By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
By Jena Ardell
By Mary Willson
By Bree Davies
By Tom Murphy
By Tom Murphy
By A.H. Goldstein
"My vibe switch is on right now," says Busta Rhymes, one of the most vital personalities to break out of the hip-hop scene in eons. "So I can't stop. Because when your vibe switch is off, you can't do shit about it until the vibe comes back and you can turn your shit back on again."
Circular logic like this is Busta's trademark, both in conversation and on The Coming, his scorching, soon-to-be-certified-platinum solo debut. At first he seems to be making sense. Then he seems to be making no sense. And finally, he seems to be making sense even when he sounds nonsensical. It's a neat trick that Rhymes manages to pull off through sheer force of will. Succinctly put, he's a blast to be around--and he hopes to be around for a long, long while.
"For me, I don't look at a time frame," he announces in his beguilingly gruff, smoky voice. "Because the creative ability has no limit other than the limit you create for it. If a motherfucker is looking at himself thinking he's not going to last, he won't. I don't know how long my battery's going to last, but I know as long as my shit stays charged, I'm going to continue to do my thing.
"I want to be the nigga 25 or 30 years in the future, where I'm not only making crazy money off the publishing for my music, but I'm still able to blow up on the spot. I just want to be accepted by the young motherfuckers in 2020 or some shit. I want to be that motherfucker from this century that brings the shit to the next century, the next lifetime. I want to offer all of these things to the music fan, so that's why I'm talking to the masses. You know what I'm saying?"
If you don't, the tongue-in-cheek introduction that kicks off The Coming should enlighten you. Against the backdrop of sci-fi sounds, a Rudy Ray Moore sound-alike nicknamed Lord Have Mercy intones, "Approximately 11:30 p.m., a black child was born. Upon his arrival and rapid growth, being exposed to the many casualties of the streets, he has now realized what must be done. He must bring the ruckus to all you motherfuckers. He must bring the ruckus to all you motherfuckers! HE MUST BRING THE RUCKUS TO ALL YOU MOTHERFUCKERS!"
This dramatic declaration suggests prime P-Funk--which is precisely what Rhymes had in mind. "One of my inspirations, without a doubt, comes from George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic," he enthuses. "I think he was one of the most rare artists that I've been able to live to see in entertainment as a whole. He's like the original of his kind, the father of his kind--and that's what I want to be. I want to be the father of my kind of artist. I want to use my understanding to create my own kind of thing, so the next school of motherfuckers who come up after me can build on it. I want to make timeless shit.
"Your album is your world. It's all your point of view. It's all of your experiences, it's all of your affiliations, it's all of your you. So you try to structure and paint a picture that the world can see. But that's not all. I try to capture things so that not only do you see it, but you can feel it and you can hear it through the music. That's the way you try to affect the mind frame of people."
The Coming accomplishes Rhymes's goal, and then some. Highlights include "Ill Vibe," in which he holds his own in the company of Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest (see page 65), and "Abandon Ship," a tough swipe at people who say one thing and do another that features key Rhymes collaborator Rampage the Last Boy Scout. The tracks that have received the most attention thus far, however, are the ones in which Busta gets crazy. "It's a Party," featuring rhythm-and-blues crooners Zhane, delivers a sly invitation to get loose, while "Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check" is an eccentric number that might even put a smile on Bob Dole's face. (Well, maybe not.) These throwdowns, coupled with videos in which Rhymes wears his dreads in a cinammon-roll 'do that recalls Carrie Fisher in Star Wars, have led some to inaccurately label him as a novelty artist. He claims to be unconcerned about winning such a reputation.
"I don't worry about that at all," he insists, "because I think my credibility is established beyond that one thing. I sound serious on some records, I sound like the most fun motherfucker to be around on other records, and sometimes I sound like the angriest individual you can imagine. I don't feel like I draw on one particular energy whatsoever. I'm trying to do all kinds of different things as I represent hip-hop music. I can go from hardcore to sweet and tender to intense and rectifying."
"The Finish Line" demonstrates his versatility. The song is a doomy piece replete with a funky hook and an emphasis on street authenticity epitomized by the lines "All those of you out here fronting/Misleading your people/ Acting other than you really are/It will catch up with you."
To Rhymes, these words "connect to all segments of life. A lot of people who do music have fantasies that they're putting out there, but in the same sentence, they're telling you to keep it real. So I just think that's misleading if you're telling people this is the way you're really living and you're not living that way at all.
"There can be fiction in nonfiction, so I don't stick only to what I see in reality; I imagine things that I would wish to be. It could be my own little vision--that's what entertainment is. But I try to walk a thin line where what I'm talking about has something to do with what's real and isn't just a bunch of bullshit. With some motherfuckers, you're getting the truth in some ways but bullshit in a lot of ways. But I try to keep it real all the time."
Rhymes links his allergy to falsity to his upbringing. He was born in Brooklyn and relocated to Long Island twelve years later. Once there, he quickly became involved in the lip-synch contests and rhyming challenges that are still ubiquitous throughout the area. At one such match, he met and befriended Charlie Brown, a rapper two years his senior. After teaming up, they came to the attention of Public Enemy producers Eric Sadler and Hank Shocklee. Before long, they'd joined forces with two compatriots--Dinco D and Milo in De Dance--to form Leaders of the New School. The four-piece signed to Elektra Records (still Busta's label) in 1989. But the platters put out under the Leaders' moniker failed to lift the performers to the national stardom for which they lusted, in spite of generally positive reviews and the support of famous friends. Prior to The Coming, in fact, Rhymes was better known for his cameo appearance in A Tribe Called Quest's saucy cut "Scenario" and his association with Mary J. Blige and TLC than for anything put out under the Leaders' umbrella.
Nonetheless, Rhymes remains true to his School. "Keep It Movin'," from The Coming, serves as a Leaders reunion, and Rhymes confirms that he hopes to participate in a new project by the group after his current promotional tour has run its course. He's also busy with his own production company, the Flipmode Squad, where he's working to develop a cadre of artists, including Rampage the Last Boy Scout, Lord Have Mercy and R&B vocalist Mika. In addition, he's already at work on his second solo manifesto. That's a load for even a hyperactive sort like Rhymes to carry on his shoulders, and he concedes that there are times when he feels overburdened. But he can't slow down. After all, as he shouts in his song "Everything Remains Raw," "there's only five years left."
This reference, Rhymes divulges, is to the end of the millennium, a date that concerns him just as much as it once did the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. But while the Purple One was content to stave off the apocalypse by partying like it's 1999, Rhymes prefers a nose-to-the-grindstone approach.
"I don't think people really understand the intensity of that whole change," he allows. "In a lot of ways, we're not going to know what's next, because we can't dictate what takes place. But you can bet there'll be some weird shit coming down. Time is precious, and before you blink a couple of times, you'll be in a whole new thousand-year period. And those motherfuckers who think they know everything may find out they're wrong. There are going to be changes, and we don't know if the changes are going to be for the better or for the worse. I look at it this way: Change means building and destroying, and in order to build certain shit, you've got to destroy certain shit. A lot of things are going to have to be eliminated before change can occur, and for all we know, we might be the targets for what might have to be eliminated for these changes. And I don't want to be that motherfucking target."
So Rhymes plans to keep working and rapping and running until he's breathed his last. "Even though I've been contractually signed to Elektra since 1989, I'm only doing my first solo album in 1996," he says. "So despite my doing this shit for going on seven years, I'm only now getting my chance. I'm only 24, so that's not so bad, but I'm still like, 'Damn, man, I've got so much shit to do.'"