Sunday, June 04, 2006

Busta Rhymes - The Big Bang

Busta Rhymes never really came off as the type of rapper who craved the spotlight -- over the course of his 1st 3 albums, the spotlight just seemed to naturally cater to him. His energetic mic presence, growling voice and creative personality brought him to the forefront of his former group Leaders Of The New School, and as a solo artist, he made hit songs that bumped and accompanying videos that pushed the envelope. With the exception of "How's It Gonna Be", which featured Janet Jackson, all of his hit singles back then were solely his -- "Woo Hah!", "Dangerous", "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See", and so on. It was always Busta in front of the fisheye-lens camera, waving his dreads around, making faces, sporting big hats, just doing shit other rappers really didn't do. It was Busta being Busta, and the masses loved it.

Then some things changed in 2000, when he dropped album #4, Anarchy. Though it wasn't at all a bad album (probably underrated, in fact), and featured a stellar guest list (Jay-Z, DMX, Raekwon, Ghostface, M.O.P.), it lacked that sure-fire smash hit that Busta's reputation had been based on -- "Get Out" sounded too much like "Hard Knock Life", and as hard as MTV tried to push "Fire", it just wasn't happening. Ever the hard-worker, he released Genesis a year later and effectively ended his short-lived lack of buzz, because this time around, Busta tried something new that ended up working wonders -- employing heavyweight producers, in this case Dr. Dre and the Neptunes, to assist him on 5 tracks, among them "Break Ya Neck" and "What It Is". Seeing that the spotlight that had catered to him before was now growing to be bigger than he could fill alone, Busta began to bring in others to help, be it Dre, Pharrell, Puff Daddy, Mariah Carey, Sean Paul, singing Mary J. Blige, rapping Mary J. Blige, or any of the 20-something rappers he threw on his remix to "Touch It".

For his 7th commercially-released album, an accomplishment in itself, Busta's tried something new again, signing to an artist-run record label in Dr. Dre's Aftermath Records, a trend that had served to aid many a popular-in-the-'90s rappers -- Common is on Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music imprint, Nas just signed to Def Jam which is headed by Jay-Z, and Mobb Deep and Mase are now full-fledged G-Unit clones. The Big Bang not only puts pressure on Busta to live up to his full potential with "the good doctor" behind the boards, but also puts pressure on Dre, a notorious perfectionist who would more willingly drop an artist than release a wack album (Hittman, anyone?), even if that means making the public wait multiple years (Detox, anyone?).

Busta is most well-known for making party tracks, and one knock to his music is that seemingly, if you've heard one Busta album, you've heard 'em all. You know what he's going to say -- let's get high, let's get drunk, shake that ass, party goin' on over here, turn it up, you know we come through and give you what you need, and so on and so forth -- and for the most part, you know how he's going to say it. On The Big Bang, Busta limits this element of his career much more than on any prior album, but when he does bring it out, Dre's production and oversight makes it much greater than what you'd expect. The haunting melody on the opener "Get You Some" keeps it from being the prototypical "money, cars, women" track that most MCs will create, and "How We Do It Over Here" may be the 1st time I've successfully withstood a Missy Elliott appearance, though it was a very difficult task. On "New York Shit", Busta is taking a stand for his home state in the midst of the South's taking over of hip hop with rudimentary "snap" and "screw" music, and with DJ Scratch's infectious beat and Swizz Beatz' old school-flavored hook, its anthem quality is undeniable. Busta's always been wise in knowing when to dumb down lyrically in exchange for making a great record, and "New York Shit" is such a record.

These 3 tracks and "Touch It", which we've all heard by now, make up the 1st 4 tracks of The Big Bang, and up to this point its a Busta Rhymes album without a doubt. Then "Been Through The Storm" starts up, with who else singing on it but... Stevie Wonder?!? Busta's semi-autobiographical verses are a complete 180, and the marvelous Dr. Dre beat adapts throughout, building up to a symphonic ending. "In The Ghetto" follows, with more singing, this time from... Rick James?!? The late legend's crooning brings even more life to an already-funky track. Busta's freshness typically came from experimenting with new, often lightning-fast rhyme schemes, but on this album, it's his chemistry with 2 legendary music figures who've likely influenced every MC in some way, shape or form that produces truly standout music. This more mature Busta also shows up on another highlight track, "You Can't Hold A Torch" f/ Q-Tip, where the 2 N.Y. mainstays question the direction of hip hop over a soulful piano beat by another belated hip hop hero in his prime, J Dilla.

Though The Big Bang is not without its faults, they ultimately amount to one very forgettable, very skippable track -- "I Love My Bitch" f/ Will.I.Am and Kelis. It's downright silly, corny, awkward, awful, insert negative adjective here, and that's not even touching upon how contradictory it is to say you "love" someone who you'd willing call your "bitch". The Timbaland-produced "Get Down" is a slight misstep -- it would've served better amongst the more party-flavored opening tracks, and the minimalist nature of the beat is a far cry from the quality of recent Timbaland contributions to highly-anticipated albums (i.e. "Dirt Off Your Shoulder", "Put You On The Game"). The following track, "I'll Do It All", features another surprising guest spot in LaToya Jackson, (though I'm fairly confident that it's actually a typo on the leaked version because the female singing sounds distinctively like Snoop-protege LaToiya Williams), but the singing is not what affects the song for the worse, but rather the slow, dragging flute-based beat that gets boring rather quickly. Outside of these 3 tracks, one could also question, considering his goofy demeanor back in the day, when Busta got so deep into the crack game, but it doesn't musically affect "Cocaina" f/ Marsha of Floetry, or "Gold Mine" f/ Raekwon -- I guess if you're going to make a track about drug dealing, you might as well put Rae on it, and with Busta taking the role of co-executive producer on the forthcoming Cuban Linx II (which apparently is going to be released on Aftermath?), it's a sign of good things to come.

On the closer, "Legend Of The Fall Offs", Busta speaks emotionally on rappers, with no need to name names, who've been at it for a long time and are at the end of their careers, certainly speaking from experience considering that pre-Aftermath-deal-Busta was struggling to maintain popularity. Another powerful song produced by Dre, the beat works around the sound of a shovel digging up an dropping chunks of dirt on a grave, very impressively. Always one to talk about how hip hop has been changing for the worst, The Big Bang is Busta's attempt to do something about it. By the end, the highest of the highs ("New York Shit", "Been Through The Storm", "In The Ghetto") outnumber and overshadow the lows ("I Love My Bitch"), and one can't help but be impressed with how Busta and Dre collectively raised the bar. With Busta's affinity for making party-ready records, the fact that the majority of the tracks on here possess a deeper, darker, more sentimental feel was a risk -- but, a risk that worked for the best, making for one the best releases of the year.