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

The MC talks about bulking up, staying relevant, and why he hasn't made a song yet with his labelmate Drake

May 16, 2013 3:40 PM ET
Busta Rhymes
Busta Rhymes
Edwi Jimenez

Busta Rhymes is enormous in person, a Michelin Man made of muscles and neck. A tub of whey protein takes up a good deal of space in the studio where he's set up, as does his diamond-encrusted globe of a pinkie ring, which looks like it could break a windshield. He's here, at Premier Studios in Midtown, to talk about his new single "Twerk It" – produced by Pharrell, rapped in patois, and expected to tear clubs up this summer. But we mostly don't do that. Instead, we talk about how a man of his size fits into YMCMB, and whether or not pineapple pizza fits in his stomach.

It's become popular in hip-hop to say "no new friends" – Drake, DJ Khaled, now others. Is that why the same six rappers are on every single song?
[Laughs] I don't know! There's one of two reasons to me why the same people appear on every song: one reason is either they're just the hottest dudes, and the other reason is . . . [Long pause] It's interesting to me that Eminem isn't on a lot of people's shit. It's interesting to me that Nas isn't on a lot of people's shit. It's interesting to me that Jay-Z isn't on a lot of people's shit. A lot of the very dangerously lyrical motherfuckers. I think there's a fear factor that plays a role, because sometimes you really don't know if you're going to be happy with what you asked for – especially if you might get your ass whooped on your own fucking record!

At what point do you think the features became more important than the songs themselves?
A long time ago, especially for the artists that can't carry a record on their own. And since the era of developing artists has died with record companies over 10 years ago, a lot of dudes had to come out here and figure out how to get hot on their own. A lot of the times, the novelty of a name that's popping in the market is the easiest way. So the feature became more important than the record a long time ago. It's unfortunate, but I think there's a change happening: A lot of the new dudes aren't doing it. They started to realize chasing down a hot motherfucker was a shit-ton of work, cause when a hot motherfucker think he's hot, they become divas real quick. And it's the bag full of shit that you've got to get through to get to the hot motherfucker. And the so-called motherfucker might not even be worth it, especially when you end up with some lackadaisical shit because they think they so hot, they ain't putting the effort in no more and it was a waste of time. You're better off putting your own blood, sweat and tears into your own shit and living or dying on your own inequity. You lose no sleep when you can't blame nobody else for why your shit didn't do well. It's kind of why I put out my first single without a feature.

Your new single "Twerk It" is going to lead to a lot of mistakes in the club. Are you prepared to take on that responsibility?
[Laughs] Yeah, absolutely. On a different mistake, though, the Jamaican dialect – that's probably gonna be one of the main reasons that the most and the biggest mistakes happen, because people are gonna misinterpret a lot of the shit I be saying. But I think that's what makes it more interesting. The "Look at Me Now" feature I did, I would've thought that shit would've made the most mistakes in the world, but when people really give a fuck about some shit, they figure it out. And that was a testament to how we can't take the IQ level of our consumers for granted, as stupid as we sometimes believe them to be. From kids to chicks to elderly people, they learned to spit that verse, which is one of the most complicated verses in the history of hip-hop. That shit didn't create as many mistakes as I thought it would have, and it definitely had its share of mistakes, but this is a lot easier to figure out. It's a lot slower. Even though it's a broken English patois, it's still gonna be aight.

On that note, when you sing "Come here, gal," my brother heard that line as "Cormega."
[Laughs] Yo, you guys are crazy.

[Busta takes a phone call from Pharrell, who is calling about the "Twerk It" video. They're looking over photos of wardrobe options – "Napoleonic contraptions" – one of which Busta laughs off as a "church hat."]

You joined Lil Wayne's YMCMB family in 2011. What has YMCMB done for you, and what could they do better?
Number one, I'm inspired by the Weezy and the Drake talent. Part of the reason I've been able to do this for so long is because of the excitement you continue to feel since day one, other motherfuckers being dope. Like, you feel you could be just as dope or better. You aspire to do that; you use these guys as inspiration. And it's all respect! Respectable competition. I'm a fan first. When I see Drake, when I see Wayne work, Shanell – she hasn't put out an album yet, but I've watched her work – I'm a super-fan of that. Mystikal, I'm happy they signed him! [Pause] I even think Nicki’s incredibly brilliant. Beyond that, I love what they represent as a movement, and I love the camaraderie that we've had. Me and Bird and Wayne, Slim, have always rocked with each other for the past 12 to 15 years! I just think the respect organically built throughout the years has been consistent. That alone has done a lot for me, at this stage of my career. I've done stuff with people I didn't really have that great relationship with, and gotten amazing results. Now, to rock with motherfuckers that you really cool with? Can you imagine the results that be coming from some shit like that?

There are currently 30 members of Young Money. You've worked with a bunch: Lil Wayne, DJ Khaled, Lil Twist, Bow Wow, Jay Sean, Ace Hood, Tyga, PJ Morton, Gudda Gudda . . .
Shanell, you could add her to the list. Fred Durst, you could add him to the list, we've got some shit together. Mystikal, we did about three records together. The whole fucking client roster! [Laughs] Tyga, too.

And yet, we've never heard you do anything with Drake – why is that?
Um . . . and you haven't heard anything with me and Nicki. "Roman's Revenge (Remix)," that was something I did on my own. It wasn't like an official remix, so technically, we haven't gone in to do a record neither. So, Drake and Nicki, we haven't gone in, no. 

Is that something that's potentially in the works, or . . . ?
Yeah, of course. It usually happens when the times are right or when the idea is right.

Have they approached you before and it just didn't work out?
No. We've talked before. I've had several conversations about doing records with Drake, we've actually been in the studio trying to fuck around. Same with Nicki. It just . . . when we start an idea, sometimes you get distracted. The stars just hasn't aligned yet for that to actually happen. I think also, schedule. They've been shaking consistently for the last two, three years, putting out an album a year. They've been touring, ripping and running. And then when they're down, she's busy taping this American Idol shit and all of that; Drake is working on a new album. It's just hectic, hectic schedules. You can definitely look forward to something eventually coming together, us collaborating. I have something that's actually halfway done with Drake on a J. Dilla beat. It's incredible.

And that's for your project?
Yeah. So hopefully we get to finish this the right way so we can share it.

I saw you perform years ago at Knitting Factory, and it was incredible. And I saw you last year at Angie's BBQ, where you weren't supposed to perform but you just tore the place down. You're a competitive guy. Is there anyone on your level, in terms of a live performance?
I don't know. I'm a fan of several performances, though, but I don't really . . . there's so many levels to this thing, that sometimes I don't think the levels are supposed to be reached by others. I don't think anyone can do Kanye the way Kanye does. His level is his level. My level is mine, I just think that's how it works. I don't want to sound like I'm being a dick, but at the end of the day, I don't really think there'll ever be a time – as long as I'm doing this – that someone can come behind me on a stage. I'm just not gonna allow it, and that's the way I was raised. PE gave birth to me, and what gave birth to us was James Brown! And that's the mentality I go into this shit with. It's gonna always be like that. I don't think there's anybody that can fuck with my level. God bless everybody that has their level and their space. Just do your job and uphold your shit with the right integrity, and we'll continue to be fans of what you do, too. Just know you ain't fucking with the kid over here. [Laughs]

My favorite story about a show of yours is at the Gathering of the Juggalos when it was reported that you wouldn't get off the bus for 90 minutes because your pizza order was wrong. Is that true?
No, that ain't true. I wish that was true! I wish I could be that kind of a dick. I've been hearing stories about celebs that do shit like that, and I be like, Damn you could really do shit like that? You could really be that much of a dickhead? I've never been able to wrap my head around being that much of an asshole. Those become the stories that are interesting to tell, though. So, from that perspective, that's why I want to consider being a dick, just so someone can have those stories to tell. But, nah, I definitely don't want to be treated that way in any circumstance. That ain't my thing. If I'm gonna be late for something, the reason would have to be extremely exceptional.

Like not ordering a pineapple pizza?
Pretty much. No, not pineapple. Anchovy pineapple. Can't fucking forget the anchovies. We will have violence out here. [Laughs]

I once was at the Record Plant with NORE. Ashanti was there, Lil Mama, you, a few others. I ended up having a conversation with Spliff Star. For 30 minutes, he talked to me and my brother about global warming. In your many years working with Spliff, what's something he's lectured you on?
This is crazy! Spliff always lectures us on street shit. Music saved Spliff from the street. Spliff is one of those guys who lived a hard life. When he's in something, he's in it all the fucking way. There's no governor with Spliff: When he's going, he's going. Going! Several fucking people have to help pull him out of whatever he's going into. It took a couple of real hard situations to help him realize that it's time to transition, homie. But those old war stories, he has the most interesting stories and experiences that you can't tell Spliff that you know more about that thing that he does, crazy shit that you'd say are lies. So, the lecture comes in to the trillionth power when it comes to hustling, or gun shit, or street shit. When you're dialoguing, you've just gotta stay away from street shit. [Laughs] Or else you're gonna get lectured until your face falls off your fucking body.

Do you or have you ever had problems fitting through doorways?
Yo! No. [Laughs] Even when I was 294 pounds last March, at my biggest, I didn't have problems fitting through a doorway.

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