In a culturally disruptive career over three decades, Busta Rhymes has rocked many stages worldwide since Leaders of the New School’s “Mt. Airy Groove” introduced him in 1990. But never a setting quite like this one.
Imagine two enormous jumbotrons bracketing a raised platform in the middle of an abandoned airfield in the Saudi Arabian desert, and there he is: purple and lime-green jacket covered in Louis Vuitton’s LV logos, iced-out links, and that signature smile. Picture him rhyming quadruple-time to his 2011 feature on Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now” for 600,000-plus Middle Eastern fans at the MDLBEAST Soundstorm music festival last December.
Tender Persons Blue Shirt. U.M.I.N. Blue Lace Shirt. Photo by Keith Major for EBONY Media.
Busta’s rapid-fire verse, undoubtedly one of the fastest of all time, commanded all attention away from the other hip-hop greats onstage. The 51-year-old MC’s legendary scene-stealing is never-ending and infamous, starting with the A Tribe Called Quest classic, “Scenario,” in 1991 (“rawr! rawr! like a dungeon dragon…”). In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia—arms crossed in a B-boy stance alongside his longtime hype man-slash-bestie, Spliff Star—he stood as the embodiment of hip-hop, one of the most significant cultural exports in America’s history.
“As long as you can still produce great [music], you can’t put a timeline on it.The fire and the passion still burn in my soul to wanna do it. I’m still a fan of the culture, of the art. I still love it.”-Busta Rhymes
“I stayed out there for 13 days,” Busta says months later, weeks after tearfully accepting his BET Lifetime Achievement Award and on the verge of releasing his eleventh studio album (he executive produced along with Pharrell, Timbaland, and Swizz Beatz). “I love it, I wanna get property there, and I wanna be able to get my citizenship there too. It was such a beautiful experience culturally, just to see how [Saudis hold] the family in the highest regard. ’Cause I’m super about family. I love the fact that everywhere I went to visit, family life and children were always together. It changed my perspective on the way we need to prioritize celebrating and living by our cultural aesthetics.”
On Aura Tout Vu Silver Cape. Neige Black Velvet Shirt. Alligator Jesus Bracelet and Rings. Photo by Keith Major for EBONY Media.
Now the father of six children—roll call: T’zaiah, Mariah, T’khi, Cacie, Trillian, and Miracle—Busta Rhymes emerged from a tight-knit Jamaican family who raised their rambunctious firstborn son in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, moving later to suburban Uniondale, Long Island. Born Trevor Smith Jr., a portrait of the rapper as a young man reveals a raspy-voiced little kid obsessed with rap’s first breakthrough hit, “Rapper’s Delight”; a wayward tweener sent away for two summers to an aunt in northwest England, break dancing in UK clubs for pay; a high schooler with fellow classmates like Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace.
The Busta Rhymes origin story goes back to those days: a fated rap battle between seventh grader Chill-O- Ski (eventually known as Busta Rhymes) and his future bandmate Bryan “Charlie Brown” Higgins.
To read the rest of this cover story, pick up the Fall 2023 Hip-Hop 50 commemorative print edition of EBONY Magazine in partnership with Mass Appeal at magazines.com, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Walgreens, Target, Publix, Safeway, Kroger, Books A Million, and more, plus select retailers in London and South Africa on September 19th.
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