For Meth and Red, Blackout! 2 comes almost exactly 10 years after their collaborative debut Blackout! (if we ignore 2001's How High soundtrack, which we always should), and each rapper's mediocre solo albums in the meantime have only confirmed how much they need the other in order to thrive. At least they have a loving record label in Def Jam, unlike Busta (on his third label in 8 years), whose albums have steadily worsened since 1998's E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event). His last record, the gangstafied The Big Bang (2006) courtesy Dr. Dre and Aftermath, could be re-titled "The Loud Fizzle". Another Dr. Dre project (and now reliable cash cow), Eminem, will be Relapse-ing twice this year (Relapse 2 is slated for a Fall/Winter release). Unfortunately this relapse is more literal than figurative, as Em seems to be indulging his worst mid-aughts habits instead of the millennial madness that won us over around the time of The Marshall Mathers LP.
Em’s not the only one peddling retro product this week, though. All four of these artists are faced with the fairly epic challenge of re-conquering a game they haven’t seen the top of in at least five years. And as the recent sales and street-cred ratings of LL Cool J will attest – he still puts out albums, by the way, even though everyone stopped listening – the pinnacle of mainstream hip hop is especially treacherous for returning climbers. Busta, especially, seems stuck in a do-or-die situation after his last ascent failed so spectacularly. On The Big Bang (whose lead single “Touch It” featured 50 Cent leftovers like: “Now that's the way that it goes/ When we up in the spot the shit be flooded with hoes”) Busta was put through Dr. Dre’s rusty star-making machine, which basically makes every Aftermath artist (except Eminem) into an obnoxious, talentless, steroid-inflated gangsta rapper. Fans were left wondering what had happened to the charming, (huggable, even) entertainer who always cut violent and clichéd braggadocio with parody and self-deprecation. The days when Busta delivered lines like “Fuck around and you can really get tossed/ Ken Griffey flow, call me ‘Alaska’ 'cause I be the king of the frost,” on 2001’s deliriously silly single “Pass the Courvoisier,” had never felt so distant.
Busta seems to have sensed our disappointment, but even after leaving Aftermath his latest transformation retains way too much of Dr. Dre’s sleazy gangsta mogul model. Now living somewhat more comfortably at Universal Motown, his new record Back on My B.S. features a lopsided mix of his jester and gang-banger personalities. The latter wins out with tracks like the trashy lead single “Arab Money,” which imagines some kind of tokenistic jet-set elite of rap stars and oil moguls united in their absurd and conspicuous wealth. (What brought the two worlds together remains a mystery; a chance meeting at the private jet dealership, perhaps?) Clueless, Busta spits: “See now I take trips to Baghdad dummy/ where I use stacked chips and count Arab money.” Similarly tactless gestures resurface on another early single, “Respect My Conglomerate,” where Lil’ Wayne’s amazing guest verse underlines how lousy Busta sounds these days. The comparison is especially interesting because, really, isn’t Weezy a contemporary version of Busta at his best: an unpredictable lyricist with a terrifically musical flow and a seemingly endless stock of nonsense rhymes? A vintage Busta line like “Shit I spit'll slice you all up in your main artery/ for the simple fact we didn't grow together you ain't a part of me” from “Hot Shit Makin’ Ya Bounce” off E.L.E, would fit seamlessly into any Weezy mixtape verse. Wayne’s career may have peaked this past winter, but Busta’s best days are way behind him.