Pop & Hiss

The L.A. Times music blog

« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

Album Review: Busta Rhymes' latest

May 21, 2009 |  2:01 pm

Busta_rhymes_240 Busta Rhymes has always been a populist at heart.

Blessed with the boundless energy of a Benzedrine addict and the verbal gymnastics of the speed-talking Micro-Machines Man, the Brooklyn-born veteran has amassed a consistently party-friendly discography.

While his NYC peers often struggled to earn radio play and mass appeal, all Busta needed was a Hype Williams fish-eye lens and a hot beat to achieve MTV Jams ubiquity and film offers. Even Martha Stewart couldn’t help but be charmed by the dreadlocked and dress-clad Rhymes during their iconic appearance at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards.

Yet with crack-rap au courant, 2006’s “The Big Bang” found Rhymes shearing his natty dreads and inking a deal with hard-core impresarios Aftermath/Interscope. Gone was the ebullient and effortless radio touch, replaced by a scowl and screwy coke boasts on songs such as "Cocaina.”

His latest, “Back on My B.S.,” has been described by Rhymes himself as a comeback album of sorts -- with the legal and label problems that previously plagued him replaced by the sanguine attitude that once catapulted him to platinum status. Accordingly, anticipation for the record ran high in the blog world, thanks to the 2008 single “Don’t Touch Me (Throw ‘Da Water on ‘Em),” which recalled his early crowd-please “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See."

With record sales perpetually dwindling, the formidable Flatbush legend has hedged his bets in an attempt to be everything to everyone. Accordingly, “Back on My B.S.” feels burdened by an incessant compulsion to please the "TRL" crowd he effortlessly attracted in his prime. While Rhymes has always been more pop savvy than his peers, his eighth studio album feels compartmentalized at the expense of cohesion and clarity.

Universal label-mate Ron Browz supplies the auto-tune on “We Want In,” “Give Em What They Askin'  For,” and the infectiously tasteless “Arab Money.” The business casual “Respect My Conglomerate” supplies the requisite Lil Wayne cameo, while “Hustler’s Anthem” brings the T-Pain.

Other fulfilled quotas include the token Neptunes beat (“Kill Dem”), the token nod to the South (“Don’t Believe ‘Em, featuring production by Cool and Dre, and guest turns from Akon and T.I.), the token hip-house track (“World Go Round”), and the token adult contemporary rap tune (the Common, Mary J. Blige, Jamie Foxx, and John Legend-aided “Decisions,” a song that practically demands to be eaten with a scone).

Naturally, there’s the de rigueur lover man slow jam, “Sugar,” a cut that confirms that the woman’s body as food similes have reached a level of cliché usually only achieved by politicians, college poetry students and Kobe Bryant post-game interviews.

Rhymes manages to partially redeem himself through sheer ability and affability. Yet most tellingly, the best song he’s recorded in years, the aforementioned “Don’t Touch Me,” was conspicuously cut from the final track listing — a tacit nod to the sad reality that hardcore rap fans rarely purchase albums these days. If anything, it proves the last two letters of “Back on My B.S.” don’t stand for bull excrement, but rather business sense.

-- Jeff Weiss

Busta Rhymes
“Back on My B.S."
2.5 stars

Photo credit: Getty Images