*editor's note: This story was originally published Nov. 8, 2020
Busta Rhymes is floored.
It's a good thing, though. The Brooklyn emcee is just taking it all in; he's enjoying the adulation he's been receiving. It's only been a few days since the release of his tenth album, Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath Of God, and Busta is humbly basking in all the love and props his latest project has gotten from critics, fans and the general public.
"I ain't ever felt this kind of excitement in such a short period of time, not like this, for any album," he tells ROCK THE BELLS, thoughtfully pondering what that means. "And I've had some incredible milestone moments in the last 29 years of doing this shit. It's just something else resonating about this shit in a different kind of way. Maybe it's just the way the stars are aligning with the times that we're in and muthafuckas really needin' their soul fed with some real science. Muthafuckas missing what that real, pure un-compromised Hip-Hop shit feels like."
Very few people know what that looks, sounds and feels like better than Busta Rhymes. For almost 30 years, the man born Trevor Smith has been a fixture in the rap game's landscape, first as an upstart member of Leaders Of The New School, then as a scene-stealing guest star, then as a bonafide superstar on his own, and now as one of Hip-Hop's most revered elder statesmen. But his latest success isn't just the result of his storied rep; ELE 2 was a study in savvy — and craft.
"I think the cohesiveness and the body of work, and the micromanaged, detail-oriented intricacy of the album — I don't think that's been experienced in this dynamic in a long time, either.
"We come from the era [with] the architecture that went into Doggy Style and The Chronic and AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted and Midnight Marauders and Low End Theory and It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back and Fear Of A Black Planet and 2001 — those albums, you were listening and you were actually able to see what you were hearing. It was like films an' shit."
"I wanted to give this generation that experience, because they never got that. And do it in a way that felt timely. I didn't want it to feel old. I wanted the nostalgic feeling. But I didn't want it sound old. [I wanted] the timeless greatness — with that Cascade dishwasher sparkle on it! We hit the bullseye. I'm super grateful."
We come from the era [with] the architecture that went into 'Doggy Style' and 'The Chronic' and 'AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted' and 'Midnight Marauders' and 'Low End Theory' and 'It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back' and 'Fear Of A Black Planet' and '2001'..."
- Busta Rhymes on the craft of album-making
Busta had been whispering about his next album for a couple of years, without ever giving much of anything away.
Part of the reason was him making sure the project was fully formed before he started making any pronouncements, but it was also because of Busta's belief that this project deserved the kind of push that could only come from a team that truly believed in it's worth. And he also needed time to get himself into the right place mentally and emotionally.
"It took a lot of time for me to grow and feel comfortable to share certain things," Busta admits. "You could've gone through something twenty years ago that you just never had the comfort or confidence to tell nobody about until you're finally at peace with that situation. There's a few of those moments on this album. And there's also a clarity because I'm in the best shape of my life — mind, body and spirit. I never had the opportunity to...articulate it in this way, and to understand things now in the way [I] do."
"And I also didn't understand how to execute the way that I execute now."
ELE 2 doesn't shy away from weightier issues; the album touches on the 2012 death of Busta's longtime friend Chris Lighty; broaches the struggles of co-parenting; and addresses the cultural climate during the pandemic and under the Trump administration.
"Songs like the intro of the album with me, Rakim, Chris Rock and Pete Rock; songs like 'The Purge,' 'ELE 2: The Wrath Of God' featuring the Hon. Minister Louis Farrakhan and 'Freedom?' with Nikki Greer..." he says, naming some of the more topical moments on the project. "When I get into those records, in particular, they address all of this shit from a social responsibility level."
"This shit" means a lot in 2020: the coronavirus has altered how everyone lives; the election has been predictably dramatic and divisive; while the racial unrest that has been simmering throughout the year has exploded in various ways and across a variety of locales. Busta's apocalyptic-themed albums have always conveyed his take on what's happening in society.
"That's a part of what I feel is a duty of mine as a man with knowledge of self," he explains. "But I always wanted to make sure that I had that balance of science and heat. And I also always wanted to make sure that my shit never came off preachy. I wanted to always be informative — I always wanna deal with science and sparking thought and make muthafuckas take the initiative to...get as close to the truth as possible. Stop just conforming without questioning and investigating shit — and remember how great you are."
Greatness is important to Busta. He recognizes the standard his own legacy sets for him as an artist; and he also understands how he still sets a standard for greatness.
"Being a timeless great is important," says Busta. "Because I was never taught that you can put an age or a timeline on greatness. Everything that you thought was new and fresh in Hip-Hop came from the shit we was taking away from the 60s and 70s to rhyme over!"
"It's really contradictory when you try to say emcees are over 40 that we still can't appeal to every demo. I'm a living testament to having a 29 year professional recording career. I celebrate 25 year anniversaries, 20 year anniversaries — classics. I don't gotta be in the club when they play them shits! And the youngest demo is still bouncing off the wall to my shit. I'm a testament to that. Literally."
Busta Rhymes is in a good place. In a career that has seen tremendous success, Bussa Buss has every reason to enjoy this latest win. He's the epitome of timeless, classic Hip-Hop. Busta Rhymes is always on point, and he's always in style.
Don't make him have to remind you.
"I'm doing records with Trippie Redd now," he states, eyebrow raised. "I'm doing records with Westside Gunn and Conway and 'nem from the Griselda movement right now. No matter what the era is, Busta Rhymes been sizzlin' in every era. In addition to my old shit still sizzlin'..."
"Through every era."