Bo! Word to your mother. Break it down etc etc. Yep, tonight Digbeth’s legendary boozer, The Rainbow, is well and truly bouncing along to a hippity hoppity beat kicking off with a rising local collective Abes Oddysee. Keeping it old skool there’s a pleasing hint of of J5’s laid back grooves in this four pieces set. Lyrically they’re focused on the key subjects of young inner city kids these days (1) What the fuck am I going to do with my life? and (2) Where can I score some weed? All four took the mic at various times and the different styles worked well together. Of course there’s a rich history of rap collectives going back to the early 80’s but few young crews (yes, crews...I’m down with the street) seem to be making it right now. Shame. No mention of the local rap scene in the recent NME feature on Birmingham either so kudos to tonight’s promoters Fantastic Damage for giving it more of a platform. “Make hip hop one of your 5 a day” one of ‘em shouted at the start of the set. If it’s this good I’d be inclined to agree with him.
As rap names go Busdriver’s not the most convincing. Perhaps only Tax Inspector, Quantity Surveyor and Customer Service Representative have less street appeal. Still it’s not stopped Busdriver, aka 34 year old Regan Farquhar, who ‘dropped’ (as they say in the biz) his first album at the tender age of 13 and is now touting his 11th, Beaus $ Euros. A quick poke around t’interweb reveals a lot of love for this dude and, whilst he might not be as well known as some of his peers (Tinie Taxi Cab, DJ White Van Man and MC Chauffeur), this is less about talent and more about the frankly fickle finger of fame.
From the outset the flow’s amazing. Busdriver packs more words into the average track than most rappers stick on a whole album. Freestyling a warm up he rapidly reaches about 350 WPM (words per minute) and still finds time to pose for photos. Incredibly he reveals that he’s been ill for a month (touring a cold, moist Europe in Spring will do that to you) and gives a shout out to the NHS. Can’t imagine many rappers doing that. “We don’t have that (free healthcare) in the US...I’m going to die...penniless...next to a mailbox”. He makes a good point...and I know that most of his raps do too but, oh boy, is he fast. I swear I saw sparks coming off his tongue at one point. On the plus side this is a hugely impressive display of oral dexterity, on the minus side you kinda want a rewind button so you can keep going back for a second, third and fourth listen “Oh...that’s what he said...clever”. Plenty of stuff did get through though. It’s powerful material too, a world away from the tired macho posturing and preening of most mainstream rap, rich in wordplay and humour whilst still getting across some serious points. Take No Blacks, No Jews, No Asians, a Gil Scott Heron worthy cut from the driver’s latest album. Two minutes of sparse electro and pounding drums bedding a blistering rant against continuing racial inequality. He dropped Me Time too, fusing classical music (sadly my knowledge of the classics fails me here) with a frankly synapse fusingly fast lyrical blast against the modern world and all its woes (war, poverty, media manipulation, existentialism...you get the idea). Check out the video. It’s a miracle he didn’t explode for real tonight.
Two Trick Mind (Busdriver’s collaboration with Nocando) slowed the pace right down giving all concerned (us and him) a much needed chance to catch our breath. If TV On The Radio made pure hip hops tracks this is what it would sound like. A crowd pleasing run...okay...sprint...through Imaginary Places left any doubters open mouthed. How is it possible to keep this pace up without spitting up a lung?! Drenched in sweat (seriously, the dude was soaked) after giving it his all he wandered off stage loitering around for a while taking richly deserved pats on the back from the discerning few who had shown up tonight. Hip hop isn’t about bling. It’s not about huge arena tours, sponsorship deals, scantily clad young ladies or popping caps in people's bottoms. Nope, true hip hop...the language of the streets, the music of protest and rebellion, thought provoking, witty and wild...is what we witnessed tonight and Busdriver’s simply one of the best in the business. What a ride...