Album of the Day: Busdriver, “electricity is on our side”

Busdriver has been putting out radically innovative rap albums since 1999. He’s been an artist for longer than some of the kids occupying the Billboard Charts have been alive. But the rapper, whose real name is Regan Farquhar, has always been wary of commercial acclaim. His music requires hard work from his audience—because he’s working even harder. Farquhar is one of the fastest MCs on the planet; his rapid-fire delivery is laced with cunning analyses of race in America, poverty, and the destruction of community values that characterizes a capitalist landscape. He’d be a “conscious rapper,” if such a term wasn’t so demeaning to his otherworldly intelligence and revolutionary approach to rap music.

Busdriver’s commercial peak spanned about five years, from 2005 to 2009, when he released Fear of a Black Tangent, his first real breakout LP, before signing to ANTI- Records to release RoadKillOvercoat and Jhelli Beam. It’s hard to explain what happened after that. His label dropped him after Jhelli Beam received a less than stellar review from one particular independent tastemaker, and album sales were weak (signing Busdriver for his album sales is a misallocation of resources in the first place), and he disappeared for three years before releasing the electro-tinged Beaus$Eros. Busdriver sounded a little lost on that LP, but he rediscovered his sure footing on 2014’s Perfect Hair and 2015’s Thumbs. After three more years away, Farquhar has returned with electricity is on our side, an album that’s both the best encapsulation of Busdriver’s mission and ethos, and a radical rearranging of rap’s boundaries.

The album features Farquhar’s live band, The Underground Railroad, on multiple tracks, adding an avant-jazz flavor to the MC’s ferocious musings on blackness in America and the indomitable will of his people. When he’s not accompanied by his band, Busdriver serves as a mentor, rapping with Denmark Vessey on “Grape Drank,” in which Bus name-drops Truman Capote in the first few bars and Vessey matches his teacher’s speed word for word. On the swaggering, braggadocious album standout “the year I became a mutherfuckin’ G,” Farquhar is joined by rising Milwaukee rapper Lorde Fredd33 and longtime collaborator Dntel. Elsewhere, he’s joined by veteran co-conspirators Hemlock Ernst and Daedelus.

Electricity is on our side is a family reunion of sorts, the veterans and young guns coming together to reminisce about old times and create new memories in live time. After a lifetime of trying to reconcile an accessible voice with his outsized talent, Busdriver has stopped caring; electricity is a confident overhaul of rap motifs and tropes. It’s post-rap, in a way, pushing the genre forward sonically, and yet also the most platonic example of what rap can be when infused with roots and traditions—because no one knows his own relation to history like Busdriver does. Electricity is on our side is both the best record Busdriver’s ever made and an ecstatic summary of what he’s been working towards his entire career. 

-Will Schube

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