Born Trevor Smith c. 1972 in Brooklyn, NY; raised in Long Island, NY. Children: T'ziah. Addresses: Record company--Elektra Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019; 345 N. Maple Drive, Suite 123, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
Without undue humility, said Busta Rhymes in the Los Angeles Times, "There's no bounds to rap music, and there's no limits to what Busta Rhymes can express." The unpredictable rapper--who first achieved fame as a teenager in the group Leaders of the New School--leapt into the first rank of hip-hop with his 1996 solo debut, The Coming, and its lead single, "Woo hah!! Got You All in Check." Busta's frantic delivery, explosive energy and outrageous attire cut through hip-hop's cool demeanor like a hot knife through butter. And unlike the gangsta-leaning MCs who dominated the first half of the 90s, he expressed impatience with street credibility. "I don't want to hear about this issue of keeping it real no more," he asserted in a record company biography. "It's all hype. It's time we all saw through it." He later commented, "I don't just represent a 20-block radius known as my 'hood," to Los Angeles Times writer Cheo Hodari Coker. "I represent the universe."
Busta--born Trevor Smith to a Jamaican mother and U.S.-born father in Brooklyn, New York--moved with his family to the suburbs of Long Island during his adolescence. While his deep, booming voice comes from his father, the rapper reported to Coker, "when it came down to discipline in my family, the true barker was Moms. That's where my real energetic side comes from." Only after he arrived in "Strong Island," as fellow natives and rap revolutionaries Public Enemy called the borough, did Busta began to dream of rhyming. "I was mad small," he recollected in Elektra Records ress materials, "but I would start entering rap contests, lip synch contests, anything to show my skills." Fortunately, he claimed, hailing from Brooklyn stood him in good stead, since "Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens was where all the good hip hop was coming from at that time."
Busta was still in junior high school when he hooked up with another rapper, Charlie Brown. The pair eventually caught the attention of Public Enemy leader Chuck D. as well as the group's producers, Eric Sadler and Hank Shocklee. Sadler and Shocklee-- known in the rap world as The Bomb Squad--helped the young Busta and his friends to refine their approach. As Busta noted in his bio, "Eric used to repeat this phrase to remind us what to concentrate on: C.L.A.M.P., which stood for Concept-Lyrics- Attitude-Music and Performance. He used to say when you get that down to a science, then you'll be there."
Refining this blend took some time, but Busta, Charlie, and their friend Dinco D. worked hard on their unison raps and choreography. After adding Busta's cousin Custmaster Milo as a DJ, they found their identity as Leaders of the New School. With the assistance of Chuck D., the quartet landed a deal with Elektra in 1989. The group's debut album, A Future Without a Past..., appeared in 1991 and was hailed by Spin as "high-energy hip hop" that "recaptures some of the giddy joys of rap." Their 1993 follow-up, T.I.M.E., also enjoyed critical raves. The Source deemed it "a rarity in hip- hop: a sophomore album that's better than the debut," and singled out Busta's work for special praise. "Busta get[s] buttnaked and wild," the magazine proclaimed; "he growls, grunts, chants and basically continues to break all musical rules." According to Los Angeles Times writer Coker, "the group brought a lively energy to its shows and recordings by performing singsong routines in unison rather than the normal rap pattern of just one or two main voices. The music was accompanied by lively choreographed stomps." The group also appeared as guests on an album by "Godfather of Soul" James Brown.
Busta has cited as influences not only old-school funk master George Clinton and rock guitar icon Jimi Hendrix but some other figures that are, if anything, even more animated. "Secret Squirrel, Tom and Jerry, Courageous Cat," he enumerated in Spin, adding some other cartoon favorites: "A lot of the old s--t, too-- Popeye, Mighty Mouse. That s--t just stays on at my crib 24 hours [a day]." He was able to demonstrate the range of his own cartoonish funkateer persona after Leaders took a hiatus in 1993. He put in guest appearances with R&B hitmakers Boyz II Men, hip hop explorers A Tribe Called Quest, and many others. "The rapper has proved virtual nitroglycerin as a guest star," noted Spin writer Chris Norris. Busta also lent his presence to several films, including John Singleton's university drama Higher Learning and the rap comedy Who's the Man.
Shortly after LONS took a break, Busta--a member of the Five Percent sect of Islam--saw the birth of his son, T'ziah. He dedicted his album to the memory of another, now deceased, son, Tahiem Jr., but has not discussed this loss in the press. He spent the next few years in Brooklyn experiencing what he described to Spin's Norris as "normal, middle-class, standard-living s--t like how I came up." By the time he'd completed his solo album, The Coming, T'ziah was three years old and--according to his proud papa--a delight. "That's the coolest age to be around kids," he told Norris. "They don't bicker, they're not looking for their moms, they just want to chill." It was the arrival of T'ziah, he insisted to Coker, that made the solo effort a necessity. "I would never have done a solo record voluntarily," he claimed. "I love the group, and we're still gonna record albums. But now that I've had the chance to flourish and to blossom, I'm gonna capitalize on the best of both worlds."
Working with a variety of producers, Busta was able to expand his range on The Coming. "Usually when I'm rhyming," reads a quote from his Elektra biography, "I only get to rhyme 16 bars. Here I get to show other things. The record is energized on many different levels, including the Busta wild shit." In addition to the masssive "Woo hah!!," which was complemented by a frenetic, stylized video that earned heavy rotation on MTV, the album also features "It's a Party," a duet with female soul divas Zhane. Reviews of the album were mixed from a musical standpoint, but tended to celebrate Busta's vocal skills. Rolling Stone complained that "the mixes are simple, droopy and slow," but added that the rapper's "quavering rips and verbal acrobatics liven up the joint. He hurdles beats and measures in a single bound." Reviewer Eric Berman concluded, "Despite his musical shortcomings, Busta Rhymes is a master MC and one of hip-hop's most jovial and vivid personalities, whose creativity on the mike may give rap a much needed shot in the arm." Coker, reviewing the disc for the Los Angeles Times, found it "short on deep themes but long on dazzling displays of rhyme skill." He cited the recording as proof "that there are still compelling hip-hop records to be made without dramatic narratives or weighty social politics."
Busta toured behind The Coming in an omnibus rap show that also boasted the Fugees, Cypress Hill, and A Tribe Called Quest. He promised a reunion with his LONS mates before long, but in the short time expressed nothing but gratitude. "Every time my voice is recorded," he told Coker, "I'm extremely happy. Hip-hop is paying my bills and feeding my family." Rather than cop an "arrogant attitude and mad face," he added, he wanted to emphasize his accessibility: "I want the whole world to feel like they can approach and embrace me."
by Simon Glickman
Busta Rhymes's Career
Cofounded rap group Leaders of the New School and released Elektra Records debut, A Future Without a Past..., 1991; appeared in films Higher Learning, Who's the Man, and Strapped, 1992-94; made guest appearances on recordings by A Tribe Called Quest, Boyz II Men, Craig Mack, Bounty Killer, and others, 1993-96; released solo debut, The Coming, 1996; appeared on Smokin' Grooves concert tour, 1996.
- Selective Works
- With Leaders of the New School A Future Without a Past..., Elektra, 1991.
- James Brown, Universal James (appears on "Can't Get Any Harder"), Scotti Brothers, 1992.
- T.I.M.E., Elektra, 1993.
- Solo albums The Coming (includes "Woo hah!! Got You All in Check" and "It's a Party"), Elektra, 1996.
- Has also made guest appearances on recordings by Boyz II Men, A Tribe Called Quest, Craig Mack, Bounty Killer, and others.
- Los Angeles Times, April 21, 1996; May 26, 1996; July 25, 1996.
- Rolling Stone, May 2, 1996.
- Source, November 1993.
- Spin, July 1991; August 1996.
- Vice, September 1996.
- Additional information was provided by Elektra Records publicity materials, 1996.