Long before L.A. underground MC Busdriver came into existence, he was a kid named Regan, son of Ralph Farquhar, who wrote the seminal hip-hop flick Krush Groove. Having been rooted in the beginnings of rap before the words “floss” and “bling” were a prerequisite, there's no wonder why the indie champion chooses to travel the less beaten path.
Since then, the self-proclaimed “über-rap nerd” who's now in his late 20s has been busy forging his own path within the hip-hop landscape and using his sometimes off-the-wall audio concoctions as his calling card. Crediting contemporaries like Freestyle Fellowship, Jurassic 5 and The Pharcyde with influencing his sound, Busdriver has taken the underground scene by storm, or better yet, by sneak attack. With the release of his fifth album, RoadKillOvercoat, his first on new recording home Anti/Epitaph, the Lost Angels native is again traversing the line between genius and insanity.
“It's one of my favorite records,” he says. “It's kind of a hyperactive, souped-up spin on what I do. I take chances with the songs but not the same chances. It's vicious in a different way. A little bit of soul, a little bit of pop, a little bit of rock, but it's not a stretch.”
Busdriver digs the Akai MPC1000 and frequently uses the Korg Kaoss Pad and a Daedelus-customized trigger box for effects at his live shows, which he describes as a “joyous affair.” But he collaborates on much of the sonic backdrops with a close-knit collection of producers, including Nobody and Boom Bip. “I meet up with my little rap friends, we make songs now and then, and that's pretty much it,” he says.
But as casual as Busdriver is about it, Nobody and Boom Bip put in a lot of time and effort with him on the record. “We had a ton of fun, but we worked our asses off on that record,” Nobody says. The producer used a Shure KSM27 mic on Busdriver's voice through an FMR Audio Really Nice Compressor and Really Nice Mic-Pre, and then through a 24-channel Soundtrac console into Pro Tools. But for Nobody, getting the music and Busdriver's vocals to gel took more than a good signal chain: “I would never tell Bus to slow down or write less words; he obviously is doing things his way, and it's working. But I would make sure that the speed or the delivery never became cluttered or rhythmically weird against the beat.”
Nevertheless, Busdriver is open to constructive criticism. “Reagan was a pleasure because he can go anywhere with his voice,” Boom Bip says. “He is more likely to take on a challenge and a difficult track rather than the easy way out or a standard beat.”
But standard or not, all of the beats require some finessing, including “The Troglodyte Wins,” on which Nobody used a sample of Yes' “Close to the Edge.” “I usually quantize everything slightly, at around 90 percent with a slight swing on it,” Nobody says. “[However], my program [MasterTrax Pro 6.0 running on an old Mac PowerBook 5300] seems to work best at around 52.5 percent. I am a fan of the Dilla and Madlib offbeat drum programming, and that seems to be my version of it. I feel that after I quantize the kick and snare that way, it just tugs at the rhythm a little bit.”
As much hard studio time as Nobody, Boom Bip and Busdriver put in, Busdriver isn't too concerned with the first-week sales of RoadKillOvercoat. He's simply making songs to get by, and if by some chance he can influence the masses' view of what hip-hop music can sound like, then so be it. “I want people to understand that first and foremost, putting the ‘Golden Era’ in hip-hop on a pedestal is not necessarily a good idea. There are tons of people today who exude hip-hop now who are viable.” And while some artists are concerned with “bringing rap back,” Busdriver is simply concerned with bringing open-mindedness back. “If I can influence anyone to have an uninhibited and uncensored view on rap, then I'm happy with that.”
For more in-depth production talk from Nobody and Boom Bip on recording Busdriver's RoadKillOvercoat, go toremixmag.com.