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Busta and Eminem's Stunted Growth
Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The month of May saw two legendary artists, Busta Rhymes and Eminem, release new albums. Unfortunately, despite sales numbers (which we all know are hardly a reflection of musical greatness), all that the releases proved was that Busta and Em’s best days are behind them.

Before I get too deep into this, let me state for the record, I have no problem with rappers staying in game no matter how old they are. KRS-One still creates quality music, as does Guru, The Roots, Outkast, and many others, and none of them are exactly spring chickens. What I have a problem with is rappers not growing up. When I spoke with a number of friends of mine about the new Busta and Em albums we all had the same one word review for them – “still?”

Is Em still carrying on about killing people? Is Busta still screaming about nothing? Are these artists still giving us the exact same thing they gave us five, ten years ago? As a fan base we’ve grown up and it’s disappointing when we see our favorite artists not growing with us. The fact of the matter is, both in Hip-Hop and in life once you hit a certain age you’re supposed to change. I’m not talking about change simply for the sake of changing, but rather change because you’ve experienced more of life. It’s a natural evolution, but an evolution many rappers don’t seem to want to embrace. They want to stay locked into the age and songwriting style from when they became famous. What they don’t realize is even if they choose not to grow up, their audience is going to regardless. Listening to the work of Busta and Em, it’s become clear neither has any intention of evolving as artists or keeping up with their former fan bases.

Busta first gained national fame nearly 20 years ago with his guest verse on the Tribe Called Quest classic “Scenario.” Even before that he was a notable figure in Hip-Hop thanks to his role in the group Leaders of the New School. In 1995 “Woo Hah” hit the airwaves and a superstar was born. For the next half decade Busta was the poster boy for high energy Hip-Hop. During all that time, however, he never really evolved. His latest release, Back on My BS, is an audible example of an artist stuck in neutral.

Eminem burst onto the scene in the late 90’s as the first true internet sensation. I can remember when I would click on hiphopsite.com on a near daily basis hoping they’d get another copy of The Slim Shady EP in because I had heard so much about “the white rapper from Detroit.” We all know the rest of Em’s story as from 1999 – 2004 he dominated both the Hip-Hop and pop worlds. As the years passed Em started to grow a bit and get a little more political with songs like “Square Dance” and “Mosh,” but on his current offering, The Relapse, none of that growth is present (which I guess makes the album title fitting in a way Em might not have intended).

Both The Relapse and Back on My BS are glaring examples of grown men who haven’t grown up, at least not as artists. Em is still attempting to do shock-rap, sounding more than ever like a wanna-be version of one of his former foes, the Insane Clown Posse, which isn’t just ironic, but pathetic, all the while throwing in the occasional, now very dated, pop culture reference. Similarly, Busta has also grown backwards. He’s almost completely lost the high energy that used to attract so many listeners to his work and he’s still trying to emulate the emotions of an up and coming artist (there’s that word “still” again). Is there seriously any reason for Busta Rhymes, a man who’s been in the limelight for nearly twenty years, to release a song in 2009 titled “We Want In?” It’s something that would have been fine on his debut record, but not at this point in his career.

What both of these artists need to realize is that no one is asking them to recreate their biggest hits. Instead, we want something we can relate to now. One of the reasons KRS-One still gets so much respect is that he switched up his content and when he drops albums now they’re relevant to what’s going on in the present and what his fan base is interested in right now. He’s not beefing with other boroughs at this point in his life, he’s talking about Hip-Hop’s history. Does he sell as many albums as he used to? No, but that’s not the point anymore. KRS-One realizes that he’s reached an age where he has a core fan base and he’s going to give them what they want every time out. The Roots are another great example of a group that has changed over the years. They actually debuted a full year before Busta released anything as a solo artist and remain more relevant and important than Busta today because of the way they’ve kept up with both the times and their fan base.

Personally, it’s a little heartbreaking to see two rappers whose work I truly appreciated at different times in my life becoming so cliché and, well, for lack of a better word, wack. There’s certainly something to be said for the Jim Brown / Barry Sanders, retire in your prime, theory. After listening to The Relapse and Back on My BS I wish Em and Busta had considered it. Since they didn’t, however, I’ll just shake my head whenever I hear their new work on the radio and dejectedly mutter “still?”

Story originally ran in the FairfieldWeekly.

Labels: ,

posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:55 AM  
  • At 5:48 PM, Blogger kats said…

    I haven't heard the Busta Rhymes album, but off the bat I wouldn't put the two in the same conversation. I initially hated on Em's album, having only seen the first few videos, and been initially put off by the voice thing he's doing now...but then I actually gave the album some listens all the way through, and I have to say it's great! I really got to thinking about the things we take for granted about Eminem - for one, the imaculate flow, unmatched by anyone in the game. If you back up for a second and think about how hard he's murdering the Dre beats (lots of good ones on this album), it's pretty remarkable. The subject matter is sometimes tired, but again, what we take for granted is the unique perspective that Em has always brought to the game, again unmatched by anyone else I can think of. I even admit I wanted to hate on Em...to think that he's all washed up...but the more I gave this album a chance the more I realized how great it is...the flow/voice might be a bit altered, but this is some vintage Em ... this is really the reason I first loved him and always thought he was easily a top-5, game-changing emcee. Oh...and I love it when Dre raps too.

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