Ben Grenrock needs a casting agent and a cowgirl.
It’s been over two years since the release of Thumbs—the most recent album from L.A.’s longtime avant-guardian of surrealist rap, Busdriver. In the interim Driver’s taken some time away from the vocal booth, focusing on his podcast FR/BLCK/PR (Free Black Press) and ostensibly squirreling fourteen-letter words away in his cheeks to be spat out in a sardonic torrent at a later date. With the release of his new single “Gush” that date has arrived.
“Gush” feels a bit like stumbling into the fortuneteller’s tent at a dilapidated carnival, only to find yourself in the presence of someone who legitimately possesses supernatural powers. It’s whimsical, eerie, and it rewards your expectations by drawing The Fool card from the tarot and slapping you upside the head with it several times.
As the song begins, the beat unfurls itself into the shape of a haunted nursery rhyme. Busdriver pounces on it, blasting exhaust fumes at instances of insincerity at a blistering pace. The tidal crush of syllables will be familiar to anyone who’s been a fan of Busdriver before 2013; and it will also be familiar to any nonfan who was shown “Imaginary Places” by a delirious Lit major or Adderalled flautist and wrote off Driver as an asymmetrical vortex of encyclopedia entries they couldn’t be bothered to read.
But on 2013’s Perfect Hair, Busdriver began fortifying his verses with a little more coherence. He began to alternate between the esoteric and quotidian from line to line, to modulate speeds and thereby give listeners a slower section to get their ear in and before the rapper strategically went off in a burst of fricatives. These stylistic refinements gave the songs on Perfect Hair, and on subsequent Thumbs, a new focus and weight, elevating the effectiveness of Busdriver’s thought-provoking discourse and offering a more accessible pathway into his genius (one the required a mere five rather than fifteen listens to tread), even to those who don’t read the Britannica for fun.
Given the maturation of the last few years, at first it seems odd to find the Driver of Jhelli Beam or Roadkillovercoat—always incredible, but often inscrutable when following the threads of his stream of consciousness rather than those of a specific topic—back at the wheel on his first original track since 2015. But then the beat changes. It drops its whimsy in favor of a dizzying, cybernetic dirge. When the vocals return they carry a more calculated flow and clearer diction—much closer to his more recent work. Here, given the space to admire it, the imagery is more vivid; the punch lines are funnier. By the time he rhymes “Aryan yuppie” with “declared me very ugly,” it feels like Busdriver has made his definitive return.
Though it’s not quite the nuanced masterpiece his last two albums have led many to expect, “Gush” is a fun and enticing throat-clearing from one of the world’s most talented rappers, something of a microcosm of his evolution as an artist, and a spurt of water for thirsty fans. Hopefully it marks the opening of the floodgates.