Ahead of his return to the UK, we salute the genius of Busta Rhymes

By Luca Tiratelli

When you mention Busta Rhymes to people who don’t really know hip-hop, they respond in one of two ways.  They either look at you quizzically and mention that ‘Baby if you Give to Me’ song, or they just laugh.  Whilst there is something undeniably comic about Busta’s public image, this should not distract us from recognising that he is in possession of one of the finest catalogues in hip-hop history, and is perhaps the most stylistically unique rapper of all time. With reference to the different attributes that make him a certified Rap Legend, Whitey On The Moon will now pay its respects:

Delivery: Singular, authoritative and always entertaining Busta Rhymes has remained distinctive through his staccato flow and shouty delivery. His style stands alone in the pantheon of rap (although he did share some formal similarities with ODB) as one of the most dynamic and intelligent.  Whereas Jay-Z talks of vocally sitting in the “pocket” of the beat, Busta prefers to surf on top of it, unquestionably making his voice the lead instrument in every track.  With other, more monotonous rappers, this could make for a boring drone of a record, but thanks to his carried pitch and tempo, Busta ensures boring is one charge even his harshest critics could not level against him.  Examples of Busta at his most vocally unique include “Woo Ha” and “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See.”

Versatility:  One of the things that has enabled Mr. Rhymes to have such a long career is his ability to make hits that fit the hip-hop paradigm of the time.  In his early days, he made distinctly East Coast, rugged and raw gangsta rap, as evidenced by “Get Off My Block” and “The Whole World’s Looking At Me” from his second LP When Disaster Strikes.  In the mid-point of his career, during hip-hop’s mellow epoch (roughly 1999-2003), he put out some classic RnB crossover joints. Collaborations with Mariah Carey (“I Know What You Want”), Janet Jackson (“What’s it Gonna Be”) and the emergence of his more sensual lyricism, opened Busta up to a whole new audience, but were of a sufficient quality to ensure his original fans weren’t alienated.

Production:  Now, Busta is not a producer, but you couldn’t discuss this legend’s career without mentioning the extraordinary beat-makers with whom he’s collaborated.  Working with the likes of J. Dilla, Timberland, Dr. Dre and The Neptunes, as well as his regular team in the Flipmode Squad, there is a definite continuity to the production he has typically favoured. His beats tend to maintain a similar flavour: futuristic and stripped-down.  In one sense, this minimalist, boom-bap sound is steeped in the New York Old School tradition, yet his prescience in favouring synths over samples and scratching, means that he has always sounded innovative, forward-thinking and relevant.

Longevity:  Busta Rhymes has been in the Game since 1989, when he was part of the group, “Leaders Of The New School”.  1989.  Think about that.  The leaders of the scene in those days were Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, EPMD and Ice T.  Few other MCs from that period remain active, and none remain relevant to hip-hop the way Busta does.  He dropped his debut album in 1996, and another 9 have followed, along with countless mixtapes and collaboration albums.  Some hip-hop purists were initially concerned by his recent decision to sign with Young Money/Cash Money.  They feared this might reduce him to a novelty act, hired to spit high-velocity raps on club bangers like Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now”.  However, the release Year Of The Dragon silenced these worries, showing everyone he was still a beast on the microphone. Moreover, his latest mixtape made with Q-Tip, The Abstract And The Dragon, contains arguably some of his best work.  Released in late 2013, it is a leftfield gem which sees two veterans show the new-schoolers how it’s done, and has rightly received critical acclaim.

To conclude, Busta Rhymes deserves to be recognised as one of the top ten MCs of all time, and as the Number One most unique performer hip-hop has ever seen.  He has innovated new styles of flow and delivery and adapted himself to fit any era, without ever selling out. He deserves our unqualified, unreserved and unlimited celebration.

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