Rapper Busta Rhymes has been rapping about the end of days since his work with the ’90s group Leaders of the New School, but there’s something timely about him dropping his new album ‘Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God’ (the follow-up to 1998’s ‘Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front’), at a time when reality increasingly seems like dystopia.
It’s fair to say the blockbuster guest list is divine, a roster heaving with collaborators old and new, including Chris Rock, Rakim, Pete Rock, the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard, M.O.P, Q-Tip, Rick Ross, Anderson .Paak, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige and Kendrick Lamar. NME caught up with the hip-hop veteran, via Zoom at his home in New York, for a quick chat to find out more. And, well, we got more than we bargained for.
Hello Busta! Your new album’s artwork shows a skull in a face-mask. How are you coping with this COVID-19 period?
“This is one of the most unfortunate times in the history of the existence of this planet. It feels like our intelligence is being insulted significantly and there’s no accountability for the suffering we have to encounter as a result. There feels like there’s a blatant inconsistency in truth for us to be able to protect our well-being in the right way. People want to go to work and not be subjected to doing anything illegal to take care of themselves their family, and people have worked hard to build businesses that are being taken away from them, and can’t see family members.
“If you ask questions, you’re looked at as a trouble-maker or someone not being mindful of the sheeple who just want to be sheeple and comply. So the weirdest shit about this is people aren’t digging deeper and empowering themselves in these times when they’re trying to take away the little bit of power we once had.”
Who’s ‘they’? What would anyone exactly have to gain from this?
“There’s obviously something wrong and some other agenda going on – a lot of it is political. It feels super-imbalanced and unfair. We’re getting caught up in the overwhelming abundances of propaganda that’s keeping us distracted from realising that there’s some truth we need to start working towards and getting to the bottom of.”
Let’s agree to disagree. 1998’s ‘E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front’ was loaded with apocalyptic imagery, so 2020 feels an appropriate time to release the follow-up…
“With my work, I try to point out that a day was coming that is going to permanently end the world we’ve grown to know and love. I never knew we would live to see this time (Laughs). I named my albums ‘The Coming’, ‘When Disaster Strikes…’, ‘E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front’, ‘ Anarchy’, ‘It Ain’t Safe No More…’, and ‘The Big Bang’. I was hoping none of these events did happen, but felt it was my duty to start these conversations about how do we prepare for it if it does. So I would always have these narratives attached to the themes of my albums. That’s why ‘Everything Remains Raw’, the B-side to my 1996 single ‘Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check’, I said ‘There’s only five years left’. Five years later, the World Trade Centre falls. Then in 1998, my first ‘E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event)’ album, the artwork is the World Trade Centre gone and New York in flames. Three years later, it actually happens.
“I wasn’t prophesising anything; I just wanted to share the shit that was actually out there that people are told they’re conspiracy theorists if they read it. You know, the ‘conspiracy theorist’ term is to discredit whatever truth you might be getting close to. Now there’s no changing my mind. It’s not coincidence. Somebody planned this shit, but I don’t know who.”
Erm. So, what else was inspiring the album?
“When I started this album, in addition to the shit on that level, I wanted to talk about the disproportionate level of injustice that black and brown people have to deal with. Racial injustice has been going on for hundreds of years, so there’s never a not appropriate time to put out this type of album. But it’s balanced with good music and feel-good energy and entertainment, because I never want to come across as preachy.”
The late Ol’ Dirty Bastard appears on the track ‘Slow Flow’. How did it come about and how did you feel when you heard your friend’s vocals?
“It was extremely emotional. That’s my brother. I miss him. I love him very much and we were very close going way back before we both had solo careers, since Leaders of the New School. Our history runs deep, so to get the opportunity to hear his voice in the studio and saying things the world never heard him say was magical. When you hear the song, I just let him talk by himself. He’s in the studio talking about wanting to do the new raps that he doesn’t remember and he’s having fun, so you get to hear him in a personal intimate space. It’s candid. Thank you to Wu-Tang – they’re my brothers – and ODB’s family for giving me their blessing and clearance to be share this with the world.”
The line-up of guests is God-tier. You’ve even reunited with Mariah Carey for the first time since the 2003 hit ‘I Know What You Want’ on the new cut ‘Where I Belong’…
“That track came about as a remix of the original back in 2003, but the original was so successful that we decided not to do it. Fast-forward and we recorded the song three years ago. It was like: ‘Dammit! This feels like the universe wants us to do this one more time to see if lighting strikes in the bottle twice’. It didn’t feel like we were trying to recreate a moment, just that we were doing another masterful piece of work together. Mariah is an incredible friend of mine and always super-supportive of everything – as long as it’s the right idea, as long as it lives up to her legacy. We did the song and shot a video. While waiting to release it, Trippie Redd did a version of ‘I Got You’ and the video was a continuation of me and Mariah. So now Trippie is part of the storyline. It’s never been done before. This is a 17-year storyline and we’ve got artists from the new generation being a part of the whole thing. This shit is crazy!”
Talking of the newer generation, what made you want to team up with Kendrick Lamar on the track ‘Over My Shoulder’?
“Kendrick is my favourite MC of the newer generation. He’s a seasoned young veteran and an architect of what he does. He’s very surgical with his skillset and he’s one of those MCs that pushes you to be greater and inspires me. He makes me love the art of really being lyrical. That’s who I am and what I was raised from. I hold being very lyrical in high regard, so it was a blessing to come together with my brother Kendrick and put together the song ‘Look Over Your Shoulder’ which is a monster moment. Big up the producer Nas – he did the first three tracks on the first ‘E.L.E’ years ago and ended up coming back 22 years later to create one of the biggest moments on the album.”
It’s been eight years since your last solo album, ‘Year of the Dragon’. Why so long?
“At this stage in my life, I’m driven only to do the things that are going to be climate-shifting moments. I’ve done everything in 29 years, so if I’m going to do something it has to move my spirit in a new way and I’m not going to do it if there’s time restraints or limited funding. I have to move in my time. If I’m not giving it on that level, people are gonna talk about me – you’ll get a trillion motherfuckers in your timeline telling me I’ve failed or didn’t deliver. I don’t want to deal with that, so I took some time to improve me – my mind, body and spirit – so I can deliver the best version of Busta Rhymes you’d expect.”
You mentioned earlier about being influenced by racial injustice for this album. Do you find hope in the George Floyd protests and the rise of Black Lives Matter?
“We’re at a crossroads of a real awakening happening. We’re close to witnessing a day of reckoning. There are a lot of people in positions of power – politicians, the Royal Family – that are being forced to address the crazy shit they’ve done. Justice is the reward or penalty for one’s actions or deeds. With every choice comes an invoice. There’s an accountability that’s happening in the way it should have for a long time for the people who’ve sewn the seeds of unjust bullshit. It’s an important time in history and I’m very anxious to see that the outcome works in our favour.”
‘Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath Of God’ is out now. Stay tuned for an upcoming Busta Rhymes-starring edition of our longstanding weekly Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! feature, where he’s quizzed on his eventful life