In his illustrious career, Busta Rhymes clearly established to Hip-Hop not only that he was here to stay, but also a distinguishable force to be reckoned with. After enduring professional growth and personal pain, it was Busta’s stand out performance on his verse of the A Tribe Called Quest hit “Scenario” that helped him to establish a name for himself as not only an animated but an ill MC.
The crews, the labels, it’s all changed in the last fifteen years. No prophet could’ve connected Leaders of the New School with N.W.A. in 1991. But now with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records, Busta Rhymes speaks to AllHipHop.com on the journey. We look at the botched J Records deal, the politics of Aftermath, Busta’s weaknesses and strengths, and even a word on LONS. Great art comes full circle.
All HipHop.com: What really happened at J Records, because the partnership between you and Clive [Davis] seemed great when Genesis hit, it also seemed like a great move for the team especially with what was going on with Flipmode and the solo joint with Rah Digga?
Busta Rhymes: You know everything is always beautiful in the beginning. So when we first did our deal with J Records, they weren’t even officially announced [as a label yet] and to me it made sense to jump on something fresh; especially with a man who had a record like [Clive Davis]. The problem with J Records for me was that they don’t have a clue on how to market a Black record, because Urban Music is the politically correct way of saying Black Music. People will look at it like Alicia Keys is a Black woman, so she is Urban Music, but you can’t group Rap music the same way. Rap music is about going against policies and is so hard to contain that it is impossible to market the same way as you would an Alicia Keys’ record. It was a time where if you didn’t have a Puffy or Missy or Mariah Carey on your album J Records didn’t know what to do with it and that is why I think they are a trash record company.
AllHipHop.com: So is there any beef between you and Clive Davis?
Busta Rhymes: My feelings on the way my deal went down and the views I have about J Records have nothing to do with the way I respect Clive Davis’ legacy, but I do feel that the Rap department is a part of the company that he doesn’t give a f**k about. I feel that it’s evident by the way he runs the label. Look at when the American Idol muthaf**kas won, he was right there giving them million dollar deals and putting all this money into making sure they were marketed right and that they are promoted to be a success. Now look at Cassidy, yeah they were there [for him] in the beginning, but when he got locked up they gave him one video and the rest of his album was thrown in the trash. They cut his budget and really just messed him up, but if you look at Lil’ Kim [who’s on Atlantic], I don’t mean to compare situations that are unfortunate but Lil’ Kim is on her way to jail and you can see the distinct difference that Lyor Cohen and them did versus that of Clive Davis.
AllHipHop.com: There are two things that you said in previous interviews that I agree with, one is that the reason you continue to switch labels is because the labels aren’t understanding your vision, but you also said something in a totally separate interview that Hip-Hop is the only music that has created jobs for people who don’t understand it. Do you feel that the lack of understanding is what causes street records not to be as heavily promoted as a mainstream record and that’s what leading to the over saturation?
Busta Rhymes: Completely, I definitely feel that and I feel that a lot of that has changed because of the corporate mergers and the layoffs that have taken place in the industry. I think that there has definitely always been a lack of respect and a lack of understanding by the employees that worked at the labels because they looked at this like a job, like a straight up nine to five. On the other hand with me, switching labels has always been something that was needed in my situation in order to maintain a certain level of success because I feel like the longer you stay at a company the less fresh and the less exciting you become to a company and that’s the nature of any relationship. Just like if you with your girl, the longer you are with her the less exciting the relationship become and it’s unfortunate but that’s just how we [as people] are, we have short attention spans.
AllHipHop.com: Do you feel that it will turn that way with Aftermath?
Busta Rhymes: I feel that destiny for me has worked itself out, because I have never dreamed of being on a label that is so understanding of the music that I have always been trying to make, but have never been able to make like Aftermath. Because to me if you can win a Grammy and perform on the Grammys with someone like Elton John on a record like “Stan” that talks about killing your wife because you are an over obsessed deranged muthaf**ka, that is so far from a Top 40 record or even a club banger, that it’s created a new level of success that goes against the normal establishment. Working with Dre has given me the freedom to express feelings and things that I was never able to express because the labels always wanted a high energy, bafoonish, animated Busta Rhymes that I really don’t have a problem with doing because it’s a part of who I am. When I have a problem with it, is when I am unable to express other parts of myself and other sides that I consist of. It ain’t always the cartoon and exaggerated facial expressions that Busta Rhymes is about, I have so many other dimensions that I consist of and I am glad that honestly the label that I am apart of allows me to explore and express those sides thoroughly through my music. I hope people are bracing because I am going to finally get a chance to tell stories that I have been holding on to since ‘95 that I haven’t been able to share, because the previous companies I was a part of didn’t know how to nourish or nurture those types of records, concepts or ideas. That’s why I feel blessed that despite how I was hindered in other situations, muthaf**kas tend to identify with the true capabilities that you represent and the quality of your music.
AllHipHop.com:: Why do you think It Ain’t Safe No More was so unsuccessful, is it because you were unhappy with the situation at J Records or did you just feel like oh well?
Busta Rhymes: I am going to break it down for you a lil’ bit. When I was at Elektra, all of my albums were platinum, when I was leaving Elektra the Anarchy album was the least successful. When I went to J Records, my first album sold 1.8 million, when I was leaving J Records, the biggest radio record I have had in my career, that Mariah record was bigger than “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” bigger than any other single I have had, but ironically the record sold the least amount of records. Why, because when a label knows that you are leaving, they are not going to put as much money into your project when they know they ain’t getting that money back. So that’s really what that’s about and I am glad you asked that question because a lot of time people hold it against you, like you slipping creatively; but it ain’t got s**t to do with my creative ability. If you look at around the time this album was falling off, I was the hottest muthaf**ka out.