This year, Busta Rhymes announced his new album, Blockbusta, in a dramatic Zoom call with executive producers Timbaland, Pharrell, and Swizz Beatz in attendance. The promise that these three production giants, who have all helped craft some of his most iconic songs, gave some hope that even in his 50s, Busta could deliver an album that respected his legacy and let his eccentric nature pour out, but didn’t sound dated or behind the times.
However, it was not to be. While all three legends have production credits, their influence is hardly felt on the album. Instead, the bloated 19-track affair features a smattering of contemporary sounds and styles that swallow Busta’s larger-than-life personality, never quite geling into a cohesive whole.
For an artist whose legacy is firmly established, Busta seems unusually preoccupied with his place in Hip Hop on his 10th studio album. The Brooklyn-bred emcee sets the tone on the opening track, “THE STATEMENT,” delivering a breathless two-minute-long verse over a murky beat produced by Angel López & Timbaland. Busta is on a mission to cement and advance his imprint on the game: “There’s no one that’s greater than me/Thirty years later fuck shit up like we still in basements/We want all you haters to see.”
Blockbusta doesn’t offer much more in the way of examining or furthering that legacy. Rather, Busta seems content to stuff the album with features from younger stars and relative unknowns across genres as proof of his continued relevance. The sheer number of featured artists and their hefty workload simply overshadow Busta’s impressive energy and presence.
Quavo, Young Thug, Blxst, Giggs, and Morray all handle hook duty and contribute opening verses to their featuring tracks – “COULD IT BE YOU” and “LEGEND” especially render Busta to supporting cast status rather than leading man. The Kodak Black-featuring “HOMAGE” is especially egregious, as Busta lavishes praise on the controversial Floridian: “I done seen you go to jail, come home, get shot, calm down and now I like the way you’re movin.”
Assembling this much talent on a project is sure to result in some success, and sure enough, a few features shine. Ghanaian singer Blackway compliments Busta’s famed Jamaican patois on the Swizz Beatz-produced “THE RETURN OF MANSA MUSA,” a mid-album highlight that expands the familiar “Ma-ma se, ma-ma sa, ma-ma coo-sa” sample from Manu Dibango’s 1972 track “Soul Makossa” into a high-octane tribal groove. And Coi Leray injects a bubbly energy into the otherwise limp “Ain’t No N*gga” rip-off and second single, “LUXURY LIFE.”
The album is littered with familiar sounds, as Busta employs the increasingly derided production practice of repurposing well-known hits. OzMoses Arketex samples Miguel’s smoky “All I Want Is You” on the Blxst-dominated “COULD IT BE YOU,” while Schife borrows Bun B’s southern classic “Get Throwed” on the dated-sounding “BIG EVERYTHING.” Even more shameless rips can be found on the aforementioned “LUXURY LIFE” (Jay-Z’s “Ain’t No N*gga”) and “STAND UP” (Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”).
The choice to flood Blockbusta with chart-chasing features and half-baked beats is an odd one, considering that Busta has typically forged his own path throughout his 30-year career. From off-beat guest appearances as part of Leaders of the New School to his early run of albums that blended classic Hip Hop sounds with an apocalyptic doom, Busta’s style is all his own. At times he’s shamelessly dabbled in contemporary sounds, but his best work always did so in service of his unmistakable eccentricity, not as a way to chase relevance. Blockbusta takes the opposite tact.
Although rare, there are moments that harken back to Busta’s inimitable energy and elastic flow. The solo tracks “HOLD UP” and “SLIDE” are among the album’s best, demonstrating the 51-year-old’s enduring ability to electrify unorthodox production. “SLIDE” is a particularly illustrative example – Busta rides DJ Tedsmooth’s unexpected jazz piano riff with addictive ease.
Busta has little to prove in 2023. As he reminds us on the closing track, “IF YOU DON’T KNOW NOW YOU KNOW PT. 2,” he recently performed at Carnegie Hall and toured alongside fellow New York legends, Wu-Tang Clan and Nas. He’s a 12-time Grammy nominee, has a clutch of hit singles and albums under his belt, and his music videos continue to inspire.
Still, Busta feels he has to keep up with the trends. Aside from a few moments where his trademark live-wire energy shines through, Blockbusta tries too hard to capture the charts and new fans alike, relegating its headliner’s usually dominant personality to second fiddle.