By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
By Hilary Hughes
By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
If there was a Black goth planet in some parallel universe, Busta Rhymes would be its evil emperor: the person who, in an MTV remake of The Defiant Ones(The Real Defiant Ones?), you'd handcuff to Marilyn Manson. In a recent Q&A, Busta hails M&M as an artist with "no limitations," and Manson's autonomy as "fuckin' beautiful to watch," speaking, specifically, to the freedoms that white artists of all kinds widely, uniquely enjoy, and for which he seeks to vitally compensate.
In recorded music, these privileges are most pointedly illustrated, for example, by the seemingly unlimited genres, sub-genres, and sub-sub-genres of popular white music, for which record companies and stores create new bins and sections that nourish and accommodate them, while Black artists make do with no more than a few favored standbys"r&b," "hip-hop," "gospel," etc. These privileges are dramatically illuminated by the "boys will be boys" concessions made for white rowdiness, whether those ill manners be borne by Marilyn Manson, Marshall Mathers, Led Zeppelin's 1977 tour, or the entire cast of Woodstock '99; try and imagine a hip-hop concert the size of the Million Man March during which acts of rape, sexual assault, and arson could take place, yet after which the promoters, with straight faces, might still speak of a follow-up event. Better yet, try and imagine a follow-up to a hip-hop concert during which rampant mud-slingingtook place.
Listening to Genesis, latest in the series of Rhymes's dramatically titled and declamatory works (The Coming, When Disaster Strikes, ELE: Extinction Level Event, Anarchy), what becomes clearer is not only the power of, but the need for hip-hopits necessity as a tool to not just "express one's feelings" but to fashion new realities presently occluded by the system of white supremacy: a lathe of heaven. This is one thing that hip-hop does for Black people that white people typically go to movies to get (hence all of those album skits, to date absent from rock records, though hip-hop itself is not). Films like the Star Wars series present rich worlds of fantasy for some. But for me, as much as I adore the movies, the pressing question is, how much more dramatic would The Phantom Menace's climactic Jedi-Sith saber battle be, re-synced to EPMD's "You Gots to Chill" instrumental?
Such remixes of popular film imagery frequently come to mind when listening to His Majesty the Flipmodian, not because of his narrativeswith possible exception of the cheatin'-hearts parable "Wife in Law," his rhymes typically lack any strong storytelling thrustbut because of what can only be called aura; his timbre, cadences, couplets, and beats are so full of perverse color and decadent texture as to suggest his untapped potential. One finds oneself wondering, for example, what kind of Dracula he would have made in Francis Ford Coppola's update of Bram Stoker's classic. One ponders this, not just because on "Truck Volume" he threatens, "I know some niggas that'd love to bloodsuck you all." Or because on that track, with its spacey, horror movie organ motif and cross-fadered syncopations, he has a producer, Dr. Dre, with as darkly cinematic an imagination, and because he's the only hip-hop artist who could wear Eiko Ishioka's Academy Award-winning costume designs for that movie and, like Will Smith in Men in Black, "make this look good." He's like hip-hop as realized by H.R. Gigera wild, Black alien life-form, mouth agape to both consume and spit acid, threatening to bus' out your chest, then, as he notes on the title track, "evolve about a million times."
Genesis is layered with his evolution. Lyrically, it is often so thick that it requires multiple passes just to pick out the metaphors. (One exception may be Rhymes's impudent claim to "the moment when my niggas run deep through crowds/Like how a pregnant woman breast milk leak through her blouse.") There is a satisfying evenness, but not sameness, in the production. Though Busta has never been a slouch in the beats department, this album bumps with groovy new rhythms that, clearly, were more or less mastered in, and no doubt sound absolutely delectable coming out of, the $45,000 A/V system in the artist's $110,000 2000 Mercedes Benz G500 Gelaendewagen. (You didn't think Rhymes's omnipresent "truck" references were to the Mountain Dew semi he rides, Road Warrior style, in the commercial, did you?) The Michaelangelo-produced "You Ain't Fuckin' Wit Me" commences with lush strings over blinking computer tones, halts, then breaks in this sopping, goony-goo-goo, oompa-loompa beat so sick that Busta deems it "Frankenstein's baby." The wailing theremin and martial drum track on Dre's "Holla" "sound like one, two o'clock in the morning with the full moon out . . . niggas in they trucks creepin' with a fresh box o' Ecstasy pills for these bitches."
Introduction of the Beast With Two Backs, however, begins on "Betta Stay Up in Your House." After needle-dropping a little Curtis Mayfield to set the mood, Busta and the all-powerful Rah Diggapossibly the best female MC working todayengage in what can only be called aural sex, a back-and-forth lyrical tussle with all of the pelvis-busting give-and-take of a lustful lakeside cottage romp. Like good lovers, they switch up rhythms, change speeds, perfectly anticipate the other's next move, and are never selfish. If Genesis is really a 21st-century Black gothic screed, then Rah Digga is the queen to Busta's emperor, the Amazon to his barbarian. May they forever reign in blood.