Busdriver
Cosmic Cleavage

By Demented Toddler

 
There have been plenty of approaches to hip hop jazz, from Stetsasonic's Talkin All That Jazz (which, let's face it, didn't have much to do with jazz), through Guru's Jazzmatazz project, which slipped deeper into an r'n'b mire with each album, to the Roots' innovative if ultimately limited live sound. While other approaches haven't gone crazy on the improvisational, modal nature of the music, something of that spirit survives in Daddy Kev's production. His most successful tracks here retain an experimental quality without sounding like unfinished exercises, and manage to be wilfully cool and kooky without irritating. Where this balance does exist, it's noticeable precisely because he doesn’t quite pull it off every time.

Kev has a good ear for hooks, rarely ruining them with unnecessary mucking about. The title track in particular reflects this, its appeal obvious to friends of the Ninja family, with a trumpet only marginally less drunk than Kid Koala's. Rather than borrowing individual jazz instrument sounds like recent Ninja release Blockhead, Daddy Kev keeps more of a jazz form, combining rap's drums and bass where it suits him rather than taking its traditional break loops as his template. This is evident on tracks like Nagging Nimbus, which comes on like a hip hop re-imagining of Dave Brubeck's Take Five. While continuing his own work from the Slanguage album Kev occasionally sounds like other genre muddlers as well. Pool Drowning, for example, has something Beckish about it, and comparisons have been made with other leftfield and independent artists, like the cLOUDDEAD boys.

Busdriver too, for all his weirdness, is undisputedly one among a number of wacky rappers. His humour doesn't quite cross the Atlantic intact, but its antecedents can be found on records by Biz Markie, mock misogynistic Miami bass crews, and Del at his 'if you must' comic oddest. He's paralleled in the UK by Parlour Talk, and the US by Pigeonjohn. If the free jazz business doesn't make you think 'hey, these guys are crazy', Busdriver's vocal stylings will. The pitch of his voice shifts up and down wildly, as if he's rhyming while trying to stay upright on a recalcitrant seesaw, and he speeds and slows his slur unpredictably to make his cadences attack the beats right. The words themselves don't necessarily map onto the rhythm though, and with too many syllables deliberately shoehorned into lines, meaning often loses out to sound. Of course this all adds to the weirdness, which does seem to be the point. The tracks have titles like She-Hulk Dehorning the Illusionist and Stride-Pianist Penis-Envy , and when the lyrics can be made out, they say things like 'Wowee look at that, the suicide princess enters the sky…' Because of all this, Cosmic Cleavage is always in danger of being one of those novelty hip hop records. Originally made as a soundtrack, maybe it gets away with being a concept album, touched with the sort of musical and lyrical comic camp that Andre 3000 does a little better and with more popular appeal.
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