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Hip-hop used to be a young man's game. Back in the day, inexperienced newcomers who stumbled into a studio with a head full of ideas made a lot of waves, and also sold a lot of records, more times than not.
But hip-hop isn't a teenager anymore, and neither are its biggest stars. Childish moves are bullshit. Power moves are the way. Men and women who are destined to win the races now have knowledge and proven track records.
With that in mind, two legendary vets have joined forces in 2006 to produce one hell of a bangin' album. The Big Bang of an album, in fact. Shout it from the rooftops: Busta Rhymes has teamed up with Dr. Dre's Aftermath empire, and life is now very good for hip-hop fans worldwide.
Let's not mince words: it's been way too long since the world was blessed with a new Busta album. And no one knows this more than Busta himself. But the last couple years have been very important ones for the man born Trevor Smith in Brooklyn, NY more than three decades ago. He says, with typical in-your-face sincerity brought to you with a smile on his face: "I'm a new dude now, that's all people need to know. Everything about me is new. New deal, new money, new look, new sound and a new staff to promote my shit. It's a complete restructure. And it all started with switching my record company."
After his last platinum smash, 2002's It Ain't Safe No More., Busta knew that he had reached his peak with his old label, J Records. "They do great for people who can sing," he admits, "But they don't do anything for people who make rap records. My sales for them were from me, not because of anything they did."
So Busta walked out in late 2003 and hooked up with the real deal: Dre and his star-studded Aftermath roster. The two had worked together before, since Dre produced three cuts on Busta's Genesis album (including "Break Ya Neck"). But this was the first time they linked up in a deeper way. And with just his first label single, late 2005's "Touch It," Busta has already seen the power of the 'Math: "With that song I already had the most BDS spins at radio that I've ever had in my career. These guys are amazing."
The Big Bang will succeed for a lot of reasons, but Dre's no-rush style is a major one. It's also the one that has brought about the biggest adjustment for the usually bang-em-out Mr. Rhymes. But he knows it's a blessing: "Patience has definitely been my best weapon on this project, because Dre will never rush anything. He's the most patient mo'fucka I've ever met, and I've learned that important lesson from him. It's been a deep experience overall because it's really been just me and him in the studio most of the time. We both knew that I needed to challenge myself to put together something that went beyond anything I've ever done before."
Busta's isn't joking when he says he's going beyond. This is indeed a new Busta, a man who pulls out the club-hopping jams whenever he needs to, but who has gotten even deeper on the vocal tip. Case in point is his collaboration with the legendary Stevie Wonder: "Been Through The Storm," produced by G-Unit's Sha Money XL. "It's like a mini-movie," he explains. "It's about families that come to the U.S. from other countries to look for opportunities, but they never find them. It has to do with a lot of my own experiences, seeing things growing up in Flatbush, Brooklyn." Far from a wham-bam-thank-you studio session, Busta recalls: "Me and Stevie vibed for about six weeks prior to doing the song, so we were already cool with each other before we got there. It was much better that way."
Busta also collabos with two artists who have sadly passed since they put in their work on the album: Rick James and ODB. The Green Lantern-produced Superfreak cut, "In The Ghetto," is "Just a banger about the 'hood." And the latter, "Where's Your Money," means a great deal to him, personally, because "ODB was a good friend of mine. He was a great, charismatic persona, and we had a lot of great times. That track had to make the album because I want to make sure that his family gets to eat." The song, a mid-tempo, jazzy roller, sounds sadder to him in retrospect, since the feel of the track brings him back to a decade ago, when both artists were blowing up on the solo tip. "That one is more about that late-'80s and early-'90s style of production, with jazz samples and hard drums. That's the way that hip-hop used to feel, and I just wanted to recapture that with a dude who was part of that era with me."
Also on the deep tip is "Imagine," with an unusual - but winning - combo: production by Mr. Porter from D-12, featuring Dr. Dre on the mic as well as Chauncey Black of Blackstreet. It moves you and pulls at your heartstrings as well. Bus says: "It's like an ode to hip-hop, acknowledging how blessed we've been just having hip-hop as a vehicle to channel everything through. I mean, what would we be doing if hip-hop wasn't here? A lot of successful people in the game need to think about that and appreciate it. Me and Dre definitely do."
But before you start thinking that Busta has forgotten how to strip the varnish off a dance floor, don't front on the album's first two singles. First was the Swizz Beats-blessed "Touch It," a particularly unique dance floor mover. Musically it's quite minimal, but the hypnotic chorus and Busta's about-to-burst rhyme style forces you to shout along. The ebb and flow has you at the edge of your seat, and that's just the way he likes it. "From the minute I got that one from Swizz I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it," he smiles.
The Big Bang also features the Dre-produced "This Is How We Do It Over Here," with none other than Missy Elliot. "I'm really excited about that one," Busta says, proud of the resumes of all three parties involved. "It's a club banger, perfect for this Big Bang with a cannon shot." Other collaborators include the aforementioned Stevie Wonder, who graces "Been Through the Storm," Rick James, who appeared on the song "In the Ghetto" shortly before his death, Nas, Q-Tip, wil.I.am, Raekwon and Marsha Ambrosius of Floetry and more.
Although Dre is the primary producer (and Executive Producer, along with Busta), Busta continues his track record of surrounding himself with a variety of fresh music, from multiple sources. And additional producers are impressive to say the least, Timbaland, Pharrell, Sha Money XL, Jellyroll and longtime collaborators J Dilla and DJ Scratch. As he explains: "I like to be the reason that a record is a success. And even though me and Dre are the reasons that this record will be a smash, it's still not all about us. I spread it around and keep things open, so that I can bring new things to the table."
All in all, The Big Bang is about great music, and all about the new Busta, a man who has always thrown the rap game a new curveball each time he has stepped to the proverbial mound. He says, with charismatic gusto: "It was just time for this, and I didn't rush a thing, which makes it even more amazing to my ears. A couple years back I just needed to change my whole life and I did, starting with my record label. After that, everything just fell into place. I look better, I feel better and there's just a more powerful aura that comes across in everything I'm doing now. The Big Bang is a record that people are always going to remember as the one where I really showed the world just who Busta was."
And why is it different from everything out there? "It's ME!!," Busta shouts. "What more do you need? No one can do hip-hop like me! There's only one Busta Rhymes, and that's just it."
It's big, it's bangin, it's Busta. And those are three B's that you can take to the bank.