By Ivan Jones
Busta Rhymes, known for his unique and distinctive style, emerged as a prominent figure during rap’s golden era. His halting, ragga-inspired delivery and lyrics characterized by complexity, inventiveness, and humor set him apart. After gaining recognition as part of the group Leaders of the New School, Busta embarked on a solo career in 1996, achieving massive success with his hit single “Woo-Hah!! Got You All in Check.” Throughout the ‘90s and 2000s, he dominated the charts with his albums, including his seventh studio album, “The Big Bang,” which debuted at number one in 2006. In subsequent years, he expanded his horizons, working as a producer and pursuing acting opportunities in film and television. While maintaining a sporadic presence in the music scene, Busta released albums such as “Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God” in 2020.
Born as Trevor Smith Jr. in 1972 in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, Busta Rhymes grew up with Jamaican roots that strongly influenced his rap style. In 1983, he relocated to Long Island, where he attended Uniondale High School and connected with fellow aspiring MCs Charlie Brown, Dinco D., and Cut Monitor Milo. Inspired by influential artists like Public Enemy and Eric B. & Rakim from Long Island, the four artists joined forces to form Leaders of the New School. They quickly secured a record deal with Elektra Records when Busta was only 17 years old. Highly respected in the hip-hop underground for their Afrocentric philosophy and raw rap styles, Leaders of the New School released their debut album, “Future Without a Past…,” in 1991. However, they disbanded after releasing just one more album, “T.I.M.E.,” in 1993.
Embarking on his solo journey, Busta collaborated with various artists, making notable appearances on tracks such as A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” and the remix of Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear,” which featured Notorious B.I.G. and LL Cool J. He also worked with Boyz II Men, Mary J. Blige, and TLC. In addition to his music ventures, Busta ventured into acting, making an appearance in John Singleton’s 1995 film “Higher Learning.” He subsequently secured a solo contract with Elektra Records. Busta’s first solo album, “The Coming,” achieved tremendous success, propelled by the hit single “Woo-Hah!! Got You All in Check.” The album reached gold record status. His second album, “When Disaster Strikes,” debuted at number three in September 1997. A year later, he released “Extinction Level Event,” followed by “Anarchy” in mid-2000, coinciding with his role in the remake of the blaxploitation classic film “Shaft.” “It Ain’t Safe No More” arrived in 2002, and his seventh studio album, “The Big Bang,” released in 2006 under the Aftermath label, topped the charts. Creative differences with Interscope Records temporarily halted his career until 2009 when he released “Back on My B.S.” as his first album under Universal/Motown.
However, label issues continued to delay the release of his subsequent album, which finally arrived three years later. During this time, Busta collaborated with renowned artists such as Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Tiësto, Diplo, Twista, Fat Joe, and Kanye West. Although he signed with Cash Money in 2011, the association was short-lived, and Busta later parted ways with the label. In 2012, he released his ninth album, “Year of the Dragon,” as a free digital download. The album featured collaborations with Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Gucci Mane, and others. A joint EP with Eminem and Everlast titled “Calm Down: The Clash” followed in 2014.
In 2016, Busta made an appearance on “My Shot” from the highly successful “Hamilton Mixtape.” The same year, he released the mixtape “Return of the Dragon: The Abstract Went on Vacation” in time for the holiday season. The mixtape boasted an impressive lineup of guests, including Fabolous, Jadakiss, Styles P, O.T. Genasis, Chance the Rapper, Mary J. Blige, Raekwon, MF Doom, and his original crew, Leaders of the New School, on the track “We Home.” The following year, he released the single “Girlfriend” featuring Vybz Kartel and Tory Lanez. In 2018, he offered another standalone single titled “Get It,” featuring guest appearances from Missy Elliott and Kelly Rowland. In October 2020, he released his tenth studio album, “Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God,” featuring collaborations with Vybz Kartel, Anderson.Paak, and others. He also made guest appearances on tracks by Stylo G (“Outta Space”) and Lion Babe (“Harder”), among others. In 2022, he collaborated with Big Daddy Kane and Conway the Machine on the track “Slap,” further showcasing his enduring presence in the rap scene.