Stand back. Busta Rhymes is going ballistic.
”What the f— am I supposed to do? Stand here and tolerate disrespect because it’s ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY? I live by morals and integrity first, I didn’t come in here with no disrespect, knowwhumsayin’? Forget it, this s— is over!”
With those words — and about 5,000 others, delivered at top volume — Rhymes puts an emphatic end to an EW photo shoot. If you think his rapping is incendiary, you’ve obviously never experienced the full force of his stentorian wrath. Mere mortals — of which there are roughly a dozen present — can only bite their tongues, look at their shoes, and pray for the tidal wave of anger to subside.
It soon does. Dramatically. Twenty minutes after the photographer has packed up and gone, Rhymes has morphed from lion to lamb, humbly apologizing to the dumbstruck stylists and assistants in the lower Manhattan photo studio who’ve just listened to him vent. Lighting a Newport, he settles down on a couch to explain what sent him into flip mode (and prompted a date with a second photographer, who generated the accompanying photos).
”I came here today, I kissed everyone on the cheek, everything was cool, I was shaking hands, vibing,” says the 26-year-old rapper in calm, modulated tones. He says the day’s harmonious fabric began to fray when the photographer expressed her impatience with the time his hair and makeup were taking. It didn’t help matters that she nixed the outfits he’d brought along for the shoot, preferring to garb him in what Rhymes calls ”some primitive, caveman s—.” The final straw, says Rhymes, came when she took exception to his holding a cell-phone conversation (”I was talking about seven-figure business”) as the shoot commenced; she stalked off in a huff, and he decided to, well…express himself.
”Every mood is an extreme for me,” says Rhymes. ”I can’t hide my feelings.”
Rhymes (né Trevor Smith) may be susceptible to flash anger, but rest assured, he’s no flash in the pan. On the strength of his explosive, oddball charisma, he’s been steadily bum-rushing the mainstream ever since he split from the early-’90s hip-hop group Leaders of the New School and launched his solo career with the bizarro-but-infectious 1996 single ”Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check.” His just-released third album, Extinction Level Event (The Final World Front), a characteristically bombastic tour de force that includes collaborations with Janet Jackson and Ozzy Osbourne, seems destined to follow his first two discs, 1996’s The Coming and last year’s When Disaster Strikes…, to multi-platinum status. And, appropriately for a fella who has often been likened to a living cartoon character, Rhymes can currently be heard in The Rugrats Movie, where his basso profundo animates the Reptar Wagon. ”We were thrilled to have him do it,” says Albie Hecht, the film’s executive producer. ”He was the perfect voice. He’s got a playfulness as well as an attitude that is perfect for the Rugrats.”
Neither thug nor softy, he is instead the hyperactive class clown you forgive in advance for going too far, a guy who retains a fundamental cuddliness despite the over-the-top skits about oral sex and violence that pepper his albums. Being a from-the-streets rapper, he can fulminate and bluster with the best of the hard corps. But how many rappers would have the stones to appear before millions of viewers, clad in what at first glance looked to be a dress, goofing and mugging with white-bread homemaker Martha Stewart (as Rhymes did at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards)?