15 years ago, Busta Rhymes predicted that our extinction was imminent and humanity only had only one year left on this Earth. Of course, that didn’t happen. Apocalyptic fears were for naught, and humanity kept moving along on the infinite timeline of the universe. We are a species of, if anything, survivors.
What did come from that was a classic album. Busta Rhymes dropped E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front on December 15, 1998, to raves from fans and critics alike. In the 15 years that have progressed since the release of the album, Busta has become one of hip-hop’s beloved elder statesmen, enjoying an especially colorful career. Later this year, he’ll be returning to his apocalyptic roots with the impending release of his new album, E.L.E. 2 (Extinction Level Event 2), his first official album for Cash Money Records since signing with the label in November 2011. XXL spoke to Busta on the phone about the new album, his experiences working with Cash Money and his thoughts on the mainstream’s interest with The End.
XXL: Extinction Level Event came out 15 years ago. Why update a classic?
Busta Rhymes: We are not updating an album that’s 15 years old; I’m actually giving you, 15 years later, the aftermath of that album. It’s not really an update. We felt like it was time to revisit it because it felt like the appropriate time. I always do things that are based on what feels right at the moment. It feels like, you know, what’s based on the climate of the consumer mindstate is right now in the world, in the market place. People are really ready and have already, you know, based a lot of the ideality that went into Extinction Level Event in 1998. And it feels just like a good climate, not just for the subject matter but just for the sound. That album was a real boom-bap, New York hip-hop feeling album. It wasn’t just a New York feeling album, it was a New York feeling album that transcended the many different territorial rivalries that are not as easy to break today.
he first Extinction Level Event was released a year before the Y2K hysteria gripped the world, and now your second album is being a released a year after the paranoia regarding the Mayan Apocalypse. Do you have an interest in the apocalyptic end times, or is this a coincidence?
I think it’s a combination of both, because I really wasn’t looking at it from a specific timing thing, from the Mayan calendar or any things of that nature. I kind of think of doing things when the timing feels right. So from a coincidental standpoint, you could say that it played itself out that way, but in reference to me feeling like I need to put it out now, that was something that I pretty much made a real decision on within the last year, and it had everything to do with the fact that the climate and music sonically feels like the way that album felt back in the day. It was something that would be thoroughly embraced.
What feels right about it?
I think that especially with the Internet and things of that nature that people have a greater tolerance level for information. People always love music and love to dance, turn up and have a good time and do what they do in the clubs, but I also feel like it’s a vibe where people are also really willing to sponge information and shit that can spark the mind and can think in a way that doesn’t conventionally think. And I think that people pretty much just evolved into that these days because of the Internet. You see a lot of people embrace it. Like, the Illuminati conversation has become mainstream. Secret society shit, conspiracy theories have become a lot more of a mainstream thing now more than it was 15 years ago. But with that being said the balance between giving people science and giving people really hot shit is something that is being welcomed in a tremendous way right now. It’s not being done as frequently as I would like for it to be done, so I’m gonna take the responsibility on myself and do it the way that I feel that people want it and the way that I feel it needs to happen.
What can we expect on the album?
Everything about it is a reference to the way Busta Rhymes has evolved as an artist. You know the moments I had as far as collaborations, those people that I have worked with before or that I’m working with…incredible artists that I have never worked with before, the wait is until now. This album has a great balance of the original cast from 1998 that worked on Extinction Level Event—the team players that contributed sonically to the album from live musicians all the way down—and new artists that weren’t on the original, that love the original because they were fans of the original, that felt the need to contribute their new perspective on ELE 2′s overall concept. I just think that all of the necessary ingredients that were needed to make this album classic are coming to the table, which is gonna bring a whole other dynamic, a whole other feeling. A whole other milestone contribution to what is needed in music right now.
How has the experience working at Cash Money been so far?
I think the experience has been cool as far as it’s really been a situation where the camaraderie and respect level for each other is primary, and I think that’s something that fluctuates depending on what you’re doing at the time as an artist based on your success. The difference is some of the CEOs all the way down to the artists, we are all artists. Birdman is still an artist. He’s still around and performs and lives in the studio and records like his artists. At the end of the day, it’s a great feeling knowing that you are able to do business and partner up with a company that not only understands the sacrifice of an artist, firsthand, because they are artists themselves. As executives they are also the most successful machine in the industry as far as this hip-hop shit is concerned and selling records. With that being said, it’s been a wonderful experience in terms of me being around to do what I do. Nobody really tampers or interferes with what Busta Rhymes does. Everybody respects what I have built as a brand and built as a legacy, and you really can’t ask for more other than when you finally hand over the body of work, that it gets treated with the priority and the care and concern and the nurturing that it warrants and deserves.
Recently, you spoke with MTV about growing your dreads back. On one of XXL’s covers, you were famously photographed holding your dreads in your hands. What made you want to grow them back after all these years?
I was in the mood to just let it grow. Everything is about the feeling, and I’m in a space in my life that I feel real good about a lot of things, and that’s when I revisit what I feel good about or do the things that I feel good about. At the time when I cut my hair, I had just completed a 10-year custody battle with the mother of my three sons, so it felt like at that time I just needed to shed, to start out fresh, rebirth myself. From then to now, a lot of great things have transpired, a lot of bad things have transpired, a lot of ups and downs. I feel like whenever you go through a new chapter in the journey of your life and you continue to learn from these experiences and you grow and you pass them and you can look back at them and smile, not only is that a warm feeling but it’s a victorious feeling. Me, I’m in a place now where I feel like I’ve embarked on new strength, new energy, new everything, so it feels like the right time to grow a new dread and really just bring it back to a place that has come full circle.
You were part of Leaders Of The New School over 20 years ago. How do you continually adapt your sound to a new era?
Being a fan of the music is primary. As long as you love what you’re doing and you love the music, that always keeps the spark lit or the fire burning and the blaze to the level you sizzle in the streets on a consistent basis. For me, a lot of it is just me to perfect the shit that I’ve been doing by just learning how to evolve with what I’ve been doing. It’s always important to evolve and grow, but do not ever abandon who you’ve always been and who you are because those people that have learned to grow and love you and be a part of you for the entire duration of your career’s lifespan, these people are still around. The things that they loved you for in the beginning, you can’t abandon that completely. That reggae shit I’ve always incorporated in my records. You can go back to “Scenario” and you can hear me go, “As I combine all the juice from the mind / Heel up, wheel up, bring it back, come rewind.” “Heel up, wheel up,” that’s a West Indian term.
I’ve always incorporated West Indian dialect in my music from the beginning to now, because number one, I’m of Jamaican descent, and number two, the “Twerk It” record is not a reggae song. It’s a hip-hop record that uses a Jamaican dialect as a style on a hip-hop record. It’s always about thinking ahead of the curve and trying to set new standards. I’ve known when people always do or interact or intertwine the Jamaican dialect or the West Indian cultural significance in music, it’s always when a West Indian record is being made. The combination of using the Jamaican dialect in its fullest capacity on a straight up and down hip-hop record has never been done before.
Me being a direct member of a group with the name Leaders Of The New School—that wasn’t just a name that was cool. That was something that we always tried to live by. Being the new. Always setting the standard for what the new shit is going to be and trying to do things that are going to stand alone and do things that other people are not likely to do until you do it first. When I did the “Twerk It” record, I just realized that it’s never been done in this way, and I wanted to do something in a way that will continue to display me living out this legacy of being a Leader of the new shit. Despite being around for a long time, 22 years in the game professionally recording. I was always taught that you can’t put a timeline on greatness so I live that and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.
How do you feel about “twerking” being adapted into mainstream culture?
I think it’s the same thing as with any other dance that has been accepted through the years. Whether it’s been from the time of James Brown doing the split, all the way down to Michael Jackson doing the Moonwalk and everybody trying to do that shit. All the way down to the Macarena and that becoming mainstream.
It’s a part of what we do as a people when it comes to entertaining ourselves and entertaining each other. Every couple of months, every couple of years, there’s gonna always be something to be introduced as a new thing, and it’s probably been some shit that’s been an old thing. Twerking is nothing but shaking your ass. We’ve been shaking our ass since the beginning of time. It’s just being done in a new way. It’s being something that’s getting its five minutes right now. You know, we just gotta embrace it and respect it the same way we embrace and respect every other thing.
In the video for “Twerk It,” there is some imagery that directly alludes to Marvel Comics’ Venom. Are you a fan of the character and of comics in general?
It was just some random shit. I like random shit. I’m a creative dude. Sometimes I do things that doesn’t necessarily equate to any particular reason as towards why it’s being done. The beauty about art is that there is nothing that limits the creative ability other than yourself. Art doesn’t necessarily have to have an explanation that justifies why it exists in the way that it does.
For me, I love to do shit that stands alone. I love to do shit that you will not see happening anywhere else. If you look at MTV Jams all day, if you look at 106 & Park all day, you’ll see a lot of videos doing the same shit, wearing the same jewelry, wearing the same brands of clothing, driving the same brands of vehicles in the same type of environments. I like to do shit that may incorporate all of those things, but I gotta add something that’s a little bit different and what separate all of those similar things from everybody else’s and mine. The transformation of me turning into this character, it’s just a part of you displaying a performance that people aren’t going to be able to find so you can entertain people in a way that they aren’t going to be able to be entertained anywhere else. That’s the simple logic in that for me.