Is Busta Rhymes’ ‘What’s It Gonna Be’ the Sexiest Rap Video Of All Time?
Around the time Janet Jackson appeared in Busta Rhymes' “What’s It Gonna Be” music video, she was coming into her own as a woman and sexual being. The baby Jackson had broken away from her good girl image and was riding high off the success of The Velvet Rope, an album that spoke mainly about sexual liberation, among other things. It had been two years since the album dropped, and she was still in the midst of her Velvet Rope tour, so, it made sense that Busta's video would allow her to tap into an audience that didn't see Janet in this light.
Busta, born Trevor George Smith Jr., was at his most experimental, both musically and visually when "What's It Gonna Be" dropped in 1999, and the videos from E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front were expected to be as large and over the top as the videos from his 1997 platinum album, When Disaster Strikes... Along with longtime collaborator, music video director Hype Williams— the creative genius behind Busta's music videos for “Dangerous” and “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See"— Busta pushed the envelope differently than he did in his previous videos.
Busta had always presented himself as a comedic figure, rather than a sex symbol and the collaboration happened after Busta had heard Janet tell Angie Martinez that she’d been keen to work with the Brooklyn-born rapper. "I was actually in my vehicle driving from Long Island to [New York City] and I had to pull over because I almost crashed," Busta told Billboard. "Janet's one of my favorite artists ever to exist in the world. To hear her say that was one of the biggest highlights of my life," he continued. "I had Mona Scott Young, who was my manager with Chris Lighty, notify management. I told them to get [Janet] on the phone. [Mona] got Janet on the phone and interestingly enough I told Janet, 'I had the perfect song for her,' and I didn't even have the song yet. With that being said we found the perfect song, once I said all that I had to deliver. I got with the right people to collaborate and put the song together, which ended up becoming one of the most historical moments of my career." Hype’s eye for elaborately glamorous backdrops and Janet’s hypersexual allowed the rapper to bust out the inner sexual deviant.
The video (which was said to cost anywhere between $2-4million), lends itself to Afrofuturism, but also, indirectly, to The Wachowskis’ ground-breaking film, The Matrix (which hit theatres less than two weeks later). The costumes, styled by June Ambrose, saw Janet dressed in a head-to-toe dominatrix outfit adorned with cock rings, and Busta exploring his Rockstar appeal in silver tones. He morphed into wet-and-wild creatures which could have been literal — get wet on the dance floor — or figuratively — meaning a sperm on the loose.
You may think the music video caused a stir at the time, but the chemistry between Janet and Busta leaked through the screen, which made for the most pivotal moments in hip-hop. Towards the end of the video, Busta and Janet share the screen, with his hands exploring her body, and their tongues teasing each other and the audience. It was the teasing that made the video so tantalizing, and the tactic worked: the song hit No. 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts in the US and the UK, and was also a hit globally, charting in South Africa, Japan and Scotland.
E.L.E. peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard 200 and was certified platinum. The video added to Jackson's legacy as a sex symbol, and it opened the gates for more sexy Busta collabs like "I Know What You Want" with Mariah Carey.