Video God Madness

But when Busta drops the first actual song, "Everybody Rise,"the results induce drowsiness rather than spiritual uplift— even with the kookiest Romantic piano loop in a hip hop song ever. The cautionary title track gives you circus music and George Clinton background vocals but the sum total is not the fire-and-brimstone jeremiad I'm sure Busta intended. Fifteen more so-so tracks follow. Busta's is not a lyricist-lovers' hip hop, nor is he an oilcan-campfire storyteller à la Biggie, a freestylist on a par with Redman, or a roughneck matinee idol like Method Man. We love Busta because he's the personification of hip hop— all the fun, noise, machismo, and flava seen walking like a man. Yet heard in mere album form Busta's extra-ness can make you beg for Motrin.

Even so, Busta bridges the ethnological gap between Yankee and raggamuffin rhyme-flow with unparalleled ease, and negotiates a wider range of rhythmic settings— funk, cha-cha, dancehall, Latin, Afrobeat— with more aplomb as well. His comfort with all manner of hiccuping grooves compels him to adapt to a variety of musical styles, a predilection rare among current MCs. The Afrobeat influence shows up on "Keeping It Tight," a "Soul Makossa"­fied revision of "Put Your Hands." A widening of geographic scope marks his Bounce-y duet with Mystikal, "Iz They Wilding Wit Us & Getting Rowdy." "A Bus A Bus" returns to the annoying days of electro, while moves you'll recognize from Tricky (half-time soul guitar) and Timbaland (staggered and staccato drum loop) make "What's It Gonna Be," an alternately frenetic and sugary collaboration between Busta and Janet Jackson, the most musical event on the disc.

Considering the production quality of his debut, The Coming, and the general slambociousness of its follow-up, When Disaster Strikes, it's surprising how underbaked so many of the tracks here sound— even when the concepts are live, like the rhyming buried just beneath the beats on "Hot Shit Making Ya Bounce," the sound quality is way shy of banging, most notably on the Black Sabbath interpolation of "This Means War." Forgetting for a moment that this idea was originated and better executed by the Goodie Mob's band on their first tour, the aggression displayed by the garage rejects hired for the event wouldn't rile an airport lounge. Guest star Ozzy Osbourne seems merely melancholy, like nobody thought to lace the M&M jar with batmeat. For what it's worth, Busta does give his all, but in the wake of Puffy & the Foo Fighters and Puffy & Page, faking the rock is just not a hip hop option anymore.

This season also sees the release of Flipmode Squad's The Imperial, long awaited mainly by Busta. As one citizen summed up the disc, Flipmode Squad is a prime example of what happens when "you put your crew on and your crew ain't got nothing to say." Strangely enough, The Imperial's tracks are more tuneful than those on Busta's own meisterwerk, though to no great galvanizing effect, as the assembled team of Rah Digga, Rampage, Spliff Star, Lord Have Mercy, and Baby Sham are hardly the next Wu-Tang Killa Bees. That Flipmode Squad is a better photo op than band should surprise no one. And how Busta can produce a more bangalicious serving of atavistic hip hop next time out is a question best not left to the God.

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