If only Busta Rhymes was an athlete, his decline would be much easier to explain. Athletes inevitably get old: ligaments tear, knees get weak, the body gives out. But hip-hop is more mental than physical: as long as the mind stays sharp, a rapper could spit until his nursing home days (though at that age he’d probably be spitting pudding). So how do we explain Busta’s slow and gradual disintegration from hurricane-force microphone destroyer to “that guy who did that Arab song with the T-Pain sounding dude”?
Don’t forget, there was a time when Busta Rhymes was arguably the most creative man in hip-hop, a time when he held the entire rap game in check—woo ha!—while America begged him to give us some more. Then, and it seems like "Pass the Courvoisier" was a turning point, Busta took a decidedly more commercial turn. The former leader of the new school began to water his music down, a trend that’s unfortunately continued on his new album, Back On My B.S.. Fans who only know Busta from the "Touch It" era should rightfully enjoy Back On My B.S., but for those of us who grew up listening to the mad rapper’s schizophrenic flows, Busta’s latest effort will be just another opportunity to pull out that old "Scenario" tape and ask nostalgically, remember when...?
Now I’ve got nothing against making money, especially in this economy, but did it have to be "Arab Money"? I’ve got so many problems with this track it’s hard to know where to start. First, Busta’s flow is anemic by his standards, plus the lyrics only occasionally make sense: he apparently doesn’t read the news because Arafat’s been dead for five years and taking “trips to Baghdad” isn’t exactly a good idea. Second, can some Arabic speaking member of the DJBooth family tell me if the hook’s actually sung in Arabic, or is it just gibberish? My money’s on gibberish. As long as we’re on the subject, it’s good to see Ron Browz again, but he’s too good a producer to resort to knockoff Auto-Tune tricks. Speaking of which, the real T-Pain shows up for the slowly pounding "Husler’s Anthem ’09." If this was almost any other rappers' track I could shut up and enjoy it, but for the great Busta Rhymes, "Hustler’s Anthem" is nothing short of lazy.
Thankfully, at times Busta does indeed get back on his bulls**t, starting with the guttural "Wheel of Fortune," a cut featuring Busta returning to his constantly shifting rhyme style, with more than a couple references to his classic verse on the aforementioned "Scenario." As amusing as it is, "Wheel of Fortune" was intended as more of an intro than a full-fledged banger. That’s why I’m a bigger fan of the offbeat "I’m a Go and Get My...," a track that transforms a street quote into a hook and recaptures some of the Busta’s boundary-breaking magic. Hell, I’ll even take the island-themed "Kill Dem," a Neptunes-produced track that allows Busta to slip into his Jamaican patois, or the concrete-hard "Respect My Conglomerate," even though Busta is arguably only the third-best rapper on his own track (well done Weezy and Jada). Ultimately, tracks like "Go and Get My" and "Kill Dem" are easily Back On My B.S.’s high points, and honestly, they’re not all that high.
Let’s get back to the original question; what happened to Busta? Why is Back on My B.S. so disappointingly average? We may never know for sure, but my guess is that about five years ago Busta made a conscious decision to change his focus from making great music to making successful music. That’s the only way to explain how a track like the quasi-house "World Go Round" gets on the same album as the formulaic "Don’t Believe Em" and the undeniably dope "Decision."
Busta tried to make an album everyone would like—and buy—and in the process only made an album no one will love. If Busta Rhymes was once the Michael Jordan of rap, we may now be witnessing the Washington Wizards portion of his career. When Busta’s deservingly inaugurated into my imaginary Hip-Hop Hall of Fame and the montage video of his career is playing, I seriously doubt it will feature any Back on My B.S. highlights.