Busta Rhymes. A Drink With…Esquire 2003

words: Dan Gennoe

 

ESQUIRE: What’s your poison?

BUSTA RHYMES: It’s gotta be a Courvoisier or a Hennessy. I’m a cognac man. No rocks, just straight.

ESQ: Straight it is. In your videos you’re this larger-than-life, warp speed rapper. You seem pretty mellow now, so how much of Busta Rhymes is you Trevor Smith Jr?

BR: It’s all me, as long as I wake up on the right side of the bed in the morning. [Laughs]

ESQ: Or the right side of the tour bus. You’re in remarkably good spirits considering you’ve just finished a European tour and overnighted it from Paris.

BR: Well the trip’s been real successful. Everybody’s taking good care of me. I got everything I need, my good food, my spliffs, comfortable transportation. Everything that gives an artist the insensitive to wanna hustle.

ESQ: Still, it must be exhausting, having to live up to your intense, hyper image?

BR: Sometimes. Fortunately, being Busta Rhymes isn’t just about hyper energy and wilin’ out all the time. That’s just the most marketable side. You know, if you with your girlfriend, you ain’t gonna be crazy, you gonna be intimate, sensitive and cool. You act accordingly, and the hyper energy comes out whenever it’s needed.

ESQ: What about your Armageddon fascination, where does that come from? Your albums usually come with an end of the world subtext.

BR: I just sit at home watchin’ CNN and see the American embassy in Africa get bombed-up, see Kosovo gettin’ fucked-up. I just start thinkin’ ‘Why this shit can’t happen here? What’s to stop it? What would we do? So I put it in the music. Get people thinkin’. All my albums are about living life, havin’ your sex, smokin’ your spliff, drinkin’ your liquor. But I also represent a more serious side to life. Eververyday can’t be a party day. You gotta strive to understand yourself and how you fit in the grand scheme of things. We should be askin’ questions about shit. Trying to read between the lines. Because the powers that be put certain shit in yer face to distract you from the truth.

ESQ: Who are we talking about? The US government?

BR: Sure. There’s a certain control that they feel they need to have over us. And by keeping you blind to the truth, they control you. 

ESQ: What sort of things are they keeping from us?

BR: Well, they had to know that they got a beef with this bin Laden guy. And with all the intelligence they got, they had to know what he was capable of. Listen, bin Laden, used to work for the United States. If you didn’t know it before, you knowin’ it now. He was hired to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. So they known the guy for a long fuckin’ time. But they ain’t telling us that shit. Why? Why can’t I know? It’s gonna affect me.

ESQ: The cover of your 1998 album, Extinction Level Event, with its picture of Manhattan with a fireball where the World Trade Centre should have been, was a bit close for comfort wasn’t it?

BR: Yeah. That got pulled off the shelves after the September 11th terrorist bombing. And there was Everything Remains Raw, from my first album, The Coming, where I said ‘There’s only five years left’. I recorded that track in 1995. I thought 2000 was gonna be the year of the shit. Just feelin’ a vibe. And different religions had said somethin’ catastrophic gonna happen in the new millennium. But I released it in ’96. So five years later was 2001. Then this bombing shit happened. Everyone’s lookin’ at me like I had exact calculations.

ESQ: You’ve moved away from the dooms day prophesies with your current album, Genesis. It’s more party tracks like new single There’s Only One, your duet with Mary j Blige. Was that because of September 11th?

BR: Well, everything from film to records was being heavily monitored to see if anyone was being insensitive to the situation. And I didn’t want nobody fuckin’ with my album on the shelves, so I didn’t really deal with the issues the way I would. Plus I’d signed to a new record label and I just felt like starting everything fresh, even as far as subject matter.

ESQ: Right, you signed to J Records recently setup by Clive Davis, who discovered Whitney Houston and Toni Braxton. He’s not exactly know for hip hop is he?

BR: But at the end of the day, everyone knows Clive’s legacy, the man knows how to make stars. The good thing is I’ve already created a star, so Clive saw my star quality and wanted to take it to the next level. And he has, I’ve never had as many spins on mainstream radio as I’m getting now.

ESQ: On Genesis, you worked with Dr.Dre and Kelis’ co-writers The Neptunes. Weren’t you worried you might lose your edge using such prolific producers?

BR: Nah. Because I’ve got my own distinctive identity, I brought a new cutting edge out of them, which in turn brought new creative approaches out of me. Even if they been around, I ain’t ever worked with them, so with me they gonna be new. And when I work with Dr.Dre, I’m ain’t gonna get a regular Dre beat. It’s a combined effort, and when you combine our legacies, it sounds like an event.

ESQ: Your film career’s going well too isn’t it?

BR: Yeah, I got The Halloween Resurrection with Jamie Lee Curtis and Tyra Banks coming out in the summer. I’m also in a corrupt cop film called Narcs with Ray Liota and Jason Patrick. So we keepin’ busy man. We been blessed with this whole music and film shit.

ESQ: So you’re feeling more positive about the future now?

BR: Absolutely. I got five beautiful, thankfully healthy kids, three boys, two girls, a great album, the movies… at the end of the day, there’s just so much shit to look forward to.

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Dan Gennoe

Dan Gennoe is a London based freelance journalist & author. He's written features, interviews and reviews for the likes of Esquire, GQ, Arena, FHM, Q Magazine, Mojo, Red, Time Out, The Independent and The Mail On Sunday. Dan also writes books, both fiction and non-fiction, and has ghost written the odd celebrity biography.

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