Jerry Quickley’s ‘(american) FOOL’ is a Busdriver-Aided Tour de Force

Ryan Meaney takes a look at 'american (FOOL),' the Busdriver-produced album from former war correspondent Jerry Quickley.
By    March 18, 2018

Ryan Meaney wasn’t raised a fool.

What’s most striking about the way Jerry Quickley recites his poems is the intimacy he surrounds them with. From his time as a war correspondent in Iraq during the early 2000s to his most recent run as a terrestrial radio host, Quickley has always been the voice for those who don’t have the platform to speak for themselves.  Whether it be through his teaching, activism, poetry, or storytelling, Quickley has always done his best work with the downtrodden in mind, which is what makes his latest effort, (american) FOOL such a triumph: His ability to create a textual landscape out of the tumultuousness of human experience makes Quickley one of the masters of spoken word.

The new project was released on Temporary Whatever, a label run by another West Coast avant-garde hero in Busdriver.  For over two decades, the rapper and producer has been the torchbearer for L.A. alt-rap, working alongside fellow indie beatniks Open Mike Eagle and Nocando to create a singular sound that has helped define a region.  On (american) FOOL, Busdriver uses every weapon in his production arsenal to fully bring to life the oftentimes brutal, always brilliant words and rhymes of Quickley.

The overarching theme of (american) FOOL is humanity’s relationship with mother nature, and in particular, its relationship with water.  The stage is set immediately with opening track “Water Dealer,” where water is not just something humanity uses, but something it possesses.  “Fuck the Mississippi, but I miss New Orleans.” Quickley puts on notice how easily we forget how nature has helped society grow, how without the Mississippi there would be no New Orleans or Minneapolis, without the Hudson there would be no New York, without the Garonne there would be no Bordeaux. 

On “Bullshark,” Quickley takes the point of view of a dangerous sea creature whose natural instincts are disallowed by those who have encroached his space. Quickley uses his space on (american) FOOL to portray humanity not as pioneering explorers, but plundering environmental pirates who dice up the world around them as they see fit.  His booming voice spills words in a god-like fashion, conjuring fire, brimstone, and Ginsberg as a voice for social change.

The beats rumble and churn but never disrupt, like the mouth of hell eventually swallowing the listener whole. The tongue in cheek “Bull Shark” begins with pulsing tribal drums before sinking into a warped out synth fantasia. “Prep School,” helmed by L.A. hip hop artist Jevin Lamar, is a spoken word tale that sounds like it is being told through the Wizard of Oz’s blender.  Busdriver matches Quickley’s energy exceptionally well, creating the sonic space necessary for the master poet’s words to land with optimal power and significance.

Busdriver said of (american) FOOL that the record is a “pure account of underground social music,” an apt description of an artist who loves nothing more than to juxtapose the “underground” with the “social.” Jerry Quickley is an artist and educator who uses his vast experiences and knowledge of human nature to bring to light the particulars that make us so vile and so beautiful.  

These ten pieces of poetry are for everyone and no one; they are for the listener to take with them and lament on what we can do to make our world a little less lonely and a lot more tolerant. (american) FOOL is the perfect title for a record that make the large scale issues seem so obviously fixable, our individual tribulations so relatable, and our future much less grim.