Before you two go running to the comments section to complain about how Busta Rhymes has received more virtual ink on HHID than (insert the name of your favorite artist here), I'd like to remind you of a few things.
(1) The recent signing of Busta Rhymes to Cash Money Records proves that he is still a popular figure in our chosen genre. The fact that there are tons of YouTube videos featuring regular people trying to recite Busta's lyrics word-for-word, some of them solicited by Trevor Smith himself, is a testament to that. Hell, the pop duo Karmin built their entire career on their interpretation of Busta's verse from Chris "I Still Don't Understand Why Everyone Hates Me!" Brown's "Look At Me Now".
(2) As HHID originally began as a way for me to hone my writing skills in between projects, one of the lessons I've been trying to teach myself is to finish what I start. As such, you should expect me to review every single goddamn Busta Rhymes album remaining in the man's catalog. Please note that I didn't give any sort of timetable as for when you should expect these write-ups: I still have a ton of other rappers to finish up with, as well.
(3) It's still my fucking blog.
After releasing his fourth solo album Anarchy, Busta Rhymes defected to former Arista head Clive Davis's newly-formed J Records at his behest. Genesis, the first product of that marriage, was Busta's attempt to rebrand himself in our chosen genre: he's always been pretty good at releasing a single or two that gets stuck in your brain, but he had yet to master the art of a consistent, cohesive album.
To that end, he used Clive's money to hire A-list producers such as Dr. Dre, The Neptunes, Pete Rock, Diamond D, whose beats are mixed in with those from Battlecat, a post-The Blueprint but pre-everything else Just Blaze, and his frequent collaborator, the late Jay Dee, also known as J. Dilla. The guest roster was kept to a minimum; Busta even managed to downplay his own Flipmode Squad's contributions as a way to force the spotlight upon himself. The free press guaranteed by including Dr. Dre on your album (on three tracks) pushed Genesis to the forefront of the rap scene for a short time in 2001, and its hit singles dominated radio airwaves for a time.
And yet Genesis didn't really move that many units, even with a marketing push that included a repressing after a non-album remix became popular.
So what went wrong?
1. INTRO (FEAT. CLIVE DAVIS & RUDY RAY MOORE)
Yeah, because this shit makes me want to continue listening to Genesis.
2. EVERYBODY RISE AGAIN
Busta would like everyone to believe that the title of this project, Genesis, represents his first venture on a new record label and not, in fact, the rebuilding process of the planet after the end of the world, which he had preached about at great length throughout his first four solo albums. Well, it's kind of hard to forget the Busta Rhymes who kept shouting things like “There's only five years left!” and “Holy fuck everybody's going to die when these computers rise up!”. This introductory track (which isn't technically the rap album intro, but our host announces it as such toward the end) doesn't do much to encourage his fans to rise up: Just Blaze's uncharacteristically low-key instrumental is more suited to cleaning your house than it is for inciting a riot, and none of Trevor's verses stick out.
3. AS I COME BACK
Busta Rhymes brings in production duo The Neptunes for a song-length homage to his own performance on the classic A Tribe Called Quest posse cut “Scenario”. Unfortunately, comparisons between that track and “As I Come Back” are generated automatically as a result, and it's difficult to ignore that the Busta who roared “like a dungeon dragon” as a part of the Leaders Of The New School was much hungrier than the Trevor Smith that shit-talks his way through a blingy beat that doesn't sound as though it would have done well in the clubs or on the radio. Confession time: I liked this song back in 2001, mainly because of The Neptunes, whose early production work I'm still a fan of, and I still think the music itself is alright. But our host is coasting: he doesn't sound excited to be rapping anymore, and that lack of enthusiasm extends to the listener, who will be bored to tears with this.
4. SHUT 'EM DOWN 2002 (FEAT. PETE ROCK)
Whoever placed a Pete Rock production immediately after a Neptunes beat should be drawn and quartered in the town square, or at the very least tied to the pommel horse that inexplicably exists in that weird-ass town Kurt Thomas has to run through in Gymkata, but you should all be thankful that “Shut 'Em Down 2002” exists in the first place, as this is the most rejuvenated I've heard Busta Rhymes sound since the days when he was in the running for Hip Hop Cameo King. Peter Q. Rockefeller deserves the bulk of the credit, as his horn-heavy instrumental (almost a direct lift of his work on his remix for Public Enemy's “Shut 'Em Down”) is a keeper, evoking just the right amount of hip hop nostalgia right at the point when the listener may have given up hope. Nice!
The horrific singing from the interlude that separates “Shut 'Em Down 2002” from this title track plays the role of its chorus, but in a “we recorded these sounds while trapped in a haunted house”-kind of way, as was producer J. Dilla's intention. The late beatsmith lends frequent collaborator Busta with a quasi-experimental, and fairly engrossing, creation, and our host, a man who should be going out of his way to collect all of the most unorthodox beats in the land, as he is one of the few artists in our chosen genre that can actually work with them, excels over it. “Genesis”, with its awful chorus but terrific everything-else, really should have been earmarked as the introductory missive from this project, but rappers tend not to care about the little things such as continuity and how a story flows.
6. BETTA STAY UP IN YOUR HOUSE (FEAT. RAH DIGGA)
Rah Digga was (and forever will be) the most talented member of Busta's ragtag group of misfit rappers, the Flipmode Squad, so giving her some shine on Genesis was a no-brainer. But did it have to happen at this exact moment? Over a shitty Yogi concoction, Busta and Digga pass the mic back and forth, occasionally mid-word, in an effort to display their dominance over all other rappers, and it's a fucking failure. A miserable one, at that. Although I will give Trevor credit for performing a back-and-forth with a female artist on a song that isn't about sex or the the myriad differences between the sexes. In that way, this song can be seen as quite innovative. But only in that way.
7. WE GOT WHAT YOU WANT
This doesn't happen than often, given our host's demanding demeanor, but Trevor is buried within this annoying-as-fuck Just Blaze instrumental that sounds like he had mice running around inside the mixing board. The fact that “We Got What You Want” contains a chorus intended for people to sing along with means that Trevor clearly intended for this to be for mainstream consumption. Why he feels the need to conform to what radio airwaves want to play is beyond me: he should record whatever the fuck he wants and force the radio to cater to his whims. But I suppose that argument could be levied at every rapper alive. Groan.
8. TRUCK VOLUME
The first of three Dr. Dre prescriptions filled for Genesis is this track, expertly designed to cause the speakers in your ride of choice to rattle as if there were no tomorrow. Songs built around such an effect tend to flop (unless you're an artist from Miami), so “Truck Volume” ultimately becomes a cigarette butt flicked out of the driver's side window of a car filled with life's disappointments. So yeah, this shit was dull. However, kudos to Busta Rhymes for stepping up his lyrical game when the collaborator is a bigger star than he is. (See: Dr. Dre, Pete Rock.)
9. PASS THE COURVOISIER (FEAT. P. DIDDY)
This awful excursion into the clubs was produced by Nottz, a well-respected beatmaker who should have known better, but then again, the track does feature Puff Daddy, so maybe Nottz never stood a chance. Busta and Sean pass the mic around, Busta-and-Rah-Digga-style in, in a celebration of excess that never really takes off, leaving the participants stranded on this plane of existence when they would clearly rather be drunk on a planet where Courvoisier flows freely from the nipples of slutty aliens. Or something. Courvoisier clearly thought this song was going to be huge, even going so far as to officially endorse it; they must have missed the part during the hook where our host requests that he also be passed the Remy Martin. Maybe open up your ears and listen sometimes. But not right now, because this shit sucked.
10. BREAK YA NECK
What I believe was the first single from Genesis centers around a Timbaland-esque beat that producers Dr. Dre and Scott Storch may have put together on a dare, but its hurried pace is perfect for Trevor, who flows over it as freely as his beloved Courvoisier, which, by the way, given his multiple charger for driving while under the influence, I feel a little bit weird hearing him celebrate that behavior. Anyway, “Break Ya Neck” is probably one of the few songs in our chosen genre where I prefer the radio edit to the album cut, as the cursing throughout sounds unnatural, as though Busta had already recorded the radio version and consciously decided to make it sound more filthy. There's a remix of this track out there featuring speed-rap champion Twista: I'm not sure how official it is, but he and Busta should probably collaborate more often.
11. BOUNCE (LET ME SEE YOU THROW IT)
Over a Mel-Man instrumental that contains some flourishes that proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that he has done more work than the good Doctor on some alleged Dr. Dre prescriptions, Busta Rhymes contributes two verses to the cause, both of which are actually more interesting than pretty much everything heard on genesis thus far. Trevor can be nice with his when the occasion calls for it and he feels the need to impress. So it's too bad that he chose a song with an empty beat and a horrific fucking chorus to make said impression with.
12. HOLLA (FEAT. TRUTH HURTS)
The final Dr. Dre beat on the project is the best one, as Busta delivers his (entertaining) verses in a fashion much more subtle than we're all accustomed to. The hook is kind of lame, but this is a rap song, after all. “Holla” is evidence that Trevor Smith can still sound good when he is actively trying, and he even manages to work in one of my favorite lines of his: “Call me atheist, because I don't believe in you, god” (italics mine). The interlude at the end, which sets up the following track, ruins the overall effect, though: I wish Busta would just stop with the goddamn skits that don't ultimately go anywhere.
13. WIFE IN LAW (FEAT. JAHIEM)
Our host boasts about the girls he's fucking on the side while his wife is at work; she refers to herself as the “wife-in-law” as a way for Busta Rhymes to desecrate the institution of marriage by proxy. What keeps this otherwise dull track from being a lame sex rap (filled with some admittedly bizarre visuals: Trevor must have picked up his side piece at a Cirque du Soleil performance) is guest star Jaheim's out-of-place R&B chorus, which warns the men in the audience that their wives and girlfriends are probably doing the exact same thing behind their backs. Which was an interesting way to tack a sobering message onto an explicit song about fucking. Still sucked, though.
14. ASS ON YOUR SHOULDERS
Because a song with that title could ever work, right?
15. MAKE IT HURT
I believe this might have been a single as well, which makes sense, as it plays into my constantly-proven theory that Trevor Smith sounds best over unorthodox instrumentals (such as this one, provided by the late J. Dilla). So it's too bad that this shit sounds so awful. This is mostly due to the awful chorus, which commands you to perform inane acts such as banging your head or “throw[ing] your pussy]” so that you can “make it hurt”. If you are capable of actually throwing your pussy around, then you probably already hurt and should seem medical attention immediately. Everyone else should run as far away from this ridiculous shit as possible.
16. WHAT IT IS (FEAT. KELIS)
The other (official) Neptunes track on genesis was previously released in two separate forms: in its original incarnation (as a part of the compilation Violator The Album V2.0), and as a remix populated with Flipmode Squad members doing their best to emote over a coldly Kubrickian-like Pharrell and Chad concoction while running from the ghost of Kelis, who haunts the chorus. The beat is bouncy enough (which is strange to see after reading the previous sentence, I know), and Busta himself works it fairly well, but Kelis and her off-putting and downright terrifying chorus ruins the song: she wouldn't sound out of place on a crappy Skrillex song.
17. THERE'S ONLY ONE (FEAT. MARY J. BLIGE)
Mary J. Blige must know that she doesn't have to agree to every single guest appearance on a rap song that is offered to her, right?
18. YOU AIN'T FUCKIN' WITH ME
That title is generic as shit, but the Michaelangelo-produced “You Ain't Fuckin' With Me” actually isn't that bad, if you're a fan of Busta's sophomore album When Disaster Strikes..., as it comes across as an outtake from that particular project. Busta is invested in his rhymes and seems to have remembered that he sounds better when he's being both lyrical and funny, a trait that is sorely lacking from his recent work. It isn't a great song by any means, but it is an enjoyable oasis in the Genesis desert when you're thisclose to the end of your journey.
19. MATCH THE NAME WITH THE VOICE (FEAT. FLIPMODE SQUAD)
When Genesis was released, the Flipmode Squad was in a transitionary phase: as of “Match The Name With The Voice”, they were down to five members, as Roc Marciano decided that it would make more sense to only bring himself down and not five additional people. (Okay, that's a low blow: in reality, he had found greener pastures with his other group, The U.N., at the time. But I still don't like Marcberg. That has fuck-all to do with this review, granted: I just felt that it needed to be said.) Over a shitty beat that, cleverly, takes our host's command to “turn the volume up” at the beginning very seriously, Busta and his Squad (Rah Digga, Spliff Star, Rampage, and Baby Sham) all unload fairly quick verses that completely ignore the “game” our host was trying to set up during the intro. Yes, these guys (and girl) all work pretty well together, but they've all done much better work in the past. There's no need for anybody to actually listen to this.
20. BAD DREAMS
Although the skit introducing the track was still ultimately useless, having Busta Rhymes present himself as a drunken asshole who can't get it up even when some girl he picked up at the club is throwing her pussy at him is kind of ballsy: how many mainstream rappers out there are willing to present themselves as losers? Even with that, though, the final track on Genesis, with its purposefully unnerving Nottz instrumental, won't captivate any audience, and then the album just ends without any real warning. Which is so unlike Trevor. Oh well.
Later pressings of Genesis remove the terrible “Ass On Your Shoulders” and shift all of the remaining tracks up a spot in order to make room for a new closer.
PASS THE COURVOSIER PT. 2 (FEAT. P. DIDDY & PHARRELL WILLIAMS)
When I first picked up Genesis, I was excited at the prospect of the original “Pass The Courvosier”, as both Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams were credited as co-writers. Alas, they had nothing to do with the original song: they received writing credits because they produced Mystikal's “Shake Ya Ass”, which Puffy swiped a couple of his bars from. So when this sequel-slash-remix that was actually handled by The Neptunes came out of left field, I wasn't especially surprised: in fact, I actually felt that I had willed it into existence through the power of my initial disappointment. I liked this track much more than the original, which tried too hard to sound edgy and accessible all at once, but in listening to it again today, I'm struck by how fucking ridiculous it all sounds, from Pharrell's falsetto chorus down to the lame-ass verses from both Busta and Puffy. It's strange what you will obsess about during your youth.
FINAL THOUGHTS: At this point, I'm comfortable with the fact that Busta Rhymes will never record a consistent album-length project. Trevor Smith is a singles-based artist, which explains his popularity during the mid-1990s when he was making cameo appearances on everyone else's shit. Genesis is not proof to the contrary; at twenty tracks, it runs longer than the average rap fan's attention span, and none of the tracks demand repeat listenings. However, Genesis does show that Busta Rhymes is cognizant of his position in the rap game, and his decision to work alongside Pete Rock and Dr. Dre shows his allegiance to the old school, when he first made an impact, and his sessions with The Neptunes and Just Blaze are representative of his adaptation to the current (in 2001, anyway) climate and his willingness to remain relevant in our chosen genre. (I would lump Dilla's productions into the latter category, but even his unorthodox backdrops on Genesis have a timeless quality that pushes the late James Yancey (R.I.P.) into a class all his own.) Genesis has a handful of spots that aren't exactly bright but don't entirely suck, but nothing on here reaches the heights of Busta Rhymes in his prime. It could be said that Trevor had already peaked well before Genesis dropped, but that doesn't help explain why he's still all over the radio today. Busta Rhymes has found the Fountain of Youth, and it has provided him with a longevity that his peers would kill for, and he isn't sharing. Still, maybe he should stop with these overlong epic albums, though: he isn't doing himself any favors.
BUY OR BURN? Although the list below would seem to indicate otherwise, there are a handful of songs on Genesis that are worth hearing, even if there are pieces that prevent them from being classified as "any good", so a burn is sufficient.
BEST TRACKS: "Shut 'Em Down 2002"; "Scenario" (okay, that last one isn't from Genesis, but I did mention it during the review, and that song is still worth your time if you're one of the three people on Earth who still isn't familiar with that Tribe classic)
RELATED POSTS:Catch up on all of the Busta stuff by clicking here. If that's what you're into, anyway.