Busta Rhymes: gambling with 'Arab Money'
The veteran rapper is back and still courting controversy
Special to Metromix
It’s been three years since multi-platinum rapper Busta Rhymes (real name: Trevor Smith, Jr.) released an album, but he’s managed to stay in the headlines. Unfortunately, it’s mostly been because of two assault cases and not for his charismatic stage presence and unmatched lyrical delivery.
But rather than play it safe for his return, Busta busted out last fall with the controversial single “Arab Money.” While he intended the song to be a positive tribute to Arab culture and a counterpoint to the mainstream portrayal of its citizens as terrorists, it has also drawn criticism and accusations of racism.
Calling from the offices of Universal Motown Records in New York, Busta talks about the negative media attention he’s received, how proud he is of his new (and frequently delayed) album, “Back on My B.S.,” and how he still enjoys causing trouble with his provocative rhymes.
Your song “Hustler’s Anthem ’09” just came out, but did you know that there are already two girls from Siberia on YouTube who have made a video dancing to it?
Are you serious? You are my best friend today for telling me that. I’d like to use that in a campaign, that’s crazy!
You might be even more global than you think, although didn’t you get a lot of international attention, good and bad, for “Arab Money?”
I got a lot of amazing feedback on the record, but I think the media also blew up the negative reactions. But now, when I do interviews, all people want to know is what I think about Chris Brown and Rihanna, not this song or when is my album coming out.
That’s a sad and desperate commentary on our celebrity culture. That never even crossed my mind to ask you.
See, well that’s why you’re drawing me even closer to you today!
Tell us about your album, then: What’s it about and what are the highlights for you on there?
Well, the name of my album is “Back on My Bulls---”—“Back on My B.S.” is the PG-rated way to say the album—and I can say it’s the most phenomenal body of work that I’ve done. I feel like I’ve done an album that is a reflection of the amazing space that I’m in right now. I have a song on the album called “Decision,” which consists of Mary J. Blige, Jamie Foxx, John Legend and Common, all on one song. When I have moments like that on my project, it’s a testament to being able to prove to people what kind of record I can do, regardless of genre. I’ve also got T.I. and Akon on the album with a song called “Don’t Believe ‘Em.”
Does that song have something to do with how you guys have all had lots of negative media attention recently?
It’s crazy that you haven’t heard the song and this is the first time that we’ve ever spoken but you got that right away. When we made the record we were all simultaneously dealing with one legal issue or another: Akon was dealing with the case where he threw the kid off the stage, T.I. was going through what he was going through with his case and I was going through what I was going through with my cases. I said to them, this is going to be the song that everybody who’s going through some kind of a struggle will be able to see themselves in. We can all identify with each other as common people who go through s---, because it doesn’t matter what level of life you’re on. We move forward from the bad experiences.
Do you reveal more of yourself through that song and show us a side that’s contrary to the angry dude portrayed in the press?
Well, I always wear my emotions on my sleeve, but being a little older, I’ve figured out a better way to articulate it. I also feel I’m giving people not only a personal perspective, but a more personal connection between myself and them. I also was trying to give people something to help make them feel a little better about their situations right now. It’s f---ed up for all of us out here. It’s a good time for some feel-good music.
That’s partially why I did “Arab Money.” I wanted to pay respect to the Arab culture, which has instilled the values of wealth, spirituality and responsibility into their kids for thousands of years. I felt like the Arab community was being targeted for the entire eight-year run of the Bush regime. I knew it would be crazy to put out this record in the most patriotic time of our country, because it came out before the election and was peaking during the election. I guess that wasn’t the thing to be doing.
Oh, c’mon, you must have known the risks and that it could be received either way?
And I had fun with knowing that it could go either way. I had a ball.
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