My Exclusive Interview with Busta Rhymes (NEH Magazine)

Below is the piece I wrote after my interview with legendary hip hop veteran Busta Rhymes at the Green Groove Festival 2011. It appeared on the cover of the August/September Issue of NEH Magazine.

After such an amazing experience, typically I’d put together an insider’s account of how it all happened on the blog. In this case, the article is written as a behind the scenes testimonial, so that won’t be necessary. It pays tribute to the hard work of the handful of people needed to pull off the exclusive interview with Busta Rhymes during his first trip to Korea.

Exclusive: American Born Rapper — Busta Rhymes

HIP HOP VETERAN BUSTA RHYMES MADE HIS DEBUT KOREAN PERFORMANCE AT THIS SUMMER’S GREEN GROOVE FESTIVAL. AFTER THE WORST STAGE RAIN HE’S EVER SEEN, WE CAUGHT UP WITH HIM BACKSTAGE TO DISCUSS THE DELUGE, HIS NEW LABEL CONGLOMERATE RECORDS AND THE ORIGINS OF HIS WORLD FAMOUS NAME.

“I might as well let you all know now, there will be no interviews or photos today.”, she says as she briskly walks by, bursting the bubble of everyone waiting eagerly in the designated press area. She is the manager for Busta Rhymes. We are backstage at Green Groove Festival 2011.

Damn. What I wouldn’t give to get a chance to speak with Busta Rhymes aka Busa Busss. Most know him as the immensely influential world famous hip hop artist and nine time Grammy nominee. In addition to being a legend in his own right, he’s collaborated with the likes of Tribe Called Quest, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Nas, Eninem, Raekwon, Pharrell and P.Diddy — and musically, that’s just scratching the surface.

Others may also remember his acting career. IMDB lists his movie appearances at eleven, including two directed by John Singleton, as well as several TV appearances. On the big screen he has worked alongside prestigious actors including Christian Bale, Samuel L. Jackson, Sean Connery and Jamie Lee Curtis.

His original crew Leaders of the New School (LONS) released an album in 1991, but I’m willing to say that like me, most people didn’t take notice of Busta Rhymes until 1992. “Scenario” by Tribe Called Quest featuring LONS was in heavy rotation on MTV. Near the end of song Q-Tip raps, “Yo Mr. Busta Rhymes, tell him what I did.” followed by the first words I ever heard come out of his mouth.

I heard you rushed and rushed, and attacked
Then they rubuked and you had to smack
Causin’ rambunction, throughout the sphere
Raise the levels of the boom inside the ear

With these four lines, the tall, skinny, young rapper with baby dreads gave you just enough to entice you. It was intriguing, but did it prepare you for what was coming? Not even close.

Q-Tip comes back in with three more lines. In the fourth, he cordially introduces Busta to most of he world.

Q-Tip:

So here’s Busta Rhymes with the, Scenario.

Busta Rhymes:

As I combine all the juice from the mind
Heel up, wheel up, bring it back, come rewind
Powerful impact BOOM from the cannon…

The rest is history. From there Busta rips into what is easily one of my favorite rap verses of all time. It’s a fourty-six second tirade of constantly quoted material, delivered in his early uniquely Jamaican-esque yet born and raised in New York growl. How many times have you heard:

Uh, uh, uh, all over the track man
Uh, follow me uh, as I come back

Rawr Rawr like a dungeon dragon

Chickity-choco, the chocolate chicken

For me and many others, it was a coming out moment. I consider it the introduction to the gritty, high energy that would come to define his career.

All that is running through my head as our attempts at meeting Mr. Rhymes were repeatedly shot down throughout most of the evening. During the two day event, a majority of the artists made their way through the press tent to have pictures snapped in front of the photo zone. This was basically the only opportunity for journalists like myself to get a few words in. From there, they either jumped on stage or went back to hiding out in their shipping containers renovated into artist holding stalls. Before you knew it, they were piling into a white van (champagne bottles in hand) to whisk them off to the airport, and you’re left wondering where your interview went.

We were told early, a few hours before his performance, that none of the above would be happening with Busta Rhymes. No press. No interviews. No photos. Not before his performance. Not after. Not at all. Sigh.

However, just before Busta took the stage, his manager offered up a small glimmer of hope. As she walked by, she turned to my girlfriend (the editorial director of the magazine, who had spoken with her several times in a feverish attempt to line something up for us) and said rather nonchalantly, “Maybe you guys will get lucky later on.” We took that small nugget to the VVIP area of the festival and awaited the Busta show.

The scene backstage after the performance was a bit of a circus. Not much attention was placed on restricting who was wondering around. The result was that fans, event staff and members of the various artists’ entourages mingled together in a common bond. Eventually, even Jay Park and TigerJK and T from Drunken Tiger would join the crowd. The question clearly on everyone’s mind was, “when would we get a chance at meeting Busta Rhymes?”

Then came the crackdown, which frankly had been a long time coming. Everyone out. First we were banished to the press area, then eventually, all were asked to leave the backstage area altogether. As it cleared out, dragging our feet paid off. After literally all the others had vacated the area, and the security team had just about had it with our stalling, Busta’s manager came to the rescue and brought us back into the forbidden zone and told us to wait. Against the wishes of the event staff, her OK gave us the clearance to do so. Now one step closer, if the interview was going to happen, we’d have to hang around a while.

And that we did. Thankfully, this gave us the chance to get to know the touring crew a little bit. I found out that DJ Scratchator has been on tour with Busta Rhymes since 1995 and hopes to book some Korean club gigs in the future. We also got some time in with Spliff Star. If you’ve ever seen a Busta Rhymes video or performance, you’ve no doubt seen Spliff. I asked him how long he and Busta have been at it together. “Since I was nine years old I’ve been his baby brother.” I replied that I can’t think of a time when it wasn’t the two of them. His response, “I wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t the two of us.” Later in the evening, Busta told me himself, “Spliff has been with me forever. He’s the only original member of every single change and turning point that I’ve been through in my career.” As they both pointed out to me, that career spans twenty-one years.

I also asked Spliff about his favorite places to stop on tour. “Amsterdam is one of them”, he said, followed by a round of laughter from everyone within casual listening distance. “Australia too. And I think Korea.” Really, you guys like Korea that much? “I like the crowd man. I want to come back and play in Seoul. I want to see what the city is really like.”

It’s fair to say an hour passed before the excitement hit. During this stretch, we got increasingly nervous every time the container door opened, even if it was one false alarm after another. If it had to do with us, it was either the manager requesting what kind of questions I was going to ask, or giving me a hard time for not being a Korean woman, or someone else asking us about Seoul and Korean weather. The other constant during this period was the event staff trying to toss us out on average every ten minutes.

Queue the excitement. The Green Groove photographers quickly assembled at the door of the container. What they knew that we didn’t, was that Mr. Rhymes would be popping out in a few seconds for the one and only photo opportunity of the entire evening. As he emerged, the flashes were seizure inducing. I caught the attention of the manager, was given the go ahead to wave our photographer over, and we joined the flash mob. “Don’t stop”, she said to us, “Keep taking them, keep taking them.”

As the sound of snapping cameras slowed, she turned to me and said, “You’ve got two questions. Go.” Huh? On the spot, I wasn’t comfortable butting in the middle of the photo session, so I didn’t. It sounds absurd, but at the time, I would have rather have had no conversation with him, than to have something that was forced, awkward and disappointing. There goes my career as a White House press conference reporter. I have to admit, as they all returned to the container, and I had nothing, the feelings of, “Oh my God, I just fucked up”, swept over me. Thankfully, the door opened back up a few seconds later, and we were let in.

There we were. Inside the container. With Busta Rhymes. Give a nod to Crystal. We met her earlier, she’s down with my good friend Marco. And Scratchator. And Spliff. Look at all that food. And the booze, my God! Go time.

I walked up to Mr. Rhymes, stuck my hand out and received the obligatory fist bump. After introducing myself and our publication, I asked his impressions of his first trip to Korea. The crowd, the performance. Anything stick out?

“Yeah. I mean you know what it is. You saw what it was”, he said. “It was beautiful. The energy was great. We were embraced, and that’s always a great feeling.”

His performance was hit hard by the rain. I’m talking torrential, relentless, Asian rain. So I asked him, have you ever performed in the rain like that before? “Naw, I never did. Usually if rains, there’s something that’s covering us up. This was the first time that it was like that [not covered]. But it was needed. Ironically, it was revitalizing. We flew for thirteen hours. We drove for five. We haven’t even seen the hotel yet”, he said to me describing the hectic process of getting from New York City to Daecheon Beach. “That rain really was refreshing. It revitalized the whole energy and mood swing, because I’m not gonna lie, before I got on stage, I wasn’t feeling right physically.”

While he was talking, a beer hit the ground behind me, shot up between my legs, wetting my shorts and feet. The beverage splash reached his feet as well. As he apologized for something that had happened to me countless times in the past, the normality of something like someone dropping a beer in a weird way, set me at ease. Not that I was completely freaked out, but to take the words from his mouth, I’m not going to lie, before that beer dropped, I was feeling a bit nervous. Now, it just felt like I was having a late night conversation with friends.

After discussing the rigors of constant travel, as well as how nice it is to safely touch down at your destination, I switched topics to his new label Conglomerate Records.

“It’s my new powerful movement. It’s the most refreshing endeavor of my new, my new everything. From the unchartered territory that I’m embarking on at this stage of my career, my growth, you know what I’m saying. I’m going through a lot of turning points, evolution processes, revolutionary points in my career. This is just the newest and the most refreshing.“

“It’s probably one of the most inspiring because I’m finally surrounded by stars. Not discrediting what I’ve been affiliated with before with Flipmode. We’ve been able to build a legacy with Flipmode as well.” He continues to discuss how the Conglomerate differs from his past affiliations, making sure we don’t think that he’s talking down to his past crew. He continues by saying, “I actually got a couple artists from Flipmode that I’m gonna be doing some new things with as well, so the legacy will never die. But I’m just in a whole new space, and a whole new direction, and it just feels great to always be able to present a new gift to the world. New gift wrap, new ribbon on it, say ‘Yo, here’s the new present for y’all.‘ You know what I mean? That’s a great feeling.”

Sounds fascinating. Just who will we be seeing music from on Conglomerate?

“Reek Da Villain, Spliff Star as always. Big up to Noreaga, who’s now part of the Conglomerate. J. Doe which is a new artist from the west coast, that’s a part of the Conglomerate. Yummy Bingham, which is a soulstress and incredible R&B singer from New York. Nikki Grier who’s also a phenomenal queen. And not only that, she’s a phenomenal songwriter and so on and so forth. She’s had a long stint with Dr. Dre and I’ve been working with them for about 7-8 years.”

We discussed Dr. Dre and Aftermath Records, and why Nikki Grier deserved a chance to blossom with the Conglomerate family as a performer, not just a songwriter. After he shared his excitement over J. Doe’s new video for “Coke, Dope, Crack, Smack”, which premiered on MTV2 the following day, I felt like maybe it was time to wrap things up.

But before I go, there is something I’ve always wanted to know. The origin of his name. “It came from a football player from the 1985 Vikings. It was a lineman. I got the name from Chuck D from Public Enemy about 1986. I think I was about 13 or 14.” Pause. Busta Rhymes was talking to me about Chuck D. A moment ago he was talking about Dre. Pinch myself. Yes, this is really happening. Mr. Rhymes continues, “And he said that I used to, you know when I was coming out there trying to audition to get put on by ‘em, the Bomb Squad and Hank Shocklee, he just felt like I was so aggressive in my performance ability it reminded him of the football player. And they always used to ask me to ‘bust a rhyme’ anyway.”

“It was ironic that a football player from the 1985 Vikings, Busta Rhymes, his aggression as a football player, my aggression as a rapper, it was just like synonymous with each other, so it made sense.” I now understand. Not only were they similar in their aggressive style, but it also refers to how the great Chuck D would put him on the spot as a kid. To continue the thought, he said, “And I embodied it because Chuck D to me was a God, and he still is a God you know, so I just put my faith in what he gave me, and his word, and it’s what he thought was best for me at the time.”

The final words he said during our interview were, “You know, 21 years later you can see that it’s worked out. So I’m happy, I’m grateful and it’s been a blessed thing.” I’m not sure anyone can argue with that.

My girlfriend took a shot of tequila with his manager. I shook hands with everyone we met that night. A few pictures were taken. Business cards exchanged. In six hours we went from no chance whatsoever of meeting Busta Rhymes, to exiting the container with a bottle of champagne as a gift from his crew. Now the only question is, when do we pop the bottle?

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~ by ripcitytoseoul on September 22, 2011.

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