Album Review: Busta Rhymes, Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God

Busta Rhymes

Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God (released October 30, 2020)

LOL. TI is cute.

I’m sure most of you know the story by now. Your man Clifford has spent nearly all summer goading artists into joining him for a Verzuz hit battle, only to be declined. But when Busta Rhymes volunteered to step into the ring, Tip started backsliding faster than MJ in moonwalk mode. Is this your king?

Of course he complained that the battle wouldn’t work due to a “generation gap” (from a guy just eight years older than him) but in reality, TI just paid Busta the ultimate compliment – what’s a king to a god MC?

Just last week I called Busta Rhymes one of the most unappreciated legends in the game. Just look at the resume – a career spanning three decades, 9 million records sold, countless gold and platinum plaques and legit classic songs on his resume.

But time moves fast in the world of hip-hop and Busta has been relatively quiet over the past decade. If your rap fandom didn’t begin until the late 00s, you probably only know Busta as the speedy guy from that one Chris Brown song.

Consider Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God as both a reintroduction and a warning. But don’t expect Busta to compromise his sound to fit the times – for the most part, this is vintage Busta. In this era of dull ‘vibezzzz’ and boring mumble bars, hearing him go absolutely ballistic with his brand of bully bars is a breath of fresh air.

Busta has been spitting doomsday prophecies since way back in 1996, with 98’s original Extinction Level Event, in my opinion, standing as his magnum opus. Now in 2020, where purges n’ plagues are as common as disc changers and Fruit By the Foot were in 98, Busta’s predictions hit a LOT closer to home.

Busta is joined on the intro by Chris Rock (who serves as the album’s spastic hype man), Rakim and Pete Rock, making this feel like a summit at rap’s Mount Olympus:

So, let’s fast-forward to 2009
And 2012 when we left an impression on the minds
Of the people making sure we remember if we slightly doubted
That the world was ending that we can’t really do s*** about it
Funny when I saw the flick, it did amuse me through
To the point that Danny Glover was praising the movie too
Then I questioned why they iteratin’ the same plot
Should we be a little para’ now that they gave us Barack?
In 2020, the message I’m sending
Now that my president gone, how convenient the world has ended

While Busta n’ Friends aren’t afraid to hit listeners with a few I TOLD YOU SO’s along the way, ELE 2‘s goal is to make sense of this brave (and depraved) new world.

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way – the album’s two singles, “YUUU” with Anderson.Paak and “The Don & The Boss” with Vybz Kartel, were not very well received. The former feels like a failed attempt to appeal to mainstream (a very rare misfire from Paak, specifically) and while the beat of the latter is fun, the riddims don’t really work well, especially in the scope of this project. But don’t worry, neither song represent the sound of the album. We only go up from here.

And speaking of sounds, though the atmosphere is appropriately sinister (if you couldn’t tell from the Mortal Kombat dinner party-looking album cover), the energy is off the charts. On “Outta My Mind,” Busta goes nuts over BBD’s classic “Poison” production, proving that he still a master of setting off a party. I kinda wish they dropped the song’s chorus though, it slightly slows down the track’s momentum.

“Strap Yourself Down” is classic Busta, from the unorthodox delivery to the insane punchlines – “Cool cool? I kick you in your gut and make you wanna doo doo!” Only Busta can get away with a line like that.

“Master Fard Muhammad” feels like a night on the town with Rick Ross, who is contractually obligated to only rap over beats that sound like they were recorded in a crystal palace. Busta feels right at home here, though. “Where I Belong” with Mariah Carey sorta-kinda seems like a remix of their 2002 hit “I Know What You Want” but avoids coming off like a carbon copy. And thank the lord for Mary J. Blige and her soaring hook on “You Will Never Find Another Me,” proving that when rappers stick to rapping and real singers handle hook duties, things go MUCH more smoothly than the cringey auto-crooning we’ve seen recently.

Busta made his name with his animated flow and hyperactive production, but he’s arguably at his best over more mellow tracks. He teams with old friend Q-Tip for “Don’t Go” to calmly wax poetic about the good ol’ days. As Q-Tip says, “Let’s channel all that good energy into now, that’s all.” It’s the healing power of nostalgia. That track is flanked by “Slow Flow” (picture an 8-bit boom bap video game with ODB’s “Brooklyn Zoo” sprinkled throughout) and the laid-back DJ Scratch-produced “Boomp!,” resulting in the best sequence of tracks on the album.

ELE 2 is also home to some well-crafted storytelling. On “Best I Can” Busta and Rapsody portray a warring couple who try to settle personal differences for the good of their son. Their arguments are fiery yet authentic enough to feel real. And I’m sure hip-hop Twitter can’t WAIT to run to “Look Over Your Shoulder,” which may be the first Kendrick Lamar verse we’ve heard all year. Don’t get your hopes too high though, it’s not a “new” song per se – this track has been circulating the Internet for a couple of years and is just now getting full release. Still, the pair play off each other extremely well.

If you’re familiar with my reviews, you know I’m typically critical of longer albums. Although ELE 2 runs well over an hour, its predecessor ELE 1 is almost just as long, yet doesn’t feel it length. Long albums aren’t always a kiss of death. Still, ELE 2 could use a trim, starting with those aforementioned singles.

ELE 2 can be a lot to wade through in one sitting but there’s no doubt that hip-hop’s self-appointed prophet is as poignant and passionate as ever. With aggression and intensity that once defined hip-hop quickly becoming a lost art, ELE 2 proves that the Dungeon Dragon is still full of fire.

TI knew.

Best tracks: “Don’t Go,” “Boomp!,” “Look Over Your Shoulder”

4 stars out of 5

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