On Busta Rhymes, collaborations, rap as pop and the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival
Busta Rhymes disproves the hypothesis that sound and fury symbolizes nothing. In the near fifty years of hip-hop’s mainstream existence, few have ever approached his level of consistency in using stentorian blare as a hit-making tactic. Literally rip-roaring rhymes have galvanized a twenty-plus year hip-hop career where the emcee has sold over 10 million albums as a solo artist. However, that’s largely not the reason he headlines this year’s Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival on July 14th. Arguably Busta Rhymes’ greatest asset as a performer is that he’s a rare master of collaboration. He’s an artist who has proven time and time again to have the rare talent to make one-hit wonders into well-respected commodities, and more impressively, superstars into industry re-defining supernovas.
When Busta Rhymes is featured on a track, it isn’t merely sign of having great taste, it’s an acknowledgement that the song has the potential to be an enormous and industry quaking smash. At five separate points of his legendary career, he’s been a featured player on five enormous selling singles that represent some of hip-hop’s most deft maneuvers into new levels of pop acceptance.
- 1991: A Tribe Called Quest featuring Leaders of the New School – “Scenario” - The track that started it all. In 1991, hip-hop was in the strangest of spaces. Selling a million units wasn’t an anomaly anymore, it was an expectation. Emcees staying safe with solid storytelling that, even when confrontational, appealed to the most basic of middle-American urban stereotypes had become the norm. Sly west coast tricksters like Young MC and Tone Loc had entered the fray, while NWA and Public Enemy pushed hip-hop’s historical and political invective. The then Leaders of the New School, soon to be solo Busta’s verses on Tribe Called Quest’s buzzing, boom bap ear wormer blazed trails. It’s the aural equivalent of pop art paintings in Levittown living rooms. Unsure of the analogy? “Rawr Rawr like a dungeon dragon” and the rest of those bars are explosive anomalies that quietly fit into an ideal. Once revealed? They are concussive blasts that both altered plans and defined a new era of rap and by extension the world’s imagination.
- 2003: Puff Daddy featuring Notorious B.I.G and Busta Rhymes – “Victory” - Possibly the last truly great posthumous Notorious B.I.G. track, Puffy celebrates the excellence of his own legacy with a track engineered to be an arena banger. Sampling Rocky interludes and featuring Busta exhorting all his “ni**as” and “bit**es” to get on the floor and party not just in Sean Combs’ excellence as a rap music mogul, but in the memory of B.I.G. and also in Busta’s Brooklyn bred, true school club banger maker mentality makes this a massively important song. It’s one of the great voices of the dying days of the jiggiest of eras, a lone Cristal bottle cork of rap reaching, now staying at a next level of acceptance.
- 2003: Lumidee featuring Busta Rhymes and Fabolous – “Never Leave You (Uhhh Oh, Uhhh Oh)” - Proof that hip-hop culture’s social desires were slowly becoming interwoven into the global human lexicon is this one-hit wonder from Spanish Harlem native Lumidee. When Rose and Zoro told this song’s story in 1983, it was considered part of a Wild Style. When Lumidee, Busta and F-A-B-O-L-O-US (holla back) came together with the same romantic impulse, it was a gold-selling international smash, hitting #1 in five countries. Busta’s ability to be able to never forget and always honestly convey his neighborhood roots creates a connective musical tie between him and “the streets” that has never been forgotten.
- 2005: Pussycat Dolls featuring Busta Rhymes – “Don’t Cha” - When mass commerce and pop music unite, it often ends in titanic failure. That certainly wasn’t the case for Vegas lounge act turned pop group The Pussycat Dolls. Their success wasn’t just a tale of lead singer Nicole Scherzinger’s tight abs and otherwise firm physique. With a seemingly unlimited budget for marketing and promotion, the job of taking this act to the next level was left to none other than Busta Rhymes. Given the prior examples, Busta more than rose to the challenge and the song was a chart-topping, platinum selling success. In moving hip hop from wild extravagance into a stage of being aspirational lifestyle music, Busta again shows his magnificence.
- 2010: Chris Brown featuring Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne – “Look At Me Now” - It’s a fair assessment that a solid 90% of boom bap and break beat-based rappers have, outside of a financial interest, no deep desire to care about what an electro, dubstep, 2-step or UK funky is all about – and it shows. But Busta? On a Diplo track? With Lil Wayne? And Chris Brown? In a double-time rap that’s equal parts Jamaican patois-spitting and a Twista homage, Rhymes owns this track. Most dance styles, much like rap is party music that grew out of party culture. Busta remembers this and takes this one into the ether. The hottest producer, latest dominant rapper and the reigning king of “dance and B” are here? Great. But as we’ve seen before in the past, when the “scenario” calls for such epic moments, Busta clearly knows what to do.
“Busta and Friends” on July 14th? Given the examples of what he’s done with his “friends” in the past, and the untold dpeth and breadth of hip-hop’s ambition in an unlimited atmosphere? There’s a solid chance he might just change the industry again.