Album review: Busta Rhymes – ‘Back On My BS’

It would be so much better if he knew who he was and didn’t rely on 100 producers

[a]Busta Rhymes[/a] on a unicycle, juggling balls while eating fire and hypnotising rabbits he’s recently pulled from hats isn’t just a good concept for his next Hype Williams video, it’s an apt summary of his latest release. It’s been a full three years since the sleek, edgy minimalism of 2006’s ‘The Big Bang’, and given that album’s Billboard Chart-topping status and strong critical reception, right now seems like a good point in his ridiculously lengthy career for Bussa-Bus to use that banked creative capital to go a bit auteur on us.

Sadly, ‘Back On My BS’ is the exact opposite: the sound of Busta waking up one morning in a cold sweat, terrified the public have forgotten him and scattergunning all points on the compass to win them back. Smoove slowies, piano-plonking introspection, dancehall, an oily jism of Dirty South synth-horns, enough Auto-Tune to finally, surely, drive the last nails into its garish coffin and plenty of straight-ahead fayre in between all amounts to no more than the sum of its parts.

With 11 different producers across 13 tracks, if this album sounds like it could’ve been made by anyone, then that’s because the cast-list is an effective summary of which guns-for-hire are cutting it right now. So, in the producer’s chair, say hello to our old friends Pharrell, Danja and Ty Fyffe. Stacked on top of their efforts, Busta opens the door wide to other high-net-value, cross-synergising brand platforms such as Lil Wayne, T-Pain, TI, John Legend, Akon and Estelle. The only reason Young Jeezy doesn’t appear is that his part was overdubbed to make way for Lil Wayne, which says it all, really.

We’d begrudge him such a transparent approach if it didn’t throw up as many hits as misses. Pharrell’s ‘Kill Dem’ and the Weezy-featuring ‘Respect My Conglomerate’ are deliciously crunchy. The head-nodding genius of ‘I’m A Go And Get My…’ features a shot homie spluttering pathetically about Medicaid in one of the most comical death scenes this side of Tarantino. When the material is weak (anything smooth, anything Auto-Tuned), Busta can’t seem to work up the effort to attack it. When it’s strong – as on the ‘Sweet Dreams’-sampling Flo Rida riposte ‘World Go Round’ – he rises to the occasion and knocks it out the park.

Taken on its own merits, there are more than enough moments on ‘Back On My BS’ to stop the world from forgetting his name. The pity is that, given he’s one of rap’s most distinctive voices, right now Busta seems to have no idea who he is.

Gavin Haynes

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