February 13, 2018

My Gut Reaction: Busta Rhymes - It Ain't Safe No More... (November 26, 2002)



Trevor Smith’s career has been somewhat interesting to follow. The artist, who performs as Busta Rhymes because of a nickname given to him by Chuck D of Public Enemy, has been in this rap shit for seemingly one hundred and thirty years, evolving from a member of Leaders Of The New School to the dude who killed every guest appearance he made in the late 1990s to a solo artist to someone whose last full-length album was released exclusively on Google Play. He’s gone from being the closest our chosen genre has to a Tex Avery cartoon character to a roided-out drunk who assaults people that look at him funny. It’s a sad situation, one that hasn’t been rectified by his continued alliance with Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest (he made multiple appearances on their final album, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service), and who the fuck knows when he’ll manage to convince whatever label he’s still on to release a new project. How did he get to this point?

After listening to his sixth album, It Ain’t Safe No More…, I have a theory.

I made it clear on the last Busta Rhymes write-up from what, twelve years ago?, that I stopped paying attention to his career after his fourth project, Genesis. (That’s not entirely accurate, as I did listen to his seventh album, The Big Bang, due to the Dr. Dre connection and it being released by Dre’s label Aftermath, but we’ll get to that when we get to that.) With the exception of his solo debut, The Coming, Busta Rhymes full-lengths tend to be overlong, noisy affairs where it becomes obvious immediately that Trevor is in love with the sound of his own voice, and doesn't know how to cut songs for time or quality. His ear for beats can be very great, but at this point he has far more bad songs in his discography than good ones, so those should be seen as outliers.

Possibly around the time his smash single “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” dropped, Busta Rhymes got it into his head that he was good at writing club songs. This isn’t a terrible prospect: that song is fantastic, and a good club song or radio hit is one that both sexes can rally behind, which is how one propels into mainstream popularity to begin with. The problem is that his projects since that single (which appeared on his second album, When Disaster Strikes) have all included numerous attempts to chase that dragon, including It Ain’t Safe No More…, and when you focus squarely on one minor aspect of your career, the rest of it suffers, and Trevor quickly forgot how to write a good song for the majority of his audience that didn’t care about the club, they just liked him.

It Ain’t Safe No More… was released during the downturn in Trevor’s career, one that he has only managed to work his way out of one verse at a time. His guest appearances can still be volatile: it’s clear the man still knows how to perform. But I remember when The Coming dropped, critics were questioning the logic of a Busta Rhymes solo album, as all he was known for was being a part of a group and for killer cameos, which doesn’t translate to a successful solo career (just ask fellow cameo king Canibus). It turns out those critics were right to worry.

Alright, let’s get this over with.

1. INTRO
I immediately regret this decision.

2. IT AIN’T SAFE NO MORE… (FEAT. MEKA)
Pretty much the worst fucking rap album intro I’ve heard in years, with its child’s nursery rhyme bullshit, leads into this ill-advised title track, with our host doing his best to convince listeners of how dangerous both the real world and the rap game are for spectators. The fact that he tried to do this with a polished Dilla donut that is the aural definition of “safety” and an R&B hook (provided by guest star Meka) undercuts his own message, which wasn’t very strong to begin with: Trevor’s bars are pointless and apathetic. Dear fuck was this bad.

3. WHAT CAN YOU DO WHEN YOU’RE BRANDED
Deserves a modicum of credit for liberally borrowing from the theme song for the 1960’s television show Branded for its chorus, although it isn’t clear if it was Trevor’s idea of that of producer DJ Scratch. That being said, “What Can You Do When You’re Branded” is another entry into the “Busta Rhymes likes the sound of his own voice and doesn’t understand that one doesn’t need to record every single idea that pops into your head” compendium. (If/when the dude is ever successful at convincing a label to release his next solo album, Busta Rhymes is almost certainly going to go the way of Migos and Rae Sremmurd and unleash forty songs at once, not just to game the music industry streaming rules, but also because he is incapable of self-editing. I mean, this album has nineteen tracks.) Also, the instrumental is weak. To be fair, I had zero expectations for the track after reading the wordy title, so.

4. CALL THE AMBULANCE (FEAT. RAMPAGE)
The previous song is so overwhelmingly obnoxious that you’ve likely switched to another artist entirely, and I wouldn’t blame you one bit. No such luck for me, though, so here’s what I think about the lone Neptunes contribution to It Ain’t Safe No More…: “Call The Ambulance” was better than I remembered, but there’s a reason why I had forgotten about its existence shortly after its release, a statement that holds more weight when you find out that I used to check specifically for Neptunes beats back in the day because I like their work. (Just because they were popular doesn’t mean that they automatically sucked: there are many hot Neptunes productions, and a shit-ton of crappy ones, but they didn’t stumble into their success accidentally. There’s a reason Pharrell is still around.) The beat is harder than what Skateboard P (but not Chad Hugo, who doesn't participate) typically churns out, but this spiritual sequel to The Coming’s “Abandon Ship”, right down to the guest appearance from our host’s cousin Rampage the Last Boy Scout, doesn’t ever click, as Busta’s delivery is that of a man who is dreadfully bored, but is trying to convince himself otherwise. Rampage sounds alright, but the beat is the best thing about “Call The Ambulance”, and it isn’t even that good. Oh well.

5. WE GOIN’ TO DO IT TO YA
Busta Rhymes albums not called The Coming tend to include multiple attempts at club bangers (although The Coming did have that one song with Zhane), and It Ain’t Safe No More… falls right in line. “We Goin’ To Do It To Ya” is merely the first one of the evening, as I haven’t even gotten to this project’s singles yet. (“Call The Ambulance” would never get burn in a club setting, even with the Neptunes pedigree.) Producer Megahertz, still eating off of the goodwill he briefly attained for his work on Puff Daddy’s “Bad Boy For Life” at this point in time, gives our host a quieter instrumental that forces our host to remain calm (even when spitting inane lyrics about sex and partying), until the chorus kicks in, bringing a noisier, louder, and generally worse beat switch with it. Anytime Busta Rhymes is coerced into curbing his hyperactive tendencies, he tends to sound more interesting, but there’s little question as to why this piss-poor attempt to recreate “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” failed.

6. WHAT UP
A scatological obsession, that’s what up, and not just because Busta overuses the word “shit” throughout the first verse of this Dilla-produced track. And this instrumental is no lost, precious donut, either: it’s so terrible that it inspires an awful performance from our host. Maybe Busta Rhymes purchased a bunch of Dilla beats in bulk at a discount: that’s one way to explain the quality. Skip ahead, you two.

7. TURN ME UP SOME
Although it ultimately doesn’t work, I appreciated how “Turn Me Up Some” sounded like a throwback to a The Coming-era Busta Rhymes, with a Dilla donut that I really liked which could have slid onto A Tribe Called Quest’s The Love Movement perfectly. The hook is kind of bizarre, as it features both our host and a Redman sample spouting the titular phrase, the Reggie vocals lifted from his “Let’s Get Dirty (I Can’t Get In The Club)” (including some of his comical screaming): that was a curious choice. Trevor relaxed a bit, spitting his boasts-n-bullshit with a calmer disposition, but he doesn’t seem to be comfortable doing so, which brings you up to speed on “Turn Me Up Some”. Sigh.

8. MAKE IT CLAP (FEAT. SPLIFF STAR)
A stupid skit (of the type Busta loves to put on his albums) leads into the first single from It Ain’t Safe No More…, “Make It Clap”, which is, unsurprisingly, another of our host’s attempts to dominate the club scene. As far as I can recall, he succeeded this time: an official Sean Paul remix was even commissioned, even though “Make It Clap” is almost impossible to listen to outside of that environment. The Rick Rock beat isn’t terrible, but there’s very little to it after the intro, which aims for a grand entrance but settles for crawling in through the front door hoping the bouncers are too preoccupied to notice. Trevor sounds as self-involved as ever: what I’m saying is, your mileage may vary. The one thing I do like about “Make It Clap” is how Spliff Star, hypeman extraordinaire, tricks the listener into thinking that he may actually be really talented behind the mic: his middle verse is delivered in a captivating fashion. But then you remember the subject matter, and you get over yourself.

9. TAKE IT OFF (PART 2) (FEAT. MEKA)
It certainly isn’t unheard of, but releasing a sequel to a track that originally dropped three albums prior (back on E.L.E. (Extinction Leven Event): The Final World Front – side note, remember when Busta Rhymes threatened all of us with a sequel to that shit?) isn’t always the best way to be seen as an artist who is always finding ways to progress. “Take It Off (Part 2)” explores similar territory as “Make It Clap”, just less successfully (relatively speaking, as “Make It Clap” mostly sucks), as this Mario Winans-produced track was plenty awful. And so it goes.

10. TASTE IT
The third track in a row that Busta has crafted for the ladies, although I can’t imagine any of my female friends ever listening to “Taste It” without being fucking mortified. Tetamus’ instrumental isn’t that bad, but Trevor screws up by committing these lyrics to the music, and you’ll never want to listen to this shit even the once to find out exactly what I’m talking about. Groan.

11. HEY LADIES
Honest question: were there really a lot of women running out to purchase any and everything Busta Rhymes touched? Because that is the only plausible explanation as to why Trevor would dedicate so many of this album’s tracks to the female half of the population. Not that “Hey Ladies” is all about the ladies: its title is a snippet of an interpolation of some older Biggie lyrics. But still.

12. I KNOW WHAT YOU WANT (FEAT. MARIAH CAREY & FLIPMODE SQUAD)
The second single, which I’ve always outright hated because it just sounds so out-of-character for Trevor that he may as well have recorded himself literally begging the female audience for attention, and the distortion on guest crooner Mariah Carey’s vocals during the hook makes her sound like an anonymous studio singer they paid fifty bucks to with a peanut butter sandwich box lunch. Rick Rock’s beat (how the fuck did he end up scoring both singles from It Ain’t Safe No More…?) is weak and incomplete-sounding, and none of these love raps seem sincere. The only thing I ever appreciated about “I Know What You Want” is how unselfish Busta Rhymes was, sharing the spotlight with his Flipmode Squad on what was most likely considered to be a radio single from its inception, because why the fuck else would you get Mariah Carey to cameo otherwise? And are you ready for a random tidbit from my life? “I Know What You Want” always reminds me of test-driving new cars, as this was seemingly the only song playing on every fucking station in my area when I was looking to trade. I know that’s not much about me, but hey, that salesman hated the shit out of me that day. Also, damn this shit to hell.

13. RIOT
Whoever sequenced this project should be drawn and quartered in the square: why in the hell would you place a violent skit after “I Know What You Want”, a goddamn love song, and then follow that up with “Riot”, a Mr. Porter-produced dull throb of a migraine that encourages the listener to join Trevor in “caus[ing] a riot” during the hook? Not to mention the abrupt left turn in Albuquerque after ninety-three club bangers for the ladies. It wouldn’t even matter if this shit were any good (which it most certainly is not): there’s no way one would ever take this one seriously.

14. HOP
Meh.

15. TOGETHER (FEAT. RAH DIGGA)
Shit, I used my one “meh” per post too early. The Swizz Beatz-produced “Together” is boring as shit, although the only Swizzy trademark within the beat itself are the whistles, which should be noted, I suppose. At least Rah Digga, the most talented rapper the Flipmode Squad has ever had, was able to walk away from “Together” without feeling embarrassed. The fuck was with that skit at the very end, though? At least Busta is trying to have fun here? Question mark?

16. STRUTTIN’ LIKE A G.O.D.
Although I know this song just played through my earbuds, I can’t remember a fucking thing about it. No wait, that isn’t entirely accurate: my main thought while this Ric Rude production played was, “Is that Spliff Star singing the chorus?” Which, if it is, he isn’t credited anywhere, so who knows.

17. THE STRUGGLE WILL BE LOST (FEAT. CARL THOMAS)
Trevor Smith has long played the role of the paranoid rapper – have we forgotten how concerned he was with the new millennium coming? So “conspiracy theorist” isn’t a title that would be much of a stretch to affix to our host.  But even though “The Struggle Will Be Lost” features guest crooner Carl Thomas singing about the origins of slavery to the tine of the Gilligan’s Island theme song, which isn’t even the most bonkers thing about this fucker, Busta Rhymes himself never seems to commit to the concept, using the Rick Rock production to try to prove his “woke”-ness to the listener. So this is a no from me. However, it does feature Busta shouting, “Happy Thanksgiving!” multiple times throughout the hook, which was kind of amusing.

18. TILL IT’S GONE
Trevor hilariously interrupts “The Struggle Will Be Lost” with a short interlude where he explains how it’s important to enjoy life as it happens. Then the True Master beat kicks in for “Till It’s Gone”, sounding like a Raekwon reject, which isn’t a criticism, mind you. For his part, our host sticks to the theme for the final song of the evening, and while it’s a corny concept to build an entire rap song around, at least he sounds more engaged on here than he has on the majority of the project. And yet, none of this should be classified as essential listening. Our national nightmare is now over, and at least our host didn’t end It Ain’t Safe No More… with an insipid outro.

The following is considered to be a bonus track.

19. MAKE IT CLAP (REMIX) (FEAT. SEAN PAUL & SPLIFF STAR)
Ugh. Returning Busta’s favor from his own “Bring Me The Light” remix, Sean Paul jumps on to the aforementioned “Make It Clap” remix, which features new lyrics from our host and Spliff Star (who has never sounded more in control of his own voice, even though his performance is terrible), while Sean Paul helps with the hook and provides a verse of his own. By the way, this remix is truly awful, so of course it was a hit song. But that doesn’t mean you ever need to hear it. That’s what I’m here for, and I know, the word “hero” is thrown around a lot these days, but it definitely applies here.

THE LAST WORD: It Ain’t Safe No More… is, unsurprisingly given how this review reads, a waste of your goddamn time. It easily qualifies as the worst album in the Busta Rhymes catalog thus far. I don’t know how it’s possible that there are no redeeming qualities on an album that runs this long: Busta Rhymes can be a captivating performer, and he was one of the cameo kings in the late 1990s for a reason. The man has some fantastic fucking songs in his catalog: it’s just that none of them appear on this garbage. It Ain’t Safe No More… appears to have been drafted as an attempt to chase after the female half of his assumed audience that likely doesn’t exist except for when a Busta song gets played in the club, the exact combination of alcohol, sweat, and euphoria bringing them out to the floor. Once that assignment was complete, he then suddenly remembered that mostly dudes liked his stuff, and he knocked out some crappy gangsta shit that made no sense just to fill time. That is to say, who the fuck was this album for? It Ain’t Safe No More… is one of the few projects that I can safely say has zero good songs: this write-up could have been a Drink Coaster if I still did those. You say you’ve somehow never heard of this album or “I Know What You Want”? I envy you, good sir. What’s it like in your privileged world?

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Busta Rhymes has released more albums, all of varying degrees of quality. Here’s a link to some more reviews.



5 comments:

  1. Yeah this album is not good. Busta still drops some good guest features though. He had a really nice one on Jay Rock's album 90059 a few years back.

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  2. I only like the Dilla tracks on this album. The rest of the project is pancake ass.

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    1. Agreed. Although I’d add Till It’s Gone to my tally because True Master comes through and Busta meshed well with him. While most of this project was truly that bad, I feel you went too hard on those four tracks, Max. Especially on Turn Me Up Some, as I felt Busta had a LOT more room to shine on that than the rest of the piffle you so generously subjected yourself to for our entertainment.

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  3. "Turn Me Up Some" is friggin' fantastic! Best track on the album, imo.

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  4. Rah Digga said in an interview that the two main singles for the album, Make It Clap and I Know What You Want were taken from the sophomore, shelved second Flipmode Squad album (which according to Digga was REALLY good compared with the first album which is no easy feat) but J records took them from the flipmode album and put them on this one. That also explains why Rick Rock produced them both.

    I think this was his first album where his Rah Rah shit was officially out the picture (unless Shut Em Down 2002 was a revived song for Genesis) and his flow had officially evolved (actually, among the same time Cam'ron evolved from the Cam/Drag-On flow to Killa Cam)

    This album isn't one of my favourites by him but I fuck with roughly most of the first half and the Make It Clap remix brings back memories. I thought the lyrics were fine too. Also, correction police alert, Genesis is Busta's fifth album, not his first as it says in your review.

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