Song: "Imaginary Places"
Album: Temporary Forever
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While one can make the case that it is not easy to be original or unique in any genre, one can similarly argue that there is perhaps no genere in which it is more difficult than that of hip-hop. Largely due to the fact that the genre is filled with countless "wannabes," a majority of the hip-hop scene simply watches for what style is "in" and copies it, hoping for similar success. Therefore, many of the most creative and unique artists end up having little more than a "cult" following, with an extremely small number breaking through into mainstream success. Yet it is within these so-called "underground" acts where the true spirit of the hip-hop genre lives, and where new ideas and musical experiments are carried out with the greatest talent and most courageous emcees on the planet. Bringing undeniable talent and in most cases, the most creative and intelligent rhymes anywhere in the hip-hop scene, these "underground" talents stand as the driving force behind any true progression of the hip-hop style. Among these brilliant, yet much maligned performers, there is one who stands far above his peers for everything from his delivery style to the content of his rhymes to the beats and music over which he flows. Having released a handful or records, containing some of the most exciting and mind-blowing hip-hop in history, if one wishes to consider themselves a "true" hip-hop head, then the music of Busdriver must be in their collection. Among his impressive catalog of dizzying lyrical treats, Busdriver truly outdoes himself on the stunning and wonderfully original 2002 track, "Imaginary Places."
In an era when all creativity has been shunned in favor of a bland, loud bass thump and high-treble keyboards, "Imaginary Places" is well beyond a breath of fresh air. Unquestionably, the first thing that catches your ear is the fact that the song is based around a looping flute progression. This alone should be enough to make the song amazing, yet the fact that the hook being played is, in fact, completely lifted from Johann Sebastian Bach's "Minuet and Badinerie Orchestral Suite No 2 in B Minor." Though one might write this off as a "one trick" move, near the end of the song, during the absolutely superb "DJ breakdown," the flute progression switches to Paganini's "5th Caprice," and this shows that Busdriver and his D-Styles have exceptionally wide knowledge of all forms of music. Yet in some ways, it is not so much "what" the flute is playing as how insanely fast it is being played that is so impressive. One must wonder if Busdriver's rap-pace is pushing the flutist faster, or if it is vice versa, as the performance is truly unlike anything else in any genre. The flute is actually performed live on the track by Josef Leimberg, and the contrast in styles between the flute and the record scratching stands as one of the most fantastic musical pairings ever recorded. Along with the clashing classical and modern hip-hop sounds, "Imaginary Places" gives a nod to the mainstream trends with a bass kick that rolls beautifully across the track. While it is far more subtle than nearly anything else at the time, the song "hits" just as hard as a majority of hip-hop songs, yet it is able to do so in a more understated, musically fitting manner.
Playing a perfect compliment to the completely unorthodox musical backing, there is simply no other emcee in history that quite compares to Busdriver. From his lightning fast delivery, to his almost tongue-in-cheek attitude, to some of the most thought provoking and truly unique lyrics ever, Busdriver stands high above his peers in nearly every aspect. Using a handful of different vocal inflections on "Imaginary Places," as well as one of the most brilliantly amusing one liners in music history, Busdriver has a voice and delivery style that are instantly recognizable. On every rhyme, his voice brings with it an innate feel of intellectual prowess, an aspect that is nearly void elsewhere in the genre. Rhyming at a speed that is far beyond that of anyone else, the fact that he is able to spin so much content and emotion into this words also pushes Busdriver into a category all his own. Throughout "Imaginary Places," Busdriver puts on display his wide range of writing themes, from the completely absurd to gloriously crafted social critiques like the somewhat subtle lines, "...HMO how I hate him so, he wants to charge me for a halo..." Lines like this can be interpreted on many different levels, and it is complex ideas such as this that make Busdriver nearly peerless when it comes to writing. Later in the song, Busdriver even takes a quick swipe at the image-conscious, materialistic society when he drops the lines, "...she's not in love but I thought that she was...she doesn't love me because I don't have the right haircut..." The pace at which he spits these rhymes is absolutely stunning, and the combination of all this together makes "Imaginary Places" one of the most uniquely impressive hip-hop tracks ever recorded.
Over the decades, truly talented emcees have proven that regardless of the mainstream sound, there music will be heard as it simply cannot be ignored. Performers like Mos Def, Common, and Jurassic 5 have pushed this idea into more large-scale success, and proved that there is a market for "smarter," more original hip-hop music. Leaving the mindless lyrics and over-done bass to others, Busdriver is easily among this elite group of performers, and in many ways, he rises far above them. Bringing what is unquestionably one of the fastest rhyme deliveries in history, both literally and metaphorically, Busdriver leaves the competition in the dust with tracks like "Imaginary Places." His ability to keep the mood light, and yet drop some of the most thought provoking rhymes ever makes him one of a handful of rappers that simply cannot be ignored. Though it may seem a silly thought at first, his spoken line of, "...kids...if you really want to piss off your parents, buy real estate in an imaginary place...," the fact of the matter is, upon deeper thought on the idea, it is a clear call, encouraging youth to follow their interest in the arts and "dreaming" as opposed to simply "giving up" on their dreams and following "what" their parents think is best for their future. Perfectly balancing tone, speed, and unrivaled writing skills, there are few artists that even come close to the overall talent level of Busdriver, and he proves that the "future" of the hip-hop scene is being pieced together far away from the mainstream sounds. A true gem of the hip-hop genre, few songs are as phenomenal on as many levels as one finds in Busdriver's extraordinary 2002 track, "Imaginary Places."