No matter the sketches, the album covers or the packaging, the songs of Busta Rhymes remain above all receptacles for Busta’s inexhaustible energy. He’s a hyper-technical MC, with a purse of flows and cadences so bottomless he seems to hear six potential songs on every beat. He played drums as a kid, and when he auditioned for Chuck D with Leaders of the New School, he played the kit while Charlie and Dinco D rhymed. “My flows have so much rhythm, replace the drummer,” he spits on the first verse of “The Whole World Looking At Me,” and no rapper has ever rapped more like a drummer. The freedom and joy of Busta’s rhymes came from feeling that he could pick up any part of the beat, any pattern, and run with it as far as he wanted. In his mouth, the words are not words, they are clear heads.
The flip side is that when you examine his lyrics on a page, you sometimes end up with a transcribed drum solo. For every line that wiggles beautifully on your eardrum – “Ha-ha, laugh at you, oh, me and my passengers / Flip-ass niggas faster like frying pan spatulas”, from the title track” – there’s a clunker like, “While you cough, I’m flossing like a fucking dolphin,” or a puff of hot air like, “Rhymin’ Rastas eating enough exotic pasta.”
The best songs on When disaster strikes… don’t try to weigh down Busta with irrelevant stuff like concepts, narratives, guest hookups, or context. “Rhymes Galore” gives him a rubbery sample and a canvas bright enough to suit him, then clears the decks. More than one trick of Rufus Thomas”Do the funky penguinhe pogos out of every available space, saying—what? Nothing, nothing, everything. He shouts “Jumpin Jehovah’s Witness” and rhymes “ampere” with “chandelier.” rhymes galore!” is also the message. It alludes to the anarchic album artist he could have been, more intriguing and subversive than he ultimately became.
Rap was getting darker, lonelier, the stakes were getting higher. The consummate survivor, Busta was determined to follow, so he got tougher. On “Things We Be Doing for Money,” Busta does his best version of Life after deathstreet opera style, full of ruthless bloodshed and bodies left in the streets. The Mobb Deep gloom of “We Could Take it Outside” is compelling, but there’s something disheartening about it; Busta Rhymes threatening to bump your head was about as much fun as getting juxtaposed by Bugs Bunny.
In the second half of the 90s, rap approached terminal masculinity. It might be hard to imagine today, when people like Young Thug casually wear dresses on their album covers and one of hip-hop’s biggest stars is out, but at the At the time, Busta was the only male rap star willing to play with gender lines. . Everyone in the Hype Williams videos were dressed in bright colors, but Busta wasn’t afraid to not only dress in bright colors, but law as if he were dressed in bright colors – he was the only one who wanted to dance, move, spin, smile widely enough for the toothpaste commercials. His genderplay was superficial, strictly vaudevillian – in fact, he showed a long, nasty streak of homophobia – but in 1997 he was the only one who wanted go on stage in a dress next to Martha Stewart.