Off-Road Riding: High-Speed Rapper Busdriver Explores New Indie-Electronic Territory

Los Angeles-based MC Busdriver, born Regan Farquhar, has an archrival—himself. In 2008, the hyperconscious, ultra-kinetic MC found himself listening to Temporary Forever, the independently released 2002 album that introduced him to a wider audience. Even before Temporary Forever, Busdriver was established at the open-mic nights/hip-hop workshops in South Central called Good Life Café and Project Blowed. There, you had to know how to chop it up no matter what beat got thrown at you, or the mic would be heckled from your hands.
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Surveying his 15 years of experience, Busdriver decided to up his own ante. Listening to Four Tet, Portishead, the Olivia Tremor Control, Brian Eno, My Bloody Valentine—all records washed, bleached, rinsed, and softened with psychedelic minor chords— Busdriver invested in texturing and layering. He called on production associates from L.A.’s avant glitch-hop Low End Theory weekly—including Nobody, Nosaj Thing, Omid, and Daedelus, as well as long-time engineer Daddy Kev—to corral tracks over which he could look at the malleable underpinnings of his life. The result is Jhelli Beam [Anti-], the follow-up to 2007’s RoadKillOvercoat. Busdriver oddly describes the 14 tracks of his latest as “Tuberculosis plus.”

“Sonically, it’s everything wrong maxed out and treated as if it was right,” he says.

Demoing in GarageBand and Reason, Busdriver shaved off the odd sample and chord, banged on hardwood floors for rhythms, modulated the pitch of vocal takes, and re-configured sequences.

“For the most part, the methods I use I internalized and applied in my own way from watching someone like Daedelus in Pro Tools,” Busdriver says. “When working alone, I spend most of my time messing with performances, bouncing things down, and chopping them. Some of that will get used, but the real production is by more gifted folk.”

Moving on to Daedelus’ Pro Tools rig, the production was ratcheted up a couple of notches with attention to the beats on “Scoliosis Jones,” “Do the Wop,” “Happy Insider,” and “Fishy Face.”

“I find that a short delay with low feedback on a minimal hi-hat pattern can be enough to give a sampled beat some swing,” says Daedelus. “Another trick is to automate the delay time on straight-forward patterns to inject some changing textures by moving the delay signal in time to rhythmic changes.”

For the track “Fishy Face,” Daedelus worked with both his own sounds and some provided by John Dieterich of the playfully jagged indiejangle band Deerhoof. Dieterich’s synth and guitar parts were recorded both direct and through a Studio Projects C mic through the preamps on a Digi 002 interface. The takes were then blended, reamped, and re-recorded in the room with stereo mics. Similarly, Daedelus opted to reamp portions through his Event PS8 monitors to give the electric bass extra thump.

Busdriver’s high-tenor vocals— which cram in more words-per-minute than the USPS receives manila envelopes on April 15—are often recorded through a Shure KSM44.

“I treated the vocals as any instrument,” Daedelus says, “but I pushed them slightly harder, and sat them in EQ zones relatively free of drum clatter and low-mid synths.”

Most of the final vocal takes were recorded with Daddy Kev at his Echo Chamber studio, using a Great River MP-500 preamp, an Avedis E27 EQ, an Apogee converter, and Pro Tools. The main mic was an M-Audio Sputnik, chosen for being “clean, pristine, and crisp.” For vocals used more as musical devices, they ran a Shure SM57 through a DigiTech Vocal 300 processor, using a heavily saturated, slap-back delay. Busdriver’s vocals were recorded with no compression and low gain to compensate for his loud delivery, and Daddy Kev also used an unusual EQ trick up.

“The Avedis EQ is one of very few EQs that allows you to boost frequencies as high as 28kHz,” Kev says. “So I add a high shelf at 28kHz to the vocals when recording, and I boost around 3dB. This adds a nice sparkle without hyping—truly a magical effect.”

As a whole, Jhelli Beam features slippery riddims that play more naturally next to TTC, Hot Chip, and edIT than boom-bap hip-hop, offering assertive and speed-driven freestyles over veering drones.

“This is message-oriented rap music, but a lot of the effect is to underline musicality, and to throw some dissonance and humor in the midst,” Busdriver declares. “This isn’t indie rap as statement against the establishment—it’s just glorifying inventing, and going in new directions from where I’ve been before.”

What? You Boosted 28kHz?

Boosting frequencies at 28kHz, as Daddy Kev does with the Avedis E27 EQ, might seem strange considering the range of human hearing is said to end at 20kHz. But an FAQ answer from Avedis’ website ( ) explains: “When you boost or cut a chosen frequency, it is shaped like a bell, unless you push in the shelving button. Then, it’s half a bell, where the top of it extends beyond the selected frequency. The top of the bell would be 28kHz, for example, but the curve leading up to the top starts at frequencies within the fundamentals, or within 20kHz. So you will easily hear the effect at the very tail end of the audible spectrum without accentuating sibilance or already aggressive high frequency in the source.”