3 December 2020-
It took almost a decade for legendary New York rapper Busta Rhymes to release his latest album... but it was worth every minute of it.
And it’s been a minute. Not just since Busta’s previous outing, but since his first: the man has become a bona fide O.G. at this point, starting out way back when in the 90’s, with massive hip hop hits like “Whoo haa” or “Turn it up”, as well as a couple of classic collaborations with the Pussycat Dolls and none other than queen Mariah Carey… Beyond the sheer success the rapper managed to garner — in quite a few years, let it be said — what was most noticeable was the artist’s explosive style: his unique vocalising paired up with infectious beats and usually energetic videos had Busta carve himself a very particular place in hip hop history, especially New York hip hop history. Not necessarily as the most classically acclaimed of the group (see: Nas, Puff, Jay…), but clearly one of the most striking ones.
And then… through a series of mostly fortuitous events, the artist still known as Busta Rhymes seemed to disappear. Not that he stopped working, mind you — far from it — but label dealings paired with a growing personal quest for musical sophistication meant that the sequel to 1998’s Extinction Level Event, advertised for 2014, finally arrived a couple of weeks ago… And, very much in the way movie directors who were given more time to tweak a script or a film edit, you can see that Busta used the extra time to fine tune every single track on the LP — that would be 22 in the regular release, 26 in the Reloaded edition, 30 in the Deluxe one… let’s hope they stop there, cuz the next level is a full on series. This fine tuning comes in the form of an extremely well crafted track listing, with subtly intertwined beats, sequences and featurings, coming to form a beautiful oeuvre — not to sound overly pedantic.
Starting from the record’s de facto MC, none other than superstar comedian Chris Rock, who shows up once in a while throughout the piece, you get showered with a remarkable collection of old school beats, complete with vinyl crackling sounds and supremely heavy bass. While it is arguably refreshing to hear such sounds again, they also come with a veritable who’s who of guest performers: from legends like Mary J. Blige or Mariah Carey to new (royal) blood like Kendrick Lamar and Anderson .Paak, Busta managed to gather up a dream team of classic and contemporary artists, forging a beautiful collage of styles and influences along the way. Of particular note is the Anderson .Paak collaboration and lead single “YUUUU”, a stellar beyond-the-grave duet with the much missed Ol’ Dirty Bastard on “Slow flow”, the remarkable “Look over your shoulder” with Kendrick Lamar, based on a perfectly fitting Michael Jackson sample… And this does not even include the beautifully theatrical — and very Wu Tang-esque — tracks structuring the album, its 7-minute intro or the startling preaching of Louis Farrakhan, effectively telling the story of our times, filled with anger, anxiety and doubt. Hence the title, and telling visual: this listen is no walk in the park, instead it is a walk in a socially and economically ravaged city desperately aching for better days.
While this will not come as a total surprise to hip hop aficionados — on the contrary, it could be best presented as a nod to the olden days of rap — it will nevertheless please a lot of people: from fans of classic New York rap to more contemporary Lamar and Paak followers, there is a lot to be discovered and appreciated on Extinction Level Event 2. Let’s hope there is a third… before 2040.