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Busdriver continues to push the envelope with powerhouse hip-hop stylings

BY MOIRA MCCORMICK | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

“For me this whole tour is incredibly uncommon, kind of a punch in the gut,” said Busdriver last week, phoning while en route to Atlanta. Added the scintillating avant-garde emcee from Los Angeles, who appears Sunday at Schubas. “I don’t know of anything like it in the country right now. Which,” he drolly observed, “could be a huge hindrance.”

L.A. Weekly, his hometown’s longstanding alternative paper, last month pronounced Busdriver “one of rap’s most challenging and electrifying voices. … [H]e continues to push the genre’s stylistic envelope, while staying true to hip-hop traditions. And he’s got substance, tackling everything from race to class divisions with the same grace as his oft-melodic, staccato flows.”

Driver’s phrase “incredibly uncommon” neatly encapsulates not only his current tour — in support of the lush, dazzling, 11-track “Perfect Hair,” eighth studio album of his prolific decade-plus-and-counting recording career — but also his aesthetic in general and rhyming in particular. As AllMusic.com put it, “Possessing a hyper-literate, intellectual style of rapping augmented with dizzying elocution that would tongue-tie even the fiercest auctioneer, Busdriver is eclectic and eccentric.”

Busdriver, Clipping., Milo, Kenny Segal

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Where: Schubas, 3159 N. Southport

Tickets: $13 (18+over)

Info: schubas.com

He is scathingly funny as well, and while none of this has quite made him a household word, the rapper (born Regan Farquhar in 1978) pointed out that his particular perch, way up high in the art-rap underground, overlooks one-of-a-kind scenery.

“Usually when I do interviews, they’re like, ‘When will you guys blow up?’ and I’m like, ‘NEVER,’” Busdriver mock-growled (after having stressed that quick-buck-makers and “lifers” alike are “all a part of the music economy”). “I do think that in America people are completely obsessed with this idea of Maximum Success — of superstardom. And at this point in my career, I really want to unmoor the hyper-capitalist-success model, because it’s just not where the best ideas are for me.”

Son of screenwriter Ralph, who crafted the screenplay of seminal hip-hop biopic “Krush Groove” in 1985, young Regan Farquhar began rapping at age nine. By 13 he was rhyming with the L.A. crew 4/29 (named for the Los Angeles riots in April and May 1992), and at 16 he joined Broject Blowed — an experimental open-mic workshop turned underground hip-hop crew that would gain substantial renown, led by future legends Aceyalone and Abstract Rude. He self-released his first solo Busdriver album in 2001 (“Memoirs of the Elephantman” [sic]), followed in 2002 by “Temporary Forever,” later dubbed one of 24 “lost rap classics” by Vibe Magazine.

His voluminous recorded output over the ensuing years has encompassed studio albums, EPs, mixtapes, collaborations, guest appearances and more on such art-inclined indie labels as Mush, Anti- (and its established big-sister punk imprint, Epitaph) , Fake Four and Big Dada. This last one is the home of several Busdriver projects, including the brand-new “Perfect Hair,” released Sept. 9.

“I feel like anyone around our age with a similar upbringing in underground rap ultimately just wants to kick long verses next to people who grew up in the craft,” noted indie-rap superstar Aesop Rock, whom Busdriver tapped to supply choice verbiageon the “Perfect Hair” track “Ego Death,” alongside Driver and high-spirited Detroit rapper Danny Brown.

The pair of guests, two among many who grace “Perfect Hair,” dug into their roles unreservedly — Aesop peppering his verse with subtly chilling “Game of Thrones” references. “I loved the sinister vibe [of “Ego Death,”],” he remarked, “and that kinda open[ed] the gates to sort of black out with the lyrics.”

“Perfect Hair” finds Busdriver applying the brakes somewhat to his already-perfected warp-speed rhyming, while simultaneously plunging headfirst into terra incognita: extensive beat-making. Driver produced roughly half of “Perfect Hair,” “something I’d been really scared to do. I just didn’t know if I had the tools or chops to pull it off. [But] I was really encouraged by my friend Flying Lotus, who told me, ‘Do your own [expletive].’”

Busdriver’s hotly anticipating playing Schubas again, having performed there in February with the hip-hop collective Hellfyre Club; this time he’s accompanied onstage by his friend Kenny Segal, “Perfect Hair”’s co-producer and engineer (and fellow Hellfyre Clubber).

Hellfyre co-founder and emcee Milo (who along with L.A. noise-rap crew Clipping. opens for Busdriver) hails from Chicago, as does Driver’s “dad’s side of the family.

“I’m in love with Chicago,” Busdriver declared. “Whenever we show up, there’s a sigh — and we just dive into the city and all its gifts.”

Moira McCormick is a local freelance writer.