Artist: Busta RhymesTitle: The Big BangRating: 4 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Alvin “aqua” Blanco
Busta Rhymes still has a passion for this rap music thing. While the majority of MCs of his vintage called it a career, or should have, years ago, the former Leaders of the New School lyricist has battled and conquered the adversity of advancing age and fickle fans in a young man’s game. It doesn’t matter that its been a decade since his stunning debut, The Coming. Experience doesn’t give you a pass in Hip-Hop, it makes it that much more difficult to maintain your position. In Busta’s case, on his seventh solo album, The Big Bang (Aftermath/Interscope), the Dungeon Dragon drops his best album in years. Lately he’s looking swole like Tony Atlas but like the shaving of his dreads, Busta delivers a streamlined and more personal effort that will fit snugly near the top of his deep catalog.
Put aside, if you will, all the controversy surrounding his silence regarding the murder of his friend Isreal Ramirez or even the rote topic of whether New York Hip-Hop fell off. When you listen to The Big Bang you’re listening to a rap veteran at the apex of his game. Though Busta has never been further away than a guest spot on a hit song of the moment’s remix, it wasn’t until he dropped “Touch It” that his seemingly stalling career got juiced like Jason Giambi in 2001. Though it’s been three years since his coolly received It Aint Safe No More and this new album has been pushed back multiple times, and leaked on the Internet, it was worth the wait.
Dropping the most sonically consistent release on his new Interscope recording home since his labelmate Game’s The Documentary, Busta lined up his features and production almost flawlessly. He dusts off his Native Tongue crony Q-Tip on “You Can’t Hold The Torch” and Kamal the Abstract goes on one of his most poignant lyrical rants about losing love for the game since his turn on Slum Village’s “Hold Tight”. Speaking of SV, their late comrade J Dilla’s track is a perfectly subdued amalgamation of supple keys with kicking drums that helps foster a demonstration of the fresh Hip-Hop they miss. It prevents from being another bitching and moaning session on wax as Busta snaps, “I’m tired of niggas complaining how the game change, ya niggas should step up your game cause ya sound strange.”
Rather than going the easy route of either overloading the album with guests or dialing up some hyphy or snap tracks, Busta carries the weight of his project mostly for self, relatively. The album drops key cameos (his Flipmode team is conspicuously absent) when necessary but it remains a Busta Rhymes event, rather than a compilation. Most guests play hypeman on the track (Swizz Beatz on the butter smooth anthem “New York Sh*t” and Missy Elliott on the shotgun humming
“How We Do It Over Here”) or sing hooks (Stevie Wonder’s crooning on “Been Through The Storm” adds further heft to Busta’s ruminations on overcoming adversity while Green Lantern resurrects Rick James via sample on the rousing “In The Ghetto”). On “Don’t Get Carried Away” Dr. Dre drops galloping drums of doom for Busta and Nas to bully with their flows. Nas and Busta make more sense than say, Busta and the latest one hit one wonder from out of town.
A further result of the careful plotted guest list and concepts is a focus on dropping the best work possible throughout an entire album. No theatrics, just heavy rhymes and thumping beats. Maybe it was Dre’s Midas touch that focused him, but the result is tracks like the aforementioned “Been Through The Storm” and the Mr. Porter (Denuan Porter aka D12’s Kon Artis) laced “They’re Out To Get Me” that find an introspective Busta speaking on life’s struggles and fair-weather friends, respectively. Busta is supposed to be a Leader of the New School after all and he speaks on the trials he’s gone through to keep that status. Stepping up and going beyond his usual modus operandi of late-club friendly singles, okay albums-has steered him clear of the fate he describes on the album’s closer, “Legends of the Fall Off”. Over a morose Dr. Dre beat with dark chords and a haunting vocal clip, Busta breaks down when to call it a career: “I remember when you did your thing without a doubt tastefully/The problem was you didn’t know when to bow out gracefully/Once told never burn out it’s best to fade away/Preserve your value so that you can live to see a greater day.”
For Busta’s sake the prophetic words don’t apply today because his talents have yet to atrophy. Though Bus devotes a good deal of his words and verbs to his skill with ratchets and pushing weight-peep his teaming with “Gangsta Republican” Raekwon on the Erick Sermon crafted mood shifter “Goldmine” for the most blatant example-you can’t front, he does it well. The deceptively titled “Cocaina” is a better display of lyrical skill that doesn’t rely too heavily on cartel raps as is “Get Down”, where Busta performs like a party motivator over tribal like drum patterns courtesy of Timbaland.
The album isn’t fully clear of trip ups, so some nitpicking is necessary. The awkward at best second single “I Love My B*tch” had heads worrying that his “comeback” was just a fluke. Said song features Kelis on its self-deprecating “I love my b*tch” versus “I love my ni**a” hook is tough to wrap your ears around, radio play be damned. And if Busta had been able to slide in say the “Three’s Company” theme flipping internet favorite “Ping” in place of the trite “I’ll Do It All” that wastes a glitzy Jelly Roll track, he could easily be finagling with that too liberally granted classic album distinction.
From the recording booth to the stage, Busta Rhymes is still a monster on the microphone. Sure, he can stunt and front with the best of them, peep his gaudy, gold rope inspired diamond studded chains, but when it comes to what matters musically, he’s asserted himself to be in an elite class. No longer a character (“I ain’t animated like say a Busta Rhymes,” said Jay-Z), he’s become more human, so to speak. He’s a classic artist that dropped a dope album. If you’re asking for more, you’re probably bitter and stuck in the past, while you ought to be listening to the future.