Tag Archives: Busdriver

Big Ups: John Vanderslice Picks His Bandcamp Hip-Hop Favorites

John Vanderslice

Photo by Sarah Cass

John Vanderslice is a rap fanatic. He constantly seeks out the newest voices in the genre, and proselytizes his friends on the wealth of sounds and songs available to discover. But despite his intense love of the music, he’s aware of his own limits as a songwriter. “I don’t think I’m capable of bringing in a lot of what I like in rap [to my own music],” he says. “When I hear J.I.D or EarthGang, who I think are technically very good rappers, I realize the distance between what I can do and them, in a way that doesn’t happen with, say, Celine Dion. When I hear really complicated rap cadences, there’s something in my heart that’s like, ‘God, I will never be able to touch that kind of complexity.”

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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.

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How Creating “(american) FOOL” Saved the Life of Poet Jerry Quickley

Jerry Quickley

Art saved another life last year—that of poet, war correspondent, radio host, and filmmaker Jerry Quickley. He’s no stranger to mass death after several tours in Iraq. He also knows that anyone who lives long enough will lose loved ones along the way. But when three people close to Quickley committed suicide in the span of three months, he didn’t think he could go on.

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A Walk Through The Avant-Garde World of ‘Art Rap’ Music


Illustrations by Daiana Ruiz

Coined by Chicago native Open Mike Eagle in the early aughts, “art rap” was originally a reactionary phrase, one that responded directly to the subgenre of “art rock” and implied that the standard set of sonic or lyrical conventions did not apply. On another level, it was a way to distinguish his music from the music that fell under broad and nebulous labels like “hip-hop” and “underground rap,” which are sometimes embraced by rappers and listeners who believe that anything that doesn’t explicitly champion “real hip-hop” is, well, you know—the opposite.

“Having studied the history of American pop music and black music, it’s appalling where we are now,” Eagle told L.A. Weekly in 2010. “That’s why I wanted to give my music another term, something to differentiate itself from the pack. You can’t call everything ‘hip-hop.’ I was listening to rock music, and it struck me that a lot of the rock I liked was called ‘art rock.’ I started wondering why they had a genre where they can do whatever the fuck they want to do, and rappers are scorned if they don’t have enough machismo.”

Today, art rap is even a tag on this website. To sum it up (albeit reductively), art rap is avant-garde rap music that is antithetical to terrestrial radio station playlists. (That’s not always the case—records by artists like Kendrick Lamar certainly push the boundaries of rap.) More broadly, the subgenre has some identifying characteristics, including but not limited to: left field, forward-thinking production, unconventional song structures and cadences, songs written from the perspective of fictional characters, explicit and protracted engagement with social and political issues, and absurdist metaphors and similes.

From the description above, it should be clear that labeling a song/album “art rap” does not mean that it’s only that. Nor are any of those characteristics necessarily new. The list of art rap forebears is long, spanning from west coast jazz-rap progenitors Freestyle Fellowship to one-time Def Jukies like El-P, Aesop Rock, and Cannibal Ox. The list below features 12 rappers whose output—either recent or career-long—meets some of the above criteria. Most, if not all of them, have worked with at least one other rapper on the list in some capacity. This overlap was not intentional, but its existence affirms the artists’ aesthetic kinship, the reality that art rap has always been and will continue to flourish.

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No More Drama For Nocando


Photo by Adam Stanzack.

James “Nocando” McCall seems happy. When we caught up with the underground staple in his Los Angeles home, positive spirits abound, which might seem odd considering that his new record, Severed, delves into the pain he’s faced over the past few years. He’s seen his marriage fall apart and his Hellfyre Club crew disband. Severed is a direct reflection of these events. McCall put these songs away for a few years after the initial recording sessions, only to be reminded of their existence during a wedding he attended last year—love can still withstand, after all. The place he’s in now is far from the man he was then. “It’d be dangerous for [those songs] to come out at that time,” McCall tells us. “It would have been wasted. I would have been heartbroken and angry.”

His decision to hold the music is remarkably level-headed, given the pain associated with it and how all-encompassing it can feel at the time. McCall is now in a better place, and Severed is a diary of incredibly dark times. We spoke with the MC about balancing art and commerce, making music for the underground, and his early days as an all-world battle rapper.

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Big Ups: Deerhoof’s Favorite Bands on Bandcamp


Photo by Asha Shechter

Greg Saunier admits he’s a funny choice for an interview about music. For the record, the Deerhoof drummer loves the stuff—you don’t have to dig too far into his band’s nine-album deep catalog to discover his passion for producing, writing, performing, and experimenting with music. But sometimes, it can be a bit too much.

“It’s like the busman’s holiday,” Saunier explains from his home in New York. “The last thing the bus driver wants to do when he gets a break is go on a trip. Because I’m working on music so much, I like to regenerate with silence. I almost never listen to any background music. But once in awhile, if I feel like I need a crutch, if I need some help, or if I need to be in mood X but I’m in mood Y, I’ll put on a record.”

Sure he may not be blanketing his days with sound, but perhaps predictably, Saunier enjoys records where—much like his own output—musicians take risks. Genre purists need not apply. Noise rock rebels and classical heroes alike, here are five of Deerhoof’s favorite Bandcamp finds.

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P.O.S On The Personal Isolation That Led To His Cathartic New Album

P.O.S. by Nate Ryan

P.O.S by Nate Ryan

Stefon Alexander is nothing if not magnanimous. As a core member of Minneapolis’s Doomtree hip-hop collective, and a member of noise and punk bands like Marijuana Deathsquads, even his solo records—under the name P.O.S—feel like community efforts. So it felt like a huge blow when news surfaced that the rapper would have to undergo a kidney transplant, which kept him in the hospital instead of the studio. There wasn’t a lot of time between his 2012 fan-favorite We Don’t Even Live Here and his return to the stage less than two years later, yet Alexander had to spend a significant amount of time wrestling with both the illness that made touring unfeasible and the recuperation that took a toll on his energy and creativity.

Chill, dummy, his first solo release on Doomtree Records since his 2004 debut Ipecac Neat, sees the firebrand a bit more willing to reflect. Still, Alexander’s piercing voice and fist-to-sheetrock resistance maintain their well-established power.

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On “The Light Bearer,” Jimetta Rose Spreads Peace Through Song

Jimetta Rose
Jimetta Rose. Photo by Marielle Tepper
“I want us all to hear words that feed us, as opposed to limiting us or making us feel beat down. I feel excited to share a true message.”—Jimetta Rose

Jimetta Rose isn’t here to just sing hooks. Sure, she went on tour with producer Quantic as his featured vocalist. And, yes, she sounded great singing backup on Blu, MED and Madlib’s Cali cruiser, “Burgundy Whip.” But Rose has bigger plans: the Los Angeles vocalist is in high demand, working with artists who value her input. She and local producer House Shoes are working on a collaborative album, and she also has writing and associate production credits on the new LP from Grammy-winning producer Shafiq Husayn, who has also worked with Kanye West, Jay Z, and Lauryn Hill.

“It’s sort of surreal, some of the opportunities that have come along over the years,” she says. “It’s hard to even absorb. A lot of times, you can be kept in a feature slot—especially as a woman. Maybe you’re not writing lyrics, or you’re just singing something and moaning on a track. I thank God that [everyone I’ve worked with] has recognized the talent, taken it seriously, and wanted to further the collaborative opportunity. In some cases, it could’ve been one hook, but they were like, ‘Naw, Jimetta, you need to come around. People need to hear you.”

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