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„I wanted to be a Black Panther or a rapper“ // Busdriver Interview

busdriver
Busdriver am nächtlichen Yppenplatz in Wien-Ottakring

People call me ‚Driver'“, mit diesen Worten gesellte sich das Indie-Idol der Untergrund-Szene L.A.’s auf den Platz neben uns im Dellago am Yppenplatz. Die Musik-begeisterten Menschen von wolkenvorhang haben eine Unikat der unabhängigen HipHop-Szene nach Wien geholt. „Just hanging out with my friends on the bus, rapping. I was 15 and I never changed it,“ ist die einfache Erklärung seines Namens. Nach zehn Studioalben und seinem Engagement im Project Blowed hat sich Busdriver zu einer gefestigten Instanz im Indie-Rap entwickelt. Müde von der Reise, doch sichtlich von den veganen Nudeln begeistert, beginnen wir unser Gespräch über das unabhängige Künstler-Dasein, die Grundfesten der USA und die Wurzeln afroamerikanischer Kultur.

Fotos: Moritz Nachtschatt
Interview: Nadine Niederhausen & Wanja Bierbaum
Mitarbeit: Marlene Rosenthal & Helen Aksakalli

The Message: You have a feature with the German rapper Taktloss. How did that come about?
Busdriver
: Taktloss was a honorary Project Blowdian [Anm. d. Red.: Project Blowed ist ein Open-Mic Workshop in L.A.] in the mid-oughts and he came to South-Central [L.A.] to the studio to meet us, during the Blowed era of my career. And yeah, that’s how I met Taktloss. He literally walked into the studio and introduced himself to us, cause he was a fan and then we found out about him and M.O.R., his thing and went „Cool!“. So long story, we just got sucked into the whole thing and toured Germany with M.O.R. Taktloss, C.E.V., me and Aceyalone, many moons ago. We spent a lot of time, Taktloss got into fights, beat people up – and we rapped and did a whole record and the M.O.R. Bunker [Royal Bunker, das Label von M.O.R.]. We did like 20 song, and all those songs spread everywhere, there was supposed to be one album but everyone just took them.

Do you know some of the German rap scene?
Not anymore. I used to.

That’s pretty awesome, as a German rapper to go out and get a feature like that.
Yeah, Taktloss is a good guy.

You often changed labels and now are on Big Dada.
No, I’m not on Big Dada anymore. I am not on any label.

„People don’t invite you back if you don’t have a huge success“

Is that because you always try to find the best people to work for?
No, you have a romantic view of the early game. That’s not how it works. People don’t invite you back if you don’t have a huge success, they won’t invite you back.

That sounds like it’s hard to find people who want to realize your vision with you
It’s commerce, it’s market-based music. It’s not just some free-for-all where everyone gets to do whatever they want, you know. You have to move units. The deals that I have gotten, have been because I moved units and then when I shifted directions, I went with people who wanted to do that. But right now I am independent and I’m probably gonna stay independent for the rest of my career as a musician.

busdriver

But that also means that you have to handle everything on your own.
That’s a given.

Is the idea of a bigger label not tempting to you, sometimes?
No, no one wants you until you make the thing profitable, that’s it, there is nothing else to talk about. We’ve always done this without any corporate backing. If we didn’t do it, the music wouldn’t exist. There wouldn’t be a Project Blowed, if some of us were waiting for a label. There wouldn’t be an Afterlife Recordz. There wouldn’t have been an Alpha Pup. There wouldn’t be anything I’ve ever done. If we were waiting for money to come down to us. We all need to earn those opportunities when we show that we can perform on the market. So when I sell ten thousand units, a label will be like „Oh we wanna sign you, cause we want the profit from those ten thousand units.“

So tell me about the „Clothes for Prose“-project.
I just did that to make some money one summer. I did it with shirts and I did it with hats, beanies and I’m actually gonna put out a book soon of some of those poems. I already put out one book called ‚Shirt‘ and I’m gonna put out another one that I’m literally just finishing as we speak.

Who did you write these poems for, the city, the people?
Yeah, I just wrote them really quick. Some people liked it, some people didn’t.

„People don’t understand, if you discuss it, if you mention that man’s name, you feed into it“

I saw your tweets about Hillary Clinton. Can you describe your feelings about the coming election and Donald Trump?
No comment. I don’t want to talk about this race now, not on the internet. People don’t understand, if you discuss it, if you mention that man’s name, you feed into it. Americans act like the race in itself is not the problem, but it is, so I don’t even want to mention that man’s name in my shit. I never say his name on the internet.

It’s funny, I talked with R.A. The Rugged Man about the subject and he just said that Trump is only there so that Hillary is getting the job. To polarize, so that everyone is ultimately voting for Hillary.
Let me put it like this, the United States is such a humongous, unprecedented force in the world. It’s hard to really talk about it, cause there is no real comparison, you can’t compare it to Nazi-Germany, you can’t compare it to anything, cause there is no precedent for it. Think about it, anywhere in the world, if you say a combination of words on your phone, they can annihilate everyone in a one-mile radius. Imagine that kind of power, it’s institutionalized.

busdriver

We also have surveillance similar to the NSA in Germany to a certain degree.
Surveillance and the drone strikes program I described go hand in hand, so imagine the flexibility, no over-sight around the entire world. Imagine what happens that we don’t know. Drones aren’t just giant planes, drones are actually also flea-sized. There is not a lot of imagination in what the West actually does. That’s why independent music, independent art is so important, cause it’s like we have a bunch of companies making all the cool shit and you get all the talking point from the Pentagon, cause the Pentagon controls entertainment, entertainment is an arm of the governments propaganda campaign, period. So that’s why you do independent music, to not have government influence flow inside of you art, inside of you culture. American culture is a commercial by-product.

„You just can’t make jazz over-night, you gotta be playing it for 30 years“

Does that also makes sense in connection with black culture? That they try to not make it too commercial?
Black culture is completely commercial. That’s why black people don’t know what’s going on today. Go to any black community and find out where they’re accessing their culture from. It’s from the internet. It’s been normalized and it really goes against black creatives, because there is no group more hyper-visible on the internet in the United States than the African-American people, cause they use the internet guilelessly without protection, over-visible. And when you are over-indexed your feed is being filtered by marketing incentives from AT&T, from Apple, from Netflix, from a bank, from someone else. So what you are looking at on Twitter, it’s not reality, it’s marketing, it’s propaganda and that’s what America is. That’s why we do independent stuff and we cultivate stuff and we try to take pride in things that we make, because it’s to give things a center, an actual gravity. That’s why people are moving to L.A. right now, cause people have been doing that for so long in L.A. everyone is coming to L.A. to look at Kamasi Washington and Brainfeeder [Anm.: Label von Flying Lotus]. But you know what, all of these people have been around for 20 years. You just can’t make jazz over-night, you gotta be playing it for 30 years. People are like, “Oh, Thundercat is great.” Well he’s been playing for 30 years!

And now it’s all over the internet, but it’s not about the internet, it is about being in a room and exchanging something that’s vital, that can only be exchanged between humans. That’s why we don’t have a lot of money, because we do shit that’s from that source. And I don’t give a fuck. I try to make stuff that sells, but I’m not about everything being on the internet and I don’t mind things being particular. That’s what we need to do more of. Sorry, I’m just going on a tangent here. (laughs)

Speaking of black culture and the internet: Would you say that there is something like a „free black press“?
No, I mean I have a podcast called “The Free Black Press”, but I don’t do it that often, but is there an indented press for black people? Yes, I mean there is a lot of different sources out there in the country.

Maybe press is the wrong word, how about political communities?
Oh yeah, there is all type of movements. It kind of splinters of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, there are a few movements that are really interesting based in Atlanta. I haven’t been down, but talked to some of them, but I’m not in movements, because A: I am afraid of the cops , so I don’t like being in movements, B: I’m a weirdo and I’m isolated, so I don’t go to meetings. But what is important is that you normalize something in the public consciousness that goes against the grain. If you can do that, then you are doing something. Cause everyone now knows how to get into groups, the FBI is destroying Black Lives Matter as we speak.

You were part of this 4/29 group many years ago, which acted in connection to the Rodney King riots in LA.
That’s crazy, that you know about that. As a kid I wanted to be a Black Panther or a rapper.

„I’m a rich black man, imagine what happening with people who are doing worse than me“

I talked with Talib Kweli about the Ferguson and Baltimore incidents and he has founded the „Ferguson Defensive Fund“.
Look, I’m not a liberal, I’m not surprised by any of this shit. It’s not like, just because people have phones and you can see footage of black people being blown up off the face of the earth by cops doesn’t mean that it just started happening. Imagine if they had phones in 1890. Imagine that. Would you like to see the labor camps where they raped woman systematically, for hundreds of years? You can’t even fathom it. I’m scared as a default, but I’m not shocked by all of it. Just cause you see something, doesn’t mean “Oh it’s happening now, lets help them now!”. Motherfucker, these are our lives, we collect the damage. Black lives come with a huge amount of mental illness, no money, no wealth base, none. And people are like “Oh why is everything so enraged?“. Oh I don’t know, cause the whole country is based on heist? You can’t even really have a conversation, cause it’s ludicrous. People start from a point of being so hyper-progaganda, that you can’t really be honest about it without being offensive. It’s like “We gotta do something now.” Now? Look at me, if I’m honest with you … and I talk about my mother, my dad, my uncle, if I talk about my life with you it’s like “Holy shit! I need to go home, there is an emergency.” Cause it’s that present in peoples lives. It’s not like all of a sudden. For example my two cousins are highly schizophrenic and have been so since I was in my 30s and that’s normal. They don’t get any treatment, you kind of deal with them. That’s normal. My grandmother was shot in the face when I was a kid and she lived and it was awful but it happened, you know what I mean?  It’s just a different rubric of living. And I’m a rich black man, imagine what happening with people who are doing worse than me. You don’t even wanna know. I just talked to my best friend, she got kicked out of her apartment, she’s one of the best singers in town who sings with Anderson .Paak. Just got kicked out of their apartment by some hipsters. People have no idea how broad the problems are, they are humongous.

busdriver

I’m sorry, I hope I didn’t offend you.
No, I’m just saying that you have to understand what the problem is, it’s good that we have Black Lives Matter, but they’re gonna go away. And Bernie Sanders is gonna go away. That’s all that I mean, I’m not like a soap-box guy. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna try from now until I die. It’s not like “Oh, right now I’m gonna do this thing.” I’m gonna keep it pushing. So everyone I’ve worked with, lets do this thing. That’s what’s important, you gotta maintain. Anyway, that’s my spiel.

Sorry, that we took that direction.
No. it’s fine, it’s just something that I feel strongly about, it’s not like a theoretical thing to me, it’s a very physical experience. It’s weird, it’s emotional, too.

For me it seems kind of a crazy and theoretical question, but what could be a way to recreate the roots of black culture in America?
Look, at the end of the Dark Ages, the ancient world of Africa was coming kind of to an end and before that there were millenniums and millenniums of empires and just amazing cultures. It just takes a long time.

„HipHop only comes out of the black experience, there was nothing there“

It’s a step by step process.
Well, I’m just telling you this, because the music that everyone does is very much based on this experience. HipHop only comes out of the black experience, there was nothing there. HipHop came out of New York in 1977, it was because they didn’t have shit. They didn’t have school programs, no music programs in school, buildings were just run down. So they started doing their own thing to fucking entertain themselves. You can’t destroy people and expect them to not do anything. Who has more ingenuity than the Africans? They make shit out of nothing, they just make it happen. So that’s what Africans did in America. Fucking street lamp turntables? Ah okay, here it is, HipHop! It was an accident. jazz, same thing. After re-construction, slaves were free. People were like “Holy shit, yay!” jazz – it was a reaction to that. People enjoy this music, but they don’t know about the people. Do you wanna know why? Because the terms of this music is dictated by the market, not by the people

So you mean, the market is also dominated by white people?
Of course, money, the economic system is coming straight to Europe, always. HipHop is Drake, HipHop is Rihanna, is Macklemore, is Kendrick. It’s all dope but it’s like what is it really for? It’s to make people who ain’t got shit feel that they can do something with their lives. HipHop blew up. For me it’s always good to keep that in perspective, cause then you can connect all the music. You can connect HipHop and jazz, blues and techno and everything if you know what it’s there for.

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