Busta Rhymes – BLOCKBUSTA | Ben’s Beat – Music Reviews

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Often cited as one of the planet’s most respected rappers when it comes to technical ability, the now 51-year-old Busta Rhymes drops his eleventh studio album to rise to the top of a relatively quiet week – but after a strong showing on 2020’s ELE 2, it might have been better if he let this project get lost in the shuffle of a busier one. BLOCKBUSTA stays true to its name – that is, if you believe that blockbuster films are little more than empty spectacle and gimmickry. Over a lengthy 62 minutes of material, Rhymes invites a boatload of features to do the heavy lifting, dulling down his big personality in the process and following many of the worst prominent trends of the day. It sounds like he’s so desperate for a hit that he’s willing to lose what made him special and unique all of these years. Even when that rapid-fire flow does pop up from time to time, it’s a lot more hit-or-miss than usual, sometimes awkwardly shoehorning in syllables and losing his effortless smoothness in uncharacteristic fashion. For a legend who repeatedly asserts himself as such on this project, it’s a truly unfortunate look.

The album starts off somewhat promisingly, loading its most passable tracks up at the front. “THE STATEMENT,” which is essentially that Busta Rhymes is the best, is one of the four solo tracks here and is delivered with a mostly steady hand over an ethereal trap beat – though a couple slight stumbles alert us to what’s to come. “REMIND EM” is another decent instrumental constructed out of echoed choral stabs, as if the producer was playing a staccato keyboard set to the chamber choir effect. It makes for an environment where Quavo can deliver one of the project’s only features that makes it sound like they’re trying. Some of the fire returns to Rhymes’ voice as well as his extravagant ad-libs echo in the back. One thing that you never really heard Rhymes sound like is bored. Chilled-out and laid-back on some of his more tropical tracks, sure. Here he sounds like he genuinely doesn’t want to be there, making a simplistic club banger loaded with dad jokes with an equally checked out BIA because it might connect on TikTok. “OK” picks it back up, recruiting the legendary Cool & Dre to produce the beat. While a collaboration between Rhymes and Young Thug might never have immediately jumped to mind, it’s one of the guests here that truly makes the most sense. Bringing some of the eccentricity back out of Rhymes, the two stomp through a horn-inflected instrumental.

The tracks “COULD IT BE YOU” and “LUXURY LIFE” aren’t perfect, but they’re essentially the last bastion before the album enters completely baffling territory for most of the rest of its runtime. The hook from Blxst against a simple, plucked guitar melody on the former is pretty catchy, though when he starts trading mic time with an always-mediocre Yung Bleu, you start to wonder when you’re going to hear a little more Busta on a Busta project. Coi Leray appears on the latter as the two sing together on a triumphant and celebratory hook – but we heard how Leray sounded singing on “Players,” and Rhymes is just as bad. You know you’ve reached the point of no return, however, as soon as you hear rhyming completely off the beat to some jagged rock guitar on “BIG EVERYTHING.” Even though the track genuinely does contain some of Rhymes’ most impressively breathless flows, adding an echoey T-Pain to the hook makes about as much sense in this context as choosing to feature DaBaby at all. “ROBOSHOTTA” is reminiscent of Drake’s brief track featuring Bad Bunny on his latest album – just two minutes to feature a big star with a global audience, making no effort to turn it into an actual song as nothing comes together. “They call me Burna Boy but I’m a full grown adult” is one of the weirdest things he’s said. “TINGS” might be the most misguided way to interpret a Pharrell beat of all time. Rhymes has never sounded more robotic and stuttered – he sounds like Eminem at his worst, and the repetitive hook and high-pitched “skrrrrrrrrrrt”s never let up.

In the album’s tackiest move, “THE RETURN OF MANSA MUSA,” the song that Rhymes teased during the album’s intro rides on him and producer Swizz Beatz altering Michael Jackson’s classic “ma-ma-macusa” so that the singers instead toast to “mansa musa-sa.” The African tribal segments delivered by Blackway are completely discordant with the rest of the song, and oddly give miniscule Canadian province Nova Scotia a shoutout. One of the most savage online comments about this album said that it sounded posthumous, and no track exemplifies that better than “STAND UP” – it feels like elements of three unfinished Rhymes demos were taken and pasted together into an incongruous mess. Then they stuck a blatant “Gangsta’s Paradise” sample underneath, playing even when it’s completely out of line rhythmically with whatever is going on at any given moment – a sudden Afrobeats diversion, for example. “OPEN WIDE” features Chris Brown doing a patois accent, and that’s all you need to know about it. Giggs doesn’t do much better on “THE HIVE,” sounding tired while using a weird, overly breathy tone of voice. The looped synth triplets in the instrumental don’t do Rhymes justice either when he’s approaching all these tracks as straightforwardly as he has been. “HOLD UP,” another of the only solo tracks here, is also one of the album’s shortest, set to a truly odd beat that sounds like a pitched-up hooting owl as Rhymes’ verses never really get off the ground.

The final leg of tracks sees Rhymes getting into a mode to contemplate his place in rap history, with titles like “HOMAGE,” “LEGEND” and “LEGACY” in the mix, as well as a closing track that represents a sequel to a 2009 track, “IF YOU DON’T KNOW NOW YOU KNOW PT. 2,” which also brings back original featured artist Big Tigger. Unfortunately for Rhymes, crossing over with Kodak Black on “HOMAGE” doesn’t run smoothly at all, and he’s outrapped by a D-lister in Morray, who delivers the album’s best guest performance, on “LEGEND.” “LEGACY” features three of Rhymes’ children, which is better in concept than execution. In between all of these is “SLIDE,” which offers a final burst of energy that shows that whatever was there before is still in him.

Lyrics on the album’s closer seem to indicate that Rhymes is feeling like he isn’t anywhere close to done. All we can truly do is hope that BLOCKBUSTA is part of a “one for you, one for me” situation with the label and he can get back to doing what he does best the next time he touches down.

Favourite Tracks: OK, REMIND EM, LEGEND

Least Favourite Track: STAND UP

Score: 3/10

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