Busta Rhymes is more than aware that there are plenty of vipers out there who want his game. For example, a recent article put forth the notion that his tremendous underground appeal might wane under the weight of his ever-expanding hold on mainstream audiences.
But Busta never flinches.
For the man who had the courage to condemn rap’s whole ‘keepin’ it real’ mantra as “Propaganda,” this new challenge is but a blip on his radar screen. Rap’s most incandescent visionary has always been more interested in shedding light than heat. Which is why, throughout the ’90’s, Busta Rhymes has managed to fuse his everyday experiences as a black man, as a son, and as a father, with much more eternal concerns. Leading him – as he says – “To contemplate the shit between the lines.” Selling millions of albums by remaining true to himself.
So it’s with his boldest strokes yet that he’s approached his third solo album, Extinction Level Event (The Final World Front). The 19 song disc is an apocalyptic tour de force, with Busta – who now commands the listener’s attention with a rock star’s ferocity – unleashing thought provoking verses one minute, and spitting out euphoric hailstones of hectic, teeth clenching rhymes the next.
E.L.E. is Busta’s crowning epoch. A maelstrom of enlightened, turbulent wordplay about the impending millennium. But where other rappers have only recently immersed themselves in the year 2K, Busta has long wielded a futuristic sword about him. The day of reckoning has served as the subtext of his two smash platinum plus solo albums, 1996’s The Coming, and 1997’s When Disaster Strikes. But it was during Busta’s tenure with the legendary Leaders Of The New School, launched in 1990, that he first explored such explosive subject matter. Many point to the Leaders second LP, 1993’s T.I.M.E., as the beginning of Busta’s fascination with the extinction theme.
“I’ve said before Leaders has always been my foundation. If you go back on my records you can see a thread. The shit I have to say, the true deep shit, can be understood on many different levels, sometimes not hitting you all at once. I feel now, I’ve got to create more of an effect because the clock is ticking on shit we cant even grasp, yet.”
As usual, Busta has assembled an eclectic, all-star cast to help spin his tales. He also works with the usual top-line producers, including Rashad Smith, DJ Scratch, Diamond D., and Derrick Angeletti. Among the highlights are a duet with hard rock icon Ozzy Osbourne on a remake of the classic “Iron Man,” dubbed “This Means War.” Says Busta about the historic summit: “He was great. I remember when I first heard the song “Iron Man.” The lyrics like ‘Is he live or is he dead’ just affected me. The power he puts behind it. The intensity, the effect – it’s the same way I approach my shit, whether I’m recording or performing. To be able to do this on E.L.E. blew me away.”
Another one of the album’s highlights is a duet with superstar Janet Jackson, on “What’s It Gonna Be.” “It was a pleasure to work with her from beginning to end,” says Busta. “She couldn’t have been more gracious.” On the other end of the spectrum is the mayhem achieved by Busta and Mystikal (from Master P’s No Limit Posse) on the raucous “Iz They Wildin Wit Us & Gettin Rowdy Wit Us.” The anthemic, amped-up chant of “Rowdy Rowdy,” is sure to go down as another Busta classic. Other gems are the party ax of “The Bus A Bus,” the LP’s ominous title cut, “Extinction Level Event (The Song Of Salvation”) and the rapid fire “Gimme Some More,” a showcase for Bustas legendary vocal pyrotechnics.
The Brooklyn native (his family would later move to Long Island) first honed his outrageous style on The Leaders Of The New School’s debut album, 1990’s Future Without A Past. But it was his breakout rhyming ability he displayed on A Tribe Called Quest’s classic “Scenario” that hinted of his solo prowess to come.
The next flash of brilliance would occur on another guest shot, this time it was his work on the remix for Craig G’s “Flavor In Ya Ear.” After The Leaders parted ways, Busta felt ready to pursue a solo career. But few would have guessed that 1996’s platinum plus opus, The Coming would change the face of hip hop forever.
The monumental first single, “Whoo-Ha! Got You All In Check,” would launch Busta on a trajectory towards superstardom. His follow up album, the 1.5 million selling When Disaster Strikes would keep him there. The success of across the board smashes such as “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See,” would cement Busta and his Flipmode Productions as a cultural force that would transcend the boundaries of hip hop.
Busta seized the opportunity to display his other talents by flexing his acting ability in such films as Who’s The Man, Strapped, and a key role in John Singleton’s Higher Learning. The hip hop star has also made several TV appearances, including a guest star spot on the Steve Harvey show this year. Amid all the extraneous activities, Busta still found time to successfully engineer his own record company, Flipmode Entertainment, and carry his coveted Flipmode Squad to the top of the charts with their first album, the gold-plus The Imperial, featuring the hit “Cha Cha Cha.” The tireless entrepreneur also has unveiled his own clothing line, Bushi, which is influencing streetwear in the same way Busta’s early records infiltrated the hip hop scene.
Is it difficult possessing the non-stop energy of Busta Rhymes?
“I try to pace myself,” says Busta. “You get a lot of opportunities to do things, and I try to represent myself in a way that’s not going to let people down, but at the same time I’m never going to do the same old shit. Flipmode has always been about flipping any expectations you may have at any given moment.”
A recent illustration of that point would be Busta lending his signature voice to the new Rugrats Movie, which hit theaters in November. The rap, star, who has a son himself, plays “Reptar Wagon.”
“Our audience comes from everywhere,” he says. “Young, old, rich, poor. They know that hip hop gave a voice to motherfuckers who never had one. And now that we got their attention, I want to communicate the shit so that it creates the greatest impact. So that it sticks. Anything that I’ve ever approached, I’ve had one goal in mind. To dominate. And that was the definite mindset going into E.L.E.”