In the early 1990s, Busta Rhymes — hailing straight from Brooklyn and attending school at George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School alongside hip-hop legends Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G” Wallace and Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter — came on the scene as the cool kid with the cool hair who was part of the group Leaders of the New School, which consisted of Charlie Brown, Dinco D and Cut Monitor Milo. On February 13, 1991, the group released their first single, “Case of the P.T.A.,” which became a major hit and peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart. That set up a moment that we all needed: when the group made a guest appearance on A Tribe Called Quest’s hit single “Scenario” — and the rest is history. Future hip-hop legend Busta Rhymes had arrived. 


By 1992 Busta’s popularity as a solo artist had increased significantly, gaining him music features with some of hip-hop’s brightest stars, such as the Notorious B.I.G, Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, Brand Nubian, TLC and many more. Going from writing rhymes to reading scripts, he was evolving into one of hip-hop’s elite. He appeared in the 1994 remix of Craig Mack’s smash hit “Flava in Ya Ear,” where he completely dismantled his verse alongside LL Cool J, Rampage, Puff Daddy and the Notorious B.I.G. In 1993 Busta was cast in the Forest Whitaker-directed film Strapped, and he followed that up as a co-star in the 1995 John Singleton film Higher Learning alongside Ice Cube, Omar Epps and more. 


Back to his extraordinary wordplay, he was destined for greatness when he delivered one of the most dynamic and iconic verses hip-hop has ever heard in A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario.” He was only 19 but already one of the best MCs in New York, and his unique voice and Jamaican accent would ultimately help propel him to stardom. With sounds like “Oh, my gosh! Oh, my gosh!” and “Rawr! Rawr! Like a dungeon dragon,” he couldn’t be denied. 

“Watch — as I combine all the juice from the mind
Heel up, wheel up, bring it back, come, rewind
Powerful impact (boom!) from the cannon!
Not bragging, tryna read my mind, just imagine
Vo-cab-u-lary’s necessary
When diggin’ into my library
Oh, my gosh! Oh, my gosh!
Eating Italian stew like the one Peter Tosh …”  

— Busta Rhymes, “Scenario” (A Tribe Called Quest), 1991


The lines were delivered so beautifully that we’ve never heard anyone do it like Busta — still.

He was born Trevor George Smith Jr. on May 20,1972, to Geraldine Green and Trevor Smith Sr., both from Jamaica. As a youngster, Busta’s family would play artists such as Bob Marley, James Brown and the Temptations in his childhood home. He mastered the James Brown split at a young age and the Michael Jackson spin-around, knowing that entertaining was his best way of garnering an audience, and that’s exactly what he was born to do. His solo debut album arrived in March 1996. Titled “The Coming,” the album featured songs like “Everything Remains Raw,” “Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check,” “It’s a Party” and more. Reaching No. 6 on the Billboard 100 chart, the album received a platinum certification and earned Busta his first Grammy nomination —- with his hit single “Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check” winning Best Rap Solo Performance at the 39th Grammy Awards.


“So I then eventually fell in love with hip-hop and everything about the culture. All the elements of hip-hop: breakdancing, graffiti, poppin’, DJing, MCing…. I learned how to do all of it to figure out what I was gonna be the best at and what I enjoyed doing the most.”

— Busta Rhymes

We know Busta as a mastermind behind some of the best-written lyrics, but his fashion and style was head-turning in his early years as an MC. His impact as a trendsetter in hip-hop was heavy, and one of a kind. The stylish locs, the leather costumes, his use of leopard print — his style was outlandish and not very common in the New York industry at that time. He arrived at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards dressed in a red printed kimono-style dress with pants underneath. Iconic fashion moments here and there — you never knew what you would get from him


As a visual artist, he’s been the star of many music videos that have allowed him to fully display his artistry and creativity — videos such as “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” (influenced by Eddie Murphy’s 1988 Coming to America and directed by Hype Williams), which was the visual that kept many hip-hop fans up at night. In his visual for “Gimme Some More,” also directed by Hype Williams and Busta himself, the Looney Tunes-inspired intro begins with Busta narrating how he once bumped his head as a child, and suddenly the young child portraying Busta turns into a little blue monster with huge yellow eyes who chases a woman around the house. The visual was a masterpiece. It was nominated for Breakthrough Video at the 1999 MTV VMAs. When he released his iconic visual for “What’s It Gonna Be?!” alongside the legendary Janet Jackson, the cost went up tremendously. It was one of the most expensive videos ever made, costing upwards of $2 million, directed by Hype Williams and specifically focusing on special effects inspired by box-office hit The Matrix, with both artists styled by June Ambrose. The video received four nominations for the 1999 VMAs. Busta has a long history of creating the most iconic and creative visuals we’ve ever seen in hip-hop.

With 10 total albums under his belt and five going platinum, it is safe to say that Busta has made his mark in hip-hop history. Now, with his 10th studio album, Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of GodBusta takes us on a ride through what he’s been up to since his last album, Year of the Dragon, released in 2012. ELE2 includes guest appearances by some of the elites including Mariah Carey, Q-Tip, the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Rapsody, Mary J. Blige, Anderson .Paak and many more. The album contains a song titled “Look Over Your Shoulder,” which features one of the leaders of the new generation of hip-hop, Kendrick Lamar. Giving us feel-good vibes with Michael Jackson’s magical vocals in the background, the single was appreciated by all hip-hop fans. The album debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 chart, making this Busta’s seventh US top 10 album. 

“That just never computed in my mind. I claimed the divine from the beginning it was conceived. From the second it was conceived as a thought, I claimed it and I just pursued it relentlessly and maniacally, ’cause I refused to accept failure as an option.”

— Busta Rhymes

Where Would Hip-Hop Be Without Busta Rhymes?

We spoke with the hip-hop legend to discuss his 10th studio album, Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God; releasing his first project in the streaming era; working with Kendrick Lamar; what the creative process was like; why he chose hip-hop; and much more. Get into the interview below.


RESPECT.: Tell us, what’s a day like in the life of Busta Rhymes?

BR: Definitely speak regularly. Make a bunch of business calls. Immediately start my meal prep. Go to the gym. After the gym, eat some more [laughs]. Freshen up. Get dressed for the day. Handle whatever in-person business I need to handle until the business day is over corporately. Then I go to the studio. Continue to handle business, corporately and creatively. Record, record, record, until I’m ready to go to sleep. Then I go to bed. This has been the routine, primarily for the last year, seven months — but as far as everything, excluding the gym, it has been my routine for pretty much the past 25 years of my life. And every now and then, we still gotta have time to make some fun. So we enjoy going out, we enjoy going to the movies, we enjoy going to restaurants, we enjoy traveling. We always enjoy touring and doing shows and busting ass onstage. That’s been brought to a screaming halt since March, but that’s pretty much it.


RESPECT.: Born in Brooklyn, what drew you toward the essence of hip-hop? Why did you decide to choose this path, to be a rapper? 

BR: Um, I think I loved the experience of going back to my childhood. When I was 6 or 7 years old, I figured out a way to not necessarily have to subject myself — or be subjected to, by my parents — the 9 o’clock bedtime curfew. It was when my parents had company and they got to playing music, and they were playing the O’Jays and James Brown, the Temptations, Bob Marley and Dennis Brown and all these legendary classic artists, both from the reggae music side and the soul, R&B and classic jazz side. Whenever the company was there, I learned how to garnish the attention from entertaining adults so that they would forget that I would need to be sent to bed at 9 o’clock, so I mastered the James Brown split. I mastered the Michael Jackson spin-arounds and all these dances that would be some form of entertainment for the adults. The way I was raised, kids aren’t to be seen or heard unless spoken to. That was the upbringing in my house. So it worked for a while, and I realized I liked the feeling of being a showman and I loved the feeling of performing in front of this audience of adults that were friends and family members of my parents; my aunts and my uncles, my older cousins, neighbors who were close to my family, family friends, coworkers from my mother’s job that used to come over with my father…. 


So when I got introduced to hip-hop, that feeling never left. So I then eventually fell in love with hip-hop and everything about the culture. All the elements of hip-hop: breakdancing, graffiti, poppin’, DJing, MCing…. I learned how to do all of it to figure out what I was gonna be the best at and what I enjoyed doing the most. When I realized that being an MC was the component that garnered the most attention, and you was in front of all these audiences as the front man, it reminded me of dancing in front of my parents and their friends. The only difference was that I had this microphone, and I was able to talk to people and connect with the soul and the spirits of the people in a way that was unlike anything I’ve ever felt in the world, and that power felt godly. Once I was able to connect with that and figure out how to finesse that, that was it.


RESPECT.: At the age of 48, looking back at your life, did you envision that you would one day be a hip-hop legend?

BR: I definitely envisioned wanting to be that. I didn’t know what the outcome was gonna be, obviously, but it was definitely something that was envisioned from the beginning. I knew, once I fell in love with the culture — I was so in love with the culture that I wasn’t accepting me not being part of it as an option, and me not being a significant staple of the culture as an option. That just never computed in my mind. I claimed the divine from the beginning it was conceived. From the second it was conceived as a thought, I claimed it and I just pursued it relentlessly and maniacally, ’cause I refused to accept failure as an option. And I think one of the most important things I was gifted was an incredible mother who was a phenomenal support system for me. To be honest, all of y’all need to say “thank you” to my mother — not just for giving birth to me, but I’m just saying…when I first got my deal, I was 17 years old. She had to sign the contract because I was a minor. She could have woken up on that day on some shit. Like, “Nah, I ain’t like the way he was talking to me this morning, he was misbehaving,” or some wild shit and just said, “No, I ain’t signing shit,” and probably there never would have come another opportunity for Busta Rhymes to ever be introduced to the world in this dynamic, so thank you, Mom! Love you! [Laughs]


RESPECT.: You’re releasing your first album of the streaming era. Does that make this album a bit more special than your previous albums?

BR: There’s way more reasons than that why this is an extremely significant and special moment for me in my career, my legacy, and my journey as a professional recording artist. It definitely plays a role in why this is a special moment, but I think the greatest thing that is the most meaningful thing to me is that this was the first album I was able to record one trillion percent on my own terms. I recorded this entire album on my own dime for the last 11 years. I never spent so much money on an album. I never made a sacrifice greater than this to record a body of work — financially, emotionally, spiritually, creatively. The comfort that I’ve had to grow into feeling, as a man, to be able to share some of my most vulnerable moments in my life…it took a long time for me to get to this place. 

It ain’t really easy as a Black man to share when you’re in a weak moment or going through a weak time in your life or a vulnerable time in your life. I don’t want to necessarily make the word “weak” synonymous with “vulnerable,” because it actually takes great strength to be comfortable enough to share your vulnerability as well. But all of those things combined are what made this such a clear moment for me to express creatively what I have grown into becoming, and me being my most clear and concise self at this stage of my life. I’ve never been able to articulate that in the same dynamic that I have been able to — and that I have been successfully able to — on this album. So this album is just a testament to how much I’ve grown to know and learn, and the ability that I’ve also learned that took some time to figure out on how to articulate and share what that clarity is with the space that I’m in. All of that was a process to not only get to but become comfortable enough with, and being in a space where you’ve mastered it enough to be able to share it in a concise way. I think those are the things that make this moment, for me, so special.


RESPECT.: You have a song with Kendrick Lamar called “Look Over Your Shoulder.” How was it working with him on his first feature song of 2020?

BR: It was incredible, you know what I’m saying? We recorded the record and it was done purely from a place of being drawn to the idea, being drawn to the music. And it was an honor because Kendrick is one my favorite MCs to have ever touched the microphone — period. Ever. It’s not even a generation thing. It’s not even about him being a newer artist. It’s just about him being a phenomenon and a profound, timeless great. I don’t care when he puts out an album. If his skill set is maintained at this level or if it continues to evolve and get better…he’s like a Miles Davis or a John Coltrane to me. He’s like a Ramsey Lewis. He’s that level to me. He’s a god MC to me. So to work with someone as incredible and passionate and creative as him is a blessing and a privilege and an honor, because we’re supposed to inspire each other. You know, steel sharpens steel. Iron sharpens iron. And I feel like when you get to rock with incredible talent and incredible artists, you bring the best out of each other. Or you bring betterness out of each other. I definitely feel like he’s done that for me, and his music has done that for me. I’ve listened to Kendrick albums that actually make me excited to go to the studio, make me sure I’m staying on my shit, you know what I’m saying? So big-up to Kendrick. Big-up to the whole TDE. I gotta thank Top Dawg and Kendrick for blessing me for not only doing a record but giving me the clearances that I needed so we could share this with the world. 

RESPECT.: You sampled the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” on the track. How important do you think it is to incorporate classic samples in today’s hip-hop/rap music? 

BR: Cool thing was that I did not actually sample the Jackson 5. We was blessed enough to get our hands on the actual original 2-inch 16-track tape. We was able to use Michael Jackson’s actual voice. That’s what makes this all the more magical of a moment, and it was an incredible opportunity and a blessed moment, and I’m definitely grateful to all the parties involved that allowed that clearance to go through as well. But I just think it’s important to always incorporate the ingredients that hip-hop was inspired by and influenced by, because these artists that came before hip-hop, their music created the soundtrack for hip-hop; it made the music that became the classics for hip-hop, so hip-hop was able to blossom into this thing.  I never deviate from the fundamentals, man, and the template of what made hip-hop become and feel like hip-hop for me, from its birth to now. It will evolve, of course. We’re always gonna be swift and changeable in order to be remain-able, but there’s certain things you don’t have to abandon as far as the foundation is concerned, because the foundation of hip-hop is one of the most solid foundations in music and culture to ever exist. That’s a much-needed component, and I’m speaking from a personal place. I don’t know if every other artist is going to feel that way, especially from different generations, but I’mma work hard to make sure t

RESPECT.: You also have features with Rapsody, Q-Tip, Rick Ross, Rakim, Anderson .Paak, Pete Rock, and more. How was it working with a lot of these heavy hitters on this album? 

BR: It was incredible working with everybody on the album, because everybody on the album that I’ve chosen to work with that was willing to work with me are people that I’m fans of. They are artists I’m fans of. I’m not rocking with you on no record, especially if it’s my record, if I don’t love what you do. I don’t care what success you come with. I make the music with the artist who is going to add to the song. I don’t use artists on my records because of the novelty of your celebrity being attached to my project. I’m never doing that. That’s why you’ve got Bell Biv DeVoe on the album. You’ve got the great Ol’ Dirty Bastard on the album. You got the god Rakim on the album. You know, it’s not about them necessarily being who’s on the radio all day, every day, or who’s the hottest streaming artist right now. This ain’t got nothing to do with that. These artists mean so much to me personally, and I’ve always been a fan of them, and they have significantly contributed to my growth and influence, and they are also still currently dope enough to make magic with now. And that’s what’s important to me: to make sure that we keep our greats and our legends and our icons alive. We got a duty to make sure that people recognize these incredible artists that are still here, that are still able to shake shit up when that cut switches on, you know what I’m saying? So I’m just doing my part, queen. That’s all.

“I give thanks and I’m grateful, and I have joy in what’s happening right now. I’m not living with any regret.”

-Busta Rhymes

RESPECT.: What was the creative process like for this album? 

BR: The creative process for me was really just about allowing every divine energy and moment to work through me. Don’t overthink nothing. Don’t be afraid to try anything, because at the end of the day, in them four walls called a studio that I’m working inside of, nobody ain’t got to hear shit if it ain’t cool, if it doesn’t sound right, if it don’t feel good. There’s no reason to not be comfortable enough in your own skin when you are in the privacy of those four walls, which is just you and your recording engineer. Maybe one or two ears that you really respect the opinions of, that also respect the creative process enough to not prematurely critique or give their opinion. Sometimes you need motherfuckers to not be in the room. “Everybody, get y’all ass out the studio, let me and the engineer just record.” Because you need to be able to not have people prematurely judge. Fortunately, I don’t have that problem, even when I’m recording with the few people that I might have in the room. You know, they respect my creative space and they wait until it’s finished. You’ve got some times when you gotta let the portrait get completed. You can’t really appreciate the portrait until the painting is done. Some artists continue to struggle. You just keep brushing. You know, you make the movie the way the movie need to be made. When it’s done and it’s ready to be presented to everybody, that’s when you look at the art and say, “A’ight, give me your opinion and your feedback of this portrait that I finished painting.” And that’s what the process has been, primarily. You know, just going in the studio and letting it happen the way it’s gonna happen and not overthinking shit, not forcing anything. Sometimes it comes when it’s supposed to come, and sometimes it takes a second to come. But I work on what is inspiring me at the moment, and that’s the process.


RESPECT.: You’re known to be creative visually and have shown real artistry throughout your years in hip-hop. Do you feel like creativity is missing in today’s rap? 

BR: Nah, I don’t feel that way. There’s a lot of creative artists out here. It’s just done in a different creative way, and we gotta respect it and we gotta nurture it, and we also gotta grow it. And we have to be supportive of the evolution of these artists and be patient with them. These new artists come out and do things a little different; we don’t agree with them and we try to write them off. That shit ain’t cool. We gotta remember: They new! Give them two, three, four, five years to see what they evolve into before we start shitting on anybody. I mean, we shouldn’t be shitting on anybody, period, but I’m saying. We prematurely write people off. It’s not cool. We should actually be…as quick as we are to make a judgment call, we should be just as quick to support these artists, share their stories, share their experience, embrace them with grace, and give them the guidance that they need, as fellow artists who are in the position to give them a school — and especially if they want it and they’re looking for it from us. You know what I’m saying? And maybe we won’t have to talk so much shit about an artist if we do play more of a role in participating in how dope they can become. Word.


RESPECT.: As you look back as an artist, is there anything that you would have done differently? 

BR: I mean, you know, you do things when you’re going that you wish you could have done differently. I spent a lot of money on shit that I didn’t need to spend money on, you know what I’m saying? But I don’t regret any of it, you know what I’m saying? So I don’t know if I would have done it differently. I definitely feel like, knowing what I know now, I definitely would have done things differently. But I wasn’t supposed to know then what I know now. You know what I’m saying? ’Cause it wasn’t supposed to happen differently then. It’s happening differently now because I know better now. But it’s supposed to happen differently because that’s supposed to come with learning from your experience. So you gotta allow the nature of evolution to take its course in the timing that it’s supposed to, and the way it’s played out and is being played out. It’s a blessing, I can’t front. I give thanks and I’m grateful, and I have joy in what’s happening right now. I’m not living with any regret.

Note from the Publisher and Founder:

Rolling up to Quad Studios to meet Busta for the RESPECT. cover shoot was a trip. I had not been that close to Busta since September 29th, 1998 — the day the legendary Gordon Parks captured the Greatest Day In Hip-Hop for XXL magazine. So when I saw Trevor Smith Jr. at the studio, I made sure I showed him some of the images I shot that day. He got a little tripped out because he had just posted to IG a few days earlier one of the images I shot of him — having no idea it was me that had taken that photo. I don’t believe in coincidences.

Being holed up for many months in my home in Brooklyn, it was a treat to venture out to NYC to meet a King (and see the other Trevor … Sage-El — to capture some powerful images). Busta was hospitable and metaphysical. A fellow Brooklynite, Busta Rhymes is a legend (representing Strong Island, of course), so we are proud to celebrate his 25 years of excellence, and are anointed to have him grace the cover of RESPECT.