The History of Busta Rhymes’ Trendsetting Music Videos
While most hip-hop fans knew Busta Rhymes as the breakout star from Leaders of the New School, and from his classic debut solo single “Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check,” it was the music video for “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” from his sophomore album When Disaster Strikes that elevated his artistry and creativity in his music videos.
The mesmerizing visual was directly influenced by Eddie Murphy’s 1988 film Coming To America. Vibrant hues and rich textures curated an audio-visual experience leading viewers on a psychedelic journey throughout the Hype Williams-directed video. The use of stop motion techniques paired exceptionally well with the track’s DNA as the 808 drums served as the perfect climatic soundtrack. From the well-choreographed number featuring an army of dancers to an elephant making an appearance, grandeur and opulence aren’t spared in the 1997 visual. With famed director Hype Williams by his side, Rhymes’ visual legacy boasts an extensive history of music videos encompassing hyper-surrealism and afro-futurism which crossed boundaries and expectations within the landscape of rap/hip-hop. Busta Rhymes’ visual evolution is a prolific one deserving of spotlight and praise that has influenced a generation of artists.
Beginning his career as one of the original members of Leaders of the New School in 1989, the group's sophomore album, T.I.M.E. (The Inner Mind's Eye) was newly released but marked the beginning of the end for the group. By this point, Busta had standout performances on A Tribe Called Quest's "Scenario" Heavy D's "Bunch A N***as," but remained loyal to the group despite the growing feud between him and Brown. By the time LONS appeared on Yo! MTV Raps in 1993, it was over for the group.
The group broke up while MTV's cameras were rolling after Brown said that he didn't want to be in the group anymore."Me and C. Brown, we ain't really dig each other for a long time," Busta told MTV in 2011. And by the end of 1994, the rapper had a plethora of features under his belt, including collabs with Mary J. Blige and former classmate Notorious B.I.G.
After a string of successful guest appearances, most notably the “Flava In Your Ear (Remix)" by the late Craig Mack, Rhymes started to work on his debut studio album in 1995. 1996's The Coming produced the hip-hop classic “Woo-Hah!! Got You All In Check," a song that flexed the rapper’s fast-paced rhyme style and catchy ad-libs which quickly separated him from his counterparts. The Hype Williams-directed video featured several notable cameos from ATCQ and Onyx and thoughtfully showcases an array of colors with Busta’s eclectic, often outlandish fashion choices serving as the backdrop. Ferociously whipping around his signature locs, the rapper delivered an energetic performance, showing off his memorable facial expressions. In 1996, the music video deservingly received a nod for Best Breakthrough Video at the MTV Video Music Awards. With all eyes on him, ‘Woo-Hah…” was a critical step in the right direction and foreshadowed the visual greatness that was to come shortly after.
In 1997, Busta released his second studio album, When Disaster Strikes which produced the singles “Fire It Up,” the incomparable “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” and ”Dangerous.” The visual for the latter was inspired by the films Lethal Weapon and The Last Dragon directed by Michael Schultz, Busta and Hype played around with the rapper’s comedic side that was maximized in videos to come.
With the release of his third studio album, Rhymes and Hype Williams embarked on their biggest music video yet, “What’s It Gonna Be” featuring vocals from the iconic Janet Jackson. The 3x Grammy-nominated single appeared on the rapper’s album, E.L.E (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front which followed an apocalyptic theme from album's past. Often lauded as one of the most expensive hip-hop videos of all time, the rumored $2-4 million music video was nothing short of a cinematic masterpiece.
William’s perfectly encapsulated the thoughts and expectations of the impending Y2K scare and married futuristic millennial elements beautifully. Relying mainly on special effects, Janet and Busta navigate through a technologically advanced world riddled with sexual imagery that mirrors the song’s content. "Janet's one of my favorite artists ever to exist in the world," Busta told Billboard about the collab. "[Mona Scott-Young] 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."
In the ultramodern visual, Rhymes emerges from silver liquid transforming into a knight with futuristic armor. As the walls close in on him, the camera pans to Jackson in another room donning an elaborate dominatrix outfit. The two serenade each other for minutes until they join as one, dissolving into silver liquid. The video’s power relies on the sexual chemistry of the two artists while the graphics initiate the intensity of sexual intercourse. Pulsating liquid walls alluding to wet dreams and miniature versions of the rapper pour onto Janet’s bosom igniting electric sparks. The single ultimately peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for two Grammys Awards. Along with the audio success, the video received four MTV Video Music Awards nominations and remains one of the most celebrated hip-hop videos of all time.
“What’s It Gonna Be” successfully placed Busta in a league of his own as the rapper flirted with crazier concepts and techniques In the early 2000s. Busta’s fourth studio album, Anarchy was the rapper's final album with Elektra Records, gifting us with another alluring music video, titled “Fire” directed by the rapper and Williams. Furiously rapping in a cornfield, a tornado rips through the video while people walk directly towards the chaos, fuelling Rhymes’ fascination with post-apocalyptic symbols even more.
Rhymes went on to release “What It Is” in 2001 with fellow chameleon Kelis and remained true to his millennial aesthetic seen in his earlier visuals. Shortly after, the rapper released the music video to “Break Ya Neck” which flaunts Busta’s adoration for color and the signature quirkiness and comedic relief he displays in most of his videos. The last single off his album Genesis, “Pass The Couverseir Part II” featured none other than super-producers Pharrell and Diddy. The wildly successful single was paired with a video inspired by the Eddie Murphy-directed Harlem Nights and the box office smash, Rush Hour 2. The video featured several guest appearances from notable celebrities like Mo’Nique, Jamie Foxx and quickly became a significant moment in popular culture.
With the release of his sixth album It Ain’t Safe No More, Busta delivered with the hit singles, “Make It Clap” ft. Spliff Star and a remix featuring dancehall artist Sean Paul. However, it was the Mariah Carey and Flipmode Squad-assisted video “I Know What You Want” featuring Tae Heckard that fans clamored over. Directed by Chris Robinson, the music video features animated clips exuding a comic book feel throughout the video.
Busta’s ability to bring something new and fresh every time he debuted a video is apart of the reason why he’s often praised for his eccentric storylines and concepts. The use of hyper-surrealism amplifies the rapper’s creative voice, essentially creating an alternate world for viewers to escape and visit for a few minutes. In 2003, the veteran rapper teamed up with The Neptunes on The Neptunes Present… Clones album and released the infamous “Light Your Ass On Fire” video directed by Joseph Kahn. Playing around with the suburban theme, Busta puts his own spin on the cliche aesthetic. With age, the rappers visual evolution matured with him.
Accompanying the release of his seventh studio album, The Big Bang, viewers were treated with two visually striking videos. Most notably, "I Love My Chick" featuring will.i.am and Kelis. The video stars actress Gabrielle Union and Busta reviving Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s roles in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. However, “Touch It” and the several remixes that followed the monstrous hit remains one of the most revered videos of all time.
In the iconic Benny Boom-directed music video, Rhymes assigns a color to every artist featured on the remix that fits their personas. Executing the use of color theory and attributing it to every artist may have looked simple but it was the attention to detail that makes the visual memorable. In every scene, we were treated to a plethora of guest appearances which makes the music video that more exciting.
While Busta continues to make more music to add to his expansive catalog, Rhymes’ contributions to hip-hop have been beyond monumental. His unconventional tactics on how to approach videos have arguably shifted the cultural landscape in this genre. When dissecting critical hip-hop videos that raised the bar, Busta is often discussed along with the incomparable Missy Elliott, Outkast and Ludacris. The word "simple" was never in the rapper’s vocabulary as he consistently pushed for the narratives to go beyond expectations. With every video, we were granted access to experience polychromatic, futuristic elements that defied what Rap videos should look like.
What makes Busta’s visuals even more compelling lies within the chemistry he shared with the directors, more specifically the collaborative efforts between Rhymes and the extraordinary Hype Williams. Signed to Elektra records during the height of his career, the rapper was able to explore a wide array of possibilities that suited his interests. Recently, J. Cole paid homage to Busta after releasing “ATM” in April from his KOD album which bears an incredible resemblance to the lead single from E.L.E (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front, “Gimme Some More.” 20 years later, Busta’s videography remains a poignant, historical body of work that showcases a beautiful time in the music industry where the budgets were as big as an artists imagination.