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Busta Rhymes - 'The Big Bang'
(Wednesday June 14, 2006 2:56 PM )

Released on 12/06/06
Label: Aftermath

Busta Rhymes, one of hip hop's most recognisably individual voices, is in something of a bind. Since leaving Leaders Of The New School his career has stuttered even as his celebrity and visibility have mushroomed. Within the group, his explosive delivery and hyperactive mic style marked him down as the obvious solo star, but doubts were raised over whether a record comprised entirely of solo Busta would be one people would want to listen to. His 1996 solo debut, "The Coming", answered it only partially: the single "Woo-Hah! Got You All In Check" established a template, but the LP failed to prove he wasn't better appreciated in smaller doses.

Six albums, two labels, and innumerable cameo appearances later, the questions remain. Busta again assembles an immense guest list (he is the sole vocalist on only three of the 15 tracks) and has chosen to sublimate his more esoteric urges by handing over control of the record to Dr Dre. In a purely commercial sense, this is obviously a shrewd move: when not behind the boards himself, Dre has overseen the efforts of astute producers like Swizz Beats (the Daft Punk-sampling single, "Touch It"), Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am ("I Love My Bitch", which is sure to be David Cameron's favourite track) and former EMPD man Erick Sermon ("Goldmine"). Most tracks here will work in clubs or on the radio, and the big names either side of the mic will help tempt fans to download the entire album, not just the singles.

It's not that Busta has abandoned experimentation - Dre samples a shovel digging dirt to use instead of a drum on the closer, "Legend Of The Fall Offs"; Timbaland's deliciously sparse syncopated conga juggle, "Get Down", and the Sha Money XL-produced "Been Through The Storm", replete with a huge string section and a chorus sung by Stevie Wonder, all show a commendable desire to avoid the average or the mundane. But both stylistically, in his reliance on his two principal modes of vocal expression (aggressive barking jabber; half-whispered, conversational flow) and a lack of anything particularly interesting to say, Busta seems to be treading water too often.

Like every record he's made since LONS's neglected and misunderstood masterpiece "T.I.M.E. (The Inner Mind's Eye)", "The Big Bang" never quite adds up to the blockbuster event release one always senses Busta has in him. It's probably the closest he has come yet, just about shading his J Records debut, "Genesis". That defining album in assuredly still in him somewhere: whether he will find it before he - or his audience - lose interest is becoming a matter of some real concern.

    by Angus Batey

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