Busdriver on LA's Hip-Hop Scene, Giving Music Away for Free and Why European Audiences Rule

It's been a good couple weeks for fans of indie hip-hop. Last weekend, Nocando and Open Mike Eagle stopped by the Hidden House, and this weekend, fellow LA underground rapper Busdriver is performing at the Red Owl in Tempe. (Tickets available here or at the door.)

In a recent e-mail Q&A, Busdriver discussed the LA rap scene, his hip-hop pedigree and why European audiences appreciate indie hip-hop more than Americans.

Q&A with Busdriver

Up on the Sun:
You've lived in LA your whole life. What are your thoughts on the LA hip-hop scene? Do you think the focus has shifted from the gangsta rap of the late '80s/early '90s to indie/underground stuff like Project Blowed?

Busdriver: No, no. I haven't lived in LA all of my life. Schooling has landed me in Sedona, AZ and Paris, France for a few years during my teens. But LA has always been home.

Ummmm.... The hip-hop scene has always championed indie-tinged, backpack intensive or Goodlife-derived stuff in LA. It's been that way since the late '80s. Gangster rap never changed that.

The key difference nowadays stems from the rap scene losing its hold on its followers. The production side of the genre has now bled into what electronic music is, though, and has brought with it an exciting new scene that has, in essence, reinvigorated the post-hip-hop kids of LA. Rap music is still happening, but the only new rap acts that are making serious waves right now are a handful of young Project Blowedians, BLU and definitely OFWGKTA. Aside from that, Low End Theory, Brainfeeder, Alpha Pup, etc. have captured the imagination of what the base is now.

UOTS: You've been involved with hip-hop almost your entire life. Your dad was the screenwriter of Krush Groove and you had already released an album by age 13. Did you ever consider doing anything different for a living?

B: I wanted to be a psychiatrist at one point.

UOTS: You released two recent albums on Epitaph, a pretty high-profile label. What made you decide to give away your latest album, Computer Cooties, for free online? Do you plan on doing the same with your next album?

B: Computer Cooties was a way of cleaning the pipes. It acts as a primer to prep fans for my next record, which is a bit of a departure from some on my previous works. And in lieu of how the rap economy works now, mixtapes and free albums are essential. The build-up to an eventful release is as important as the release itself.

UOTS: I recently interviewed Open Mike Eagle and we ended up talking a lot about indie hip-hop's mostly white audience. What are your thoughts on that topic? Why don't more black people listen to indie hip-hop, in your opinion?

B: I don't know. Black folk's tastes are conservative? Indie music is made available via hard-to-find channels and therefore is out of reach for the average black listener? Or maybe black folks just don't like indie shit by and large. Who's to say? I tend to believe that it's more along the lines of class division rather than race. Young people with more access to things tend to able to get into specialized music, while lower class kids have to settle on what is shoved their way. I'm generalizing, of course, but I feel that there must be some truth in there.

UOTS: Looks like you're heading to France after this tour wraps up. Have you performed in Europe before? If so, what are the biggest differences between American and European audiences?

B: I play half of my dates in Europe every year and my audience in France is the most dedicated. Surprisingly, shows that I play in Paris tend to be among the most well attended gigs that I play in the world. The difference in crowds can be pretty extreme at times too. Hip-hop heads and indie kids will make up an average audience in the States, but in Europe the crowd can consist of anyone: grandparents, art enthusiasts, drunken Greeks, adventurous moms. I can never call it, but I'm always left feeling like the center of an important happening. The arts are clearly valued more across the pond.

UOTS: What's up next for you after this tour wraps up? Do you have a tentative release date for a new album?

B: My first single comes out on April 16. The song is "Ass to Mouth." It'll be pressed on 1000 colored 7-inch records and released by Polyvinyl Records. We don't have a date or label for the full-length yet... More on that soon.

Busdriver is scheduled to perform on Friday, February 25, at the Red Owl in Tempe.

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Mike Meyer
Contact: Mike Meyer