Busta Rhymes

Extinction Level Event - The Final World Front

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In Busta Rhymes' bloodstained prophecies -- counted off in Extinction Level Event's opening track by the colorless voice of a father talking to his child -- the near future will be ruled by "bloodthirsty, renegade cyborgs, created by tax-dodging corporations.

"Pissed-off androids," continues the father, "unleash total worldwide destruction. Starvation reigns supreme. Disease encircles the earth, and humankind falls victim to merciless attack at the hands of interplanetary alien tribes who seek to conquer our charred remains. This is extinction-level event." Preparing for the looming apocalypse, Busta sends out the call for "all live niggas" and "all live bitches," making it clear that the weak -- of heart, spirit and mind -- are objects of scorn. In this ghetto fever dream of an album, the real war is already deep in progress -- the war for "survival of the most fit, for real niggas."

Fans who hopped aboard Busta's train via such videos as "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" (from 1997's When Disaster Strikes) may feel bitch-slapped by his third solo album, Extinction Level Event -- The Final World Front. Those videos turned Busta into a star by flattening out his complexities. They captured his warmth, his strong, offbeat visual aesthetic, his unbridled energy and his iconoclastic take on hip-hop. But they did so by downplaying his darker currents. There's always been a wary eye rolling in Busta's music, a streak of paranoia, a sense of him feeling under attack but fearlessly standing his ground. While the media and the music industry played up the party vibe, they neglected to flesh out the context, to show how Busta's trademark grin drew its power from being beamed in the face of his demons.

There's no denying those demons on ELE (which takes its title from the disaster film Deep Impact). At one point, Busta says, "Sometimes I can't describe the wicked shit I feel in my heart." In truth, he does just that. ELE is a triumph of old-school minimalism gone futuristic. Hard, gut-punching beats anchor the disc. Electro bleeps, computer-game effects, a harpsichord, Asian-music flourishes, thick and funky bass lines, and string-laden samples from old movies are sparingly, precisely doled out on top. A choir of overdubbed, hardcore male voices barks out call-and-response exchanges.

Into this musical tapestry Busta breathes militaristic Blade Runner scenarios, a crucial theme being that "Corny niggas is finished/Y'all time been over, past due." Cash is artillery to be stored for later use, when shit blows up. His men are niggas and his women bitches, and though he doesn't spell it out, what seems like casual misogyny is rooted in the baked soil of male fear and anxiety: No one is to be trusted.

It is past the disc's halfway mark when Busta serves up a different kind of sustenance; he knows that any revolution that doesn't include dancing ain't worth waging. The funky, shake-what-ya-mama-gave-ya tracks "Do the Bus a Bus," "Take It Off" and "Hot Shit Makin' Ya Bounce" will be club staples for the year to come. A played-out, Timbaland-style stitch of stuttering beats is rejuvenated by being run alongside a loop of sampled strings from Psycho on "Gimme Some More." The track is further sparked by Busta's never-take-a-breath delivery; that same delivery injects head-rush energy into "Party Is Goin' on Over Here." Celebrity cameos include Janet Jackson working sex-diva voodoo on "What's It Gonna Be?!" promising wet dreams and orgasmic screams. Mystikal shows up on the frenetic anthem "Iz They Wildin' Wit Us and Gettin' Rowdy," and it's a surprisingly natural fit. The most bizarre guest appearance is from Ozzy Osbourne, who drops in on the raucous "This Means War!!," a track that skillfully interpolates Black Sabbath's "Iron Man."

The real star of ELE, though, is Busta's voice. It's an instrument that's all scalding grit: scratchy, forceful, deep, authoritative, sexually potent. Too often now, hip-hop is read like text. Fans and critics alike have forgotten that the dynamics of the voice are crucial to a real hip-hop artist and have to be of a piece with the flow and lyrical content. That's why Rakim, Chuck D, Biggie and Guru are hip-hop icons. Busta is a master of that same synthesis. Though he doesn't -- yet -- bring the brain-stretching lyrical insights of vintage Chuck D or early N.W.A, his words are tightly, smartly crafted. They work in unison with his voice and persona.

On the disc's last track, "Outro -- the Burial Song," Busta shakes loose from the nightmare dream. He gives a fire-and-brimstone sermon in which he promises to keep fighting for righteousness, says a prayer for the soldiers who will surely fall and restates that "There's no time to take time for granted." The song is most notable for a shift in language: "Bitches" are respectfully referred to as "women." It's a reminder that Extinction Level Event -- on top of everything -- has been a spiritual, political and emotional journey. In Busta's world, discipline, growth and self-awareness are mandatory. Because that breath on the back of your neck is getting hotter. (RS 804)


(Posted: Jan 5, 1999)