form-of-rapping that’s familiar from OutKast’s “Roses” and Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend.” RoadKillOvercoat isn’t about establishing Busdriver’s hip-hop authenticity; it’s more likely to make listeners wonder whether they even know where the boundaries of the genre lie.

Raising similar questions is Von Südenfed’s TromaticReflexxions (Domino), the debut collaboration between Fall frontman Mark E. Smith and the Düsseldorf-based electronic duo Mouse on Mars. If it seems a stretch to associate either participant with hip-hop, reconsider: rap has made use of post-human Teutronica ever since Afrika Bambaataa copied Kraftwerk for “Planet Rock,” and Smith has been hurling pitched, rhythmic speech over implacable 4/4 beats for three decades. Smith has also guested on dance-oriented singles, notably Coldcut’s 1990 “Telephone Thing,” but this kind of full-dress side project is a surprise.

If nothing else, TromaticReflexxions is hip-hop in its apparent methodology, with Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner supplying the tracks and Smith-as-MC doing more or less as he pleases. The opening “Fledermaus Can’t Get It” isn’t from a galactic sector vastly different from Kanye West’s “Stronger,” just a funkier one. Over some of these tracks, Smith’s increasingly laconic delivery points up an unexpected affinity with actual big-name commercial rappers. On “Flooded,” he manages to convey a vignette about two guys who show up to DJ at the same club on the same night entirely in lazy, bar-line-ignoring interjections. Do Snoop and 50 Cent lag any farther behind the beat — or sound any cooler when they do?

BUSDRIVER + DAEDELUS + ANTIMC | Harpers Ferry, 158 Brighton Ave, Allston | November 13 | 617.254.9743

  Topics: Music Features , Entertainment, 50 Cent, Hip-Hop and Rap,  More more >
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