Few hip-hop artists have been able to make it on pure charisma for as long as Busta Rhymes, whose fluorescent fashion sense, wild hairdos, herky-jerky dance moves, and dancehall-inflected bellow have disguised his utter lack of substance since he left Leaders of the New School for a solo career in 1996. Hits like "Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check" and "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" laid out the basic template: gruff, heavily syncopated shouting over stuttery beats. Each of his first three albums made more and more noise about millennial apocalypse, but after we all woke up fine on January 1, 2000, he disappeared with the miserable, forgettable Anarchy (Elektra). He describes the new Genesis (J) as a rebirth, and on the title track, aping the phrasing of comedian Rudy Ray Moore, he raps, "Niggas analyze the jewel that I reveal in a rhyme / I'm like something that has evolved about a million times." But the truth is that not much has changed. His hysterical rants sloppily celebrate his not-always-evident skills, give props to his crew the Flipmode Squad, and extol the pleasures of a sybaritic lifestyle. Producer Pete Rock revisits his classic remix of Public Enemy's "Shut Em Down," but Busta completely drains it of political content. He also engages in some self-referential nostalgia on "As I Come Back," building a vocal hook from a snippet of his landmark 1991 cameo on A Tribe Called Quest's "Scenario"--which is apt since now as then the company he keeps makes all the difference. On that cut producers-of-the-moment the Neptunes help him rob Missy Elliott, mimicking the signature riff from "Get Ur Freak On" and her deep, percussive growl from "Lick Shots." He's inspired to some fine speed rapping on the Dr. Dre-produced "Break Ya Neck"; the George Clinton associations of the title "Ass on Your Shoulders" get reinforced with a heavy shot of P-Funk; Mary J. Blige coos the hook on "There's Only One"; and Rah Digga plays verbal Ping-Pong with him on "Betta Stay up in Your House." Less palatable is Jaheim's awful slow jamming on the idiotic "Wife in Law," a tit-for-tat rationalization of adultery in which Busta's insatiable mistress offers to lick his ass and braid his hair. Tuesday, February 5, 7:30 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dean Karr.