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Busta Rhymes Opens Up About New Album 'E.L.E. 2' and Chris Lighty

Veteran rapper looks back and forward for upcoming 10th album featuring Dr. Dre and Swizz Beatz

Busta Rhymes performs in New York City.
Jerritt Clark/Getty Images
July 17, 2014 9:00 AM ET

It's been 16 years since Busta Rhymes released his third album E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front, spawning some of his biggest hits, including the Bernard Herrmann-sampling "Gimme Some More" and Janet Jackson-assisted "What's It Gonna Be?!" For his upcoming 10th album, though, the rapper returns to the contributors and post-apocalyptic themes that made E.L.E. a fan favorite. On Extinction Level Event 2, set for release this fall, Busta Rhymes brings back E.L.E. producers Swizz Beatz, DJ Scratch, Rockwilder and Nottz alongside new beats by Dr. Dre, DJ Premier and longtime collaborator J Dilla (who passed away in 2006, but left a trove of unreleased beats).

Q&A: Busta Rhymes on the State of Hip-Hop

The offerings so far — including "Thank You" with Q-Tip and "Calm Down" with Eminem — finds the rapper vibrant and reenergized after the polarizing reception of his last few projects. E.L.E. 2 will be Busta's first project since the suicide of friend and manager Chris Lighty in 2012, though he told Rolling Stone that he plans on commemorating Lighty in the album's liner notes. The rapper revealed what's been holding up the album's release and contrasts a 26-year-old Busta Rhymes with the 42-year-old today. 

Extinction Level Event 2 has had numerous release dates, even as hip-hop albums go. What's been holding it up?
I'm still dealing with a lot of clearance issues, but I would say it's about 90% finished. I don't anticipate having too much difficulty with it, but there's a lot of real defining moments on the album that we had to use some very important content from different areas to just make the album shape up and reach the vision I had for an Extinction Level Event sequel. Ideally, if everything goes according to plan, I would like to have it out mid-fall and send people into the holidays with the most impactful project of my lifetime, God willing. 

Why do you call it your most impactful album?
I made an album for the first time in my career where I completely controlled every single aspect of the process. I started this album at the end of 2009 and the longest that I've taken to record an album prior to this one was [2006's] The Big Bang, which took three years. I didn't have all the information and experience that I've had throughout my entire career the way I have it now. So with all that information, even though I was in control of my destiny before I got with [the Dr. Dre-founded record label] Aftermath [Entertainment], I didn't have the same experience and the same appreciation for just being patient. This is one project that I did not want to compromise seeing this vision that I had for it all the way through. And there was a lot of people that I had to get back in touch with that was involved with E.L.E 1 that I haven't spoken to since then.

Can you share any confirmed titles?
I can’t really do that until I know… There are songs that I’m in love with that I’m trying to figure out how not to lose them because of the clearance procedure. The reason I say "lose" the song is because we get married to the songs the way they are originally made. When you have to start changing the music up, it starts to change the feeling of the record. The song may still be dope, but it may not be the way you need it to feel to finish the picture you’re trying to complete. 

How would you describe the vibe of the album?
E.L.E. 2 is very familiar and similar to the embodiment of what E.L.E. 1 sounded and felt like because it was important to me that if you play the first one today and then took it out and immediately put the second one in, I wanted the beginning of the second one to start with the same feeling that E.L.E. 1 ended with. I wanted it to be a natural progression and the most seamless sequel concept project that has ever been put together, but then it evolves as it goes on and you feel the nostalgia but you hear and you witness everything that's current and new about the feeling of E.L.E. 2.

What's been the biggest change for you since the release of your last album Year of the Dragon in 2012?
The only misfortune I have about this project is I lost Chris Lighty and I lost my father in the making of this album. I saved this email that Chris sent me on August 9th, 2011 where he deemed this album my best album of my entire career and he gives me this speech about how Pink Floyd made The Wall on their 11th album and how I finally caught that train. I never had Chris say this to me before and he was my manager for years. To get that from your manager who was like your big brother, it's like, 'Damn. I finally did it' and now he’s not here. I’m going to take a snapshot of the e-mail and put it in the artwork of the project and share it with the world when the time is right. I feel a little cheated, but that's the bittersweet part of the whole thing. I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy in my life. 

You made Extinction Level Event when you were 26. What's the biggest difference between that Busta Rhymes and the one today?
I've got a responsibility to be honest more than anything and there's things that we say or did when we were 26 that we may not do in the same way now, but we still do some of the same shit. So, a lot of the times, people act like because we've grown that you're not allowed to do certain things anymore. The difference to me is, I don't do the shit that I don't want to do anymore. And I don't do the shit that I know I should not do anymore. I don't stop doing the shit that people think I shouldn't be doing anymore. And that's the difference.

I still love to say "fuck," "bitch," "pussy," all of that. But I make sure that I do it from a perspective that is a more useful and productive perspective as opposed to when I was 26 when I just did a lot of shit because I thought it was cool to do it. That's the most beautiful part about being grown: You really understand how to enjoy living and enjoy all of the shit that you thought you knew how to do because you were a legal adult, that you figured being 25, 26 as being grown. No, you're a legal adult, but you're not grown. And there's a lot of shit you need to learn and there's a lot of reasons why, as you get older, you get to appreciate the shit that you thought you knew how to do, but you didn't really understand what you thought you knew how to do until you start to really become grown.

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