Fear of a Black Tangent

(Mush; 2005)

By Aaron Newell | 16 February 2005

Mark McGrath: So, I’ll get right into it: what caused Sunday night’s unfortunate outburst?

Aaron Newell: I had to review this CD for this website.

MM: And you were more or less fine before this?

AN: What was it like making that embarrassing video with Shania Twain for that crap song and still getting a Juno nomination regardless. How did you pull that off?

MM: What’s a Juno? Let’s keep this focused. The people have a right to know why you did what you did, and we should start at the start. You were fine before this review ordeal, tell us more about it.

AN: It was this disc Fear of a Black Tangent by this rap guy Busdriver. It was on this great little label from California called “MUSH." Bus Driver is from L.A., part of this collective called Project Blowed along with people like Aceyalone, Mikah 9, 2Mex, those guys.

MM: I always thought it would be a matter of time before gangster rappers organized themselves into a terrorist group. That’s why I left Sugar Ray, I couldn’t trust our DJ. Tell our viewers more about this Bus Driver.

AN: You know there was this woman Diane Neale like fifteen years ago who had seizures whenever she heard Mary Hart’s voice? She was written up in the New England Journal of Medicine for that, couldn’t watch television any more in case Mary came on. They did a Kramer side-story on Seinfeld about it once...

MM: Concentrate on Bus Driver please.

AN: Sorry Mark. Busdriver is pretty prolific and he’s worked with a lot of the forerunners of the L.A. underground hip hop scene: Daddy Kev, Daedelus, Radioinactive, OMD, Riddlore, Aceyalone, Mikah 9 – he’s even got beatwork by Daedelus and Danger Mouse and Prefuse 73 on the record I was supposed to write about. I think at the time his most recent collaboration was with French hip hop act TTC on their fantastic Batards Sensibles album. I think he lived in France for a year with his girlfriend, it’s where they had their child. He’s like a cultured, socially-aware, artsy battle rapper. It’s like he’s constantly battling pop culture. And he raps really fast, uses a lot of tonality, but enunciates really well so you can hear what he’s saying but can’t really digest any of it because it comes in flurries. His voice booms, he almost sounds regal. I had to struggle to keep up with him – his delivery is exhilarating, but it made me nervous, jittery. It’s kind of like Miles Davis scatting, but instead of a trumpet he’s playing the entire writing staff of The Simpsons.

MM: I always thought Ashlee could use a little more soul in her music. It’s not surprising this character aligned himself with the French, nor that he had a child out of wedlock. He’s obviously a threat to free-thinking America all over the world, even in the United Kingdom and Poland. How did Bus Driver get to you? Canadians rarely take a stand against anything at all. I suppose it was his gangster image that seduced you, does he have dreadlocks?

AN: Dude, I just said he’s like a booksmart social observer. He wears black-rimmed glasses and wears scarves. To be honest, I listened to the album so many times, and dug something new out of it every one of those times, that I kind of became subservient to his views. He writes mini-mantras like, ok, check this, bust it (at this point Aaron starts rapping): “I’ve got a point system that determines my happiness / Its unit of measurement is your interest in my crappy (inaudible) / Because I’m not dope, I’m not fresh, ideas are overshot and undersung / What a dumb verse that is, I’m definitely not number one.”

MM: I think I heard the word Allah.

AN: No, no, that’s a line from his first single off the album. It’s called “Happiness(‘s Unit of Measurement”. It’s pretty much about how sales are necessary for a recording artist to survive, and how easily the need to make “enough” money can turn into approval-seeking, which eventually leads to the corruption of the artform; it’s a Catch 22. He makes some very astute criticism.

MM: And these are the kinds of lies that rap music is teaching our nation’s children.

AN: Oh and check the steelo here (starts rapping again): “Buy my posthumous full length / My colorfully packaged disembodied shriek / converted to ring tones used in car ads / Sung by winged gnomes over the head of Dick Clark.”

MM: Why do you hate Dick Clark? He’s done great things for American music.

AN: That line is from “Reheated Pop!” where, first, Busdriver compares posthumous hip hop albums to reheated microwave dinners, essentially calling them synthetic products of label manipulation.

MM: How disrespectful. For example, Tupac was a great artist and I’m glad we’re hearing his work as he would have wanted it.

AN: And then he takes that metaphor and starts sing-songing about, “I’m an award-winning dead dude / With a tour pending and a celebrity love interest / I signed a movie deal to play a starring role / The film crew doesn’t even suspect I’m dead.” He’s sort of saying, “If we eat up fabricated studio-pastiche from Interscope’s Tupac vaults, then how does that reflect on today’s living pop stars.” We’re all zombies, man. Busdriver says pop music is full of dead people. You’re dead, man. You’re a dead guy, Mark.

MM: Am not. Is Bus Driver one of these suicide cultists? Does he wear black basketball shoes? Our viewers need to know about his shoes, and the meaning of his shoes.

AN: And don’t even get me started on the beats. Daedelus just blew me away with this reversing drum loop on “Wormholes”." And on “Unemployed Black Astronaut,” Paris Zax uses the same beautiful guitar from Anticon’s awesome “Pitty Party People” but chills it out a little bit, it’s brilliant, and I’d never even heard of that dude before. He produces “Avantcore”, too, which is about pretentious underground hip hoppers blowing up and losing their creative ambition. It uses a Parappa the Rappa beat to sort of say that indie rappers are pre-programmed to fail in the long term.

MM: If the FBI doesn’t get him, the RIAA will.

AN: There was only like two dud tracks on the whole record. It says something when Prefuse 73 turns in one of the weaker beats on your album.

MM: Is that a chemical weapon? I’m not going to get into a political debate with you. We still haven’t figured out why you set Kanye’s cute teddy bear costume on fire during the Grammy awards earlier this week.

AN: Oh that. I just think it’s funny that intelligent people have been buying into his self-aggrandizing
(inaudible) when there’s stuff like this to hear that will actually broaden one’s perception of hip hop music in general instead of reconfirm one’s adolescence. You look like Sonic the Hedgehog.

MM (to best boy): Commercial break.

AN: I know.