V Exclusive! Busta Rhymes Talks 'Year Of The Dragon,' Google Partnership, Olympic Training, & 'Leaders' Reunion
The original Dungeon Dragon is back, and spewing flames with his new project Year Of The Dragon—available now for free, via Google Play, by clicking [HERE]
With the new album, Busta Rhymes—who's been killing this rap game for decades now—brings us something that's fresh, well thought out, and a body of work that, as he puts it, "people will see it and know that I really gave a fuck."
Just a couple of days before releasing his first project in three years, Busa Buss took time out of his busy schedule to talk with VIBE about his partnership with Google Play, cutting his dreads, his new Olympian regimen, and what it meant on a personal level to unite with the Leaders Of The New School at this year's Brooklyn Hip Hop Fest after 19 years apart.
VIBE: You're back with this Year Of The Dragon album. What made you make the decision to do this as a free download on Google?
Busta Rhymes: It’s my thank you album. After 28 years of doing this shit, I just wanted to thank the people that's been rocking with me all this time and also thank the new fans, new supporters and new consumers that's now rocking with me. I garnered a lot of new consumers in the last few years since I put out my last album, and was able to be a part of the incredible Tha Carter 4 album, plus meeting Lil Wayne and Chris Brown again on “Look At Me Now.” It’s a bunch of shit I've been able to do within the last few years that’s harnessed a lot of new fans. I wanted to put out an album for them and say thank you, and give it to them for free. I didn't want to put out a mixtape. I wanted to do a real album and give it to the people for free. I just thought it was important that the people get a real substantial body of work of real quality, fly shit on a traditional hip hop level with the ‘now’ swag and the boom-bap—the shit that I’m used to. I just wanted to give it to people in a way that embodies that, but just the ‘right now’ music. Google was very much willing to do that, so it was just dope to get it done with them supporting it.
Dope. In what way do you think this can be lucrative to you?
It’s definitely lucrative because I'm able to monetize my intellectual property. It’s being put out through an infrastructure and a real machine. It’s not like a random mixtape that’s just being thrown out there with a million blogs posting it and you can’t really monetize your shit properly. A business deal was done for this project in particular. It’s not me putting together some music and just throwing it out through Google because that's the machine that I chose to have post it first—nah. We we did a deal, we negotiated business and we creatively discussed how to campaign, market, and promote to make the fans really happy. The fans are first. That's why I decided to give it away for free. The other business is between me and Google.
Speaking on Google, they're such a big company that pretty much has their hands in everything. For example, I'm conducting this interview with you right now from my Google Voice number. What inspired you to partner with such a powerful brand?
It’s because I’m always about doing powerful shit. Everything that I’m trying to do, I want it to have a powerful impact, like the “Scenario” line, "Powerful Impact—BOOM! —From the cannon!” I’m just always about approaching shit in a powerful way. It was just a very unique situation that has never been done before, and a very ground breaking situation. It’s allowing me to continue leading the ‘new,’ being that I come from an introduction to the world being called Leaders of The New School with my original group. Twenty years later, still being able to do that, is a blessing. Having the most powerful record company in the industry embrace me and be willing to do business with me like Cash Money and Young Money, and then be able to have the most powerful search engine in the Internet universe willing to do business with me, spoke in volumes—not just to me but to my peers. It was an unbelievable situation and an unbelievable opportunity. It just makes sense to be able to do something that was gonna be exciting for me at this state in my career. Finding a new way to share content, share music, and also be put in a position where I can spearhead that new way with my peers and with the consumer is just a wonderful position to be in. If it works in an amazing way, I'll forever be a part of something historic. [This can be] a groundbreaking moment in entertainment, both creatively and professionally. It’s cool to be in a situation like that.
What does this new partnership with Google mean for your future projects? Like, is it just exclusively for Year of The Dragon or are you going to continue this relationship going forward?
The situation is so new for the both of us. Google never sold music or shared music content before, so this is new for them and new for me. We wanted to definitely test the waters with one project for now, see how the nature of it all plays out, and then determine from there what we’re going to do in the future. Right now it’s for the Year of The Dragon project, but we'll see how the future plays out. So far it’s been really an amazing experience.
When it came to picking features on this album, where was your mind frame at as far as choosing who you wanted to assist you on album cuts?
My mindset was in the same place that it’s always in when I'm creating. It’s always about who’s the best person for the song, sonically and feeling-wise. I’m not putting you on record with me just because it’s the cool thing to do or because you’re popping right now. That doesn’t necessarily mean we're gonna make an amazing record because your name is hot. What you do is what garnishes me wanting to do a record with you, and how you do it. It depends on how well you are at what you do, and is it gonna fit the idea of the song that I think I would like you to participate with me on. As long as you feel like you can deliver, we’re good. [There’s been] people that I had on songs that I thought might fit the record, then they get on there and do something and then the world will never hear it because I don’t like the way they sound or I don't like the way they felt. I got a million verses from people sitting around that, unless they say the rhyme on somebody else's record, I'm not gonna put it out. It just didn't feel right on my record. Fortunately for me, I didn't have to do that this time [on Year Of The Dragon] because everybody that I thought felt right for the songs that they're on came and delivered on stellar levels. I’m extremely happy with the way this album came together and extremely happy with the people who came out to be a part of it.
As you know, today artists are always one step ahead of themselves. Have you been recorded anything for your next project or is that still in the works?
Yeah, I definitely recorded for that. I’m pretty much at the 75-80% mark of what the next album is gonna be. I just don't know what I'm calling it yet. I don’t know what it’s gonna be as far as when it’s finished. I don’t know what’s gonna be the thing that warrants the project’s title. So right now, I’m focused primarily on campaigning Year Of The Dragon, but I'm still recording for the next project. However, I’m not really ready to disclose what I'm doing in that area until I know for sure that I’m married to what I’m calling it.
Now, it’s one thing to do a mixtape and an album at the same time, but to do a Google project and an album simultaneously is totally different, given that the Google project is a whole fresh new thing. What separates the tracks on Year Of The Dragon from the material you plan on releasing in the future?
The album’s turn out the way they turn out based on what the themes are, and what the concepts are for those projects. The silver lining that’s going to connect all of the projects so that you got that traditional Busta Rhymes shit is Busta Rhymes being true to who he is. I know how to be Busta Rhymes better than I know how to be anything else, so you always gonna get that energy, them hard slapping ass beats, and some interesting collabs. I’m always about working with artists and making shit that can be classified as eventful moments on my projects. What differentiates them is again the themes and concepts of the project. With the Year of the Dragon album, I wanted to make sure that I give people a body of work that comes with me putting the same attention into an album that I would put into my albums. It’s very few artists that can give you a mixtape that feels like albums. Most of the time you get a mixtape and it’s like a compromised quality of work. Shit is getting slapped together and niggas are rhyming on other niggas beats all day. I’m not mad at that—don’t get me wrong. I do that throughout non-stop anyway—remixing or rhyming on another niggas hit. However, that’s what I do as a regular workout recreationally, keeping my blade sharp as a MC. I ain’t put out a project in the last three years. I felt like people deserved more than a mixtape. I wanted to give them an album. That’s the reason why I did it this way by doing this deal with Google. I’m giving people a real album with real album artwork, real production credits, publishing, hits, acknowledging every writer on every song, special thank you credits and people appearing ‘Courtesy Of’ whatever label they’re on, you know what I’m saying? My shit is being packaged that way. If you see the artwork, you’ll see it’s being packaged as an album—it’s not a mixtape. I felt like the fans and the consumers deserved an album, and that’s the way I wanted to show my appreciation. By putting in all that time and effort into this shit, people will see it and know that I really gave a fuck.
(Continue On To Page 2 Where Busta Talks About Recording At Platinum Recording Studios, Healthy Dieting, and Cutting Off His Dreads)
Your recording process is a bit unique. You have an extensive relationship with solely working at Platinum Sound Recording Studios here in New York. What’s so special about that particular spot?
That studio is incredible to me because of the people that are in there, like the dude that owns the studio. His name is Jerry Wonda. He’s the boss of that establishment and a longtime friend of mine. He played the base with Wyclef [Jean]. We toured together, lived on the road together, and really got a friendship like a brotherhood. So from that, to what it is now, I’m about breaking bread with people that I got love for. Instead of me spending money in studios with people that I don’t own and do not accommodate what I need in the way that he does, I’d rather put that money in his pocket and continue to rock and feel like I’m at my home when I’m recording. Beyond all of that, the staff is unbelievably amazing.
There’s my engineer Kev-O, who’s my primary engineer in there, the assistant Chris, real name is Christian, Jamell, who’s the studio manager—it’s just a collective effort in that place that’s incredible. My man Ardin, who is Jerry’s right hand man, actually helped me build four studios with my other main engineer Ricky Saint-Hilaire down on Wall Street before the Twin Towers fell. He now works with Jerry Wonda. It’s a very close tight knit camaraderie of people who actually grew together and are actually friends. Beyond all of that, the room that I work in over there is one of the loudest, cleanest rooms in New York. People can play shit loud and it starts to distort, but here you can play it loud and the sound is still so clean, that it can be painfully piercing. I just love being in a room where, when I play my shit after it’s done, that shit is slapping like we in the block parties back in the days—motherfucking racks of speakers up on top of each other on the street that look like twin towers as a shorty looking up at all of them speakers piled up. I recaptured that sound and that feeling when I’m in that studio room. Platinum Sounds is the most incredible shit. Beyond that, in the last few years that I haven’t put out a project, a lot of my biggest collabs came out of that studio. My verse for Tha Carter 4, my verse for “Look At Me Now” with Chris Brown and Wayne, and my verses for all of the shit that I’ve been doing have primarily come out of that studio, unless I was on the road and I had to use my traveling studio to record something in the hotel. I’m primarily recording in Platinum. That’s my sanctuary over there.
How long have you been going there?
I would have to say I’ve been working in that studio diligently for the last 6 or 7 years.
Cool. Let's get into some health stuff, your physique, and things of that nature. Over the years you went from being the young dungeon dragon to actually having the physique of one! How did you get so big over the years? Were you pumping iron, eating healthy and stuff like that?
Yeah man, I got in shape for the first time during The Big Bang album in ‘06. That’s when I really learned about the importance of health. I didn’t really learn by choice. I was experiencing health issues because I wasn’t in shape. I had become diabetic prone, because I had gained weight. I went and got blood work done, and when the doctor told me that, it scared the shit out of me mainly because my step father is diabetic. I see what it does to him. I didn’t want that and I’m too young for that, so I got my shit together. I didn’t do it because I wanted to do it; I did it because I had to do it. I didn’t really enjoy getting in shape at the time. Then I got out of shape again. The diabetic symptoms started to come again, so I had to figure out how to do this in a way that I can enjoy it. Once I enjoy it, I’m gonna keep doing it—not because I have to, but because I want to. I started to train again about seven months ago. I trained with Mark Jenkins who trained me in 06 with another brother named Jay. With addition to starting up again with Mark, I also started to train with another brother named Hit Richards. I trained with those brothers for about three or four weeks, then Mark Jenkins had to leave to start training D’Angelo and Mary [J. Blige]. Me and Hit continued to train, and Reek Da Villain started to train with us. After a about a month and a half or two months in, I stopped training with Hit and started training with Victor Munoz. Victor Munoz trained Victor Martinez, who competed in the Olympics. When I got with him, that’s when I really started to see the transformation because he’s a 53 year old, thirty-year trainer for bodybuilders. He understands diet, and the science of diets and workout, in a way that a lot of motherfuckers don’t know. Again, I’m trying to do everything in a powerfully impacted way. We started training 5 days a week, and my body started to transform from one look to another. He changed my diet. When it was time to lose the weight, which is what we focused on first, I took in high protein, complex carbs with vegetables like steam broccoli, a lot of asparagus, and a gallon of water a day. Then when I started to shed the weight, I came down about 40 pounds. Then we put on muscle mass, because now that I was looking lean and flat, we needed to build the muscle. We increased the calorie intake on the protein level, and then he started to give me some carbs like sweet potato, oatmeal, brown rice, and shit like that. The protein will swell the muscle, but the right carbs will grow it.
We stayed away from everything white—I can’t touch white bread, white rice, white potato, or none of that. I haven’t had anything white in like the last 6 to 8 months, and I’m still on the Victor Munoz regimen. With training 5 days a week, 6 meals a day, a gallon of water a day, lots of protein, and moderate carbs, the results are definitely amazing. It feels great, looks great, and I’m glad the people are seeing the sacrifices and commitment with just being the best at everything I’m trying to be and getting acknowledged by people.
That’s a really good health regimen, because I hear that Olympian workout is crazy.
Yeah, it’s very interesting. We’ve even been documenting the transformation, so I’ll be sharing that with people when I reach my peak and I get to that place where I feel like I am exactly what I always envisioned I want to be. When I get to that place, we’re going to put a nice little documentary of the regimens together for people to see so that it can inspire them to be healthy. The workouts are painful, but that’s only in the beginning. After like the first 3 or 4 weeks, you start to become immune to that shit and the pain is something that you look forward to. You know if you leave the gym, and you don’t get the right burn, you ain’t doing shit the way you’re supposed to do it. You can lose a lot of weight and not kill yourself running and hurting your knees and all that stuff. A lot of things with cardio you can do to strip that down, get the heart rate down and get the results that you want. It’s wonderful to find what works for you and what gives you the results, but you can do it and enjoy doing it at the same time.
Keeping with the subject of health, we’re all victims of trying to eat healthy but still doing stuff that’s bad for our bodies, like smoking or drinking. How have the years of industry life affected your lifestyle habits?
Well I definitely still smoke and drink, but you do the shit in moderation. Like the way I used to do it, I’m not doing it like that anymore, for several reasons. If you do too much of anything, you’re going to pay for it at some point. Now that I’m in the gym and I’m seeing these results, and I want to maximize these results, even though I still partake in those festivities—burning L’s and cigarettes, taking a little Patron—it’s done in a way different moderation. I could never do it now how I used to do it, and I don’t ever desire to do it now the way I used to do it.
Honest and respectable. Now, we spoke to Sway the other day about his dreads and the idea that, in Rastafarian culture, they’re in a sense like your personal antennas. Did you feel like that about your own dreads before you cut them off?
I feel exactly the same way and I totally agree with him 100%. But your antennas induct a lot. In order for it to be what you philosophy them to be, they have to take in a lot. The idea of an antenna is to capture a frequency and hold it so that it can channel a signal. But the good thing and the bad thing about that is that if you are channeling the wrong frequencies and the wrong energy, and the signal that you’re giving off isn’t right, then you’re conducting the wrong energy and holding that in. For me, I cut my shit because I was going through a lot of shit that I wanted to just shed and let go! At the time, I had my dreads during a 10-year back-and-forth custody battle with the mother of my children—my three boys. I didn’t want to hold on to anymore of the shit that went into that. When I won the custody of my kids, I cut my hair to shed all the negative stuff that was trapped up in it. Beyond that, the longer my hair got, the heavier the weight became. The more neck pains I was having, with pinched nerves and shit. It also became difficult on a maintenance level as well. My dreads grew down past my waistline. It was just time for me to let it go. I cut my hair and I gave it to my mother. Jonathan Mannion was the photographer that actually captured me cutting my hair. I wanted to have that moment documented. It was such a milestone moment for him because you could only capture that once. He felt so honored to be the photographer I chose to capture that. I have a box with a picture of me with my dreads standing next to me with my dreads cut off, holding them in my hand. He built a box and put those pictures inside of the box. When you open it, you see the pictures and the actual dreads right there. I gave it to my mother as a gift because she gave birth to all of this shit. She’s got it in the house in one of her places with all my awards and special shit like that. She put it right there.
(Continue On For the Last Part Of Our Interview with Busta, Where He Talks The Conglomerate Movement, Nas Ghostwriting, And Reuniting With Leaders Of The New School)
That’s very interesting. You invest a lot of yourself into the Conglomerate movement. What inspired you to start another team after going through the situation you had with the Flipmode Squad?
The Conglomerate was a new platform that I felt was necessary to provide for new talent and be able to show them that there was a new way to provide a support system for new talent from the ‘now’ timeframe. The way we did things with Flipmode was the 90s way of doing business. The Conglomerate is the ‘right now’ way of doing business. It was a time for a pressing of the restart button. Busta Rhymes reinvents with new business, new deals, Cash Money/Young Money, and Google. I needed to have my new infrastructure as well. The Conglomerate is my new infrastructure of business as an entertainment company and a record label. Being that I was coming across new talent that I saw being worthy of being a part of this new movement, I just wanted to make sure I introduce them to the new way of doing business and the new way of being a fully packaged, well-rounded artist. The Conglomerate is a company with designs specifically to facilitate that.
Based off your ties with Baby and Slim, do you think it has the potential to be the next Young Money?
Absolutely. I mean, I wouldn’t exactly say the new Young Money. We’re gonna be the new Conglomerate. Young Money is Young Money. You can’t have a new Young Money because Young Money is still new. What they’ve been able to accomplish as Young Money is so profound with Nicki [Minaj] and Drake. And you got to think, Nicki and Drake are only on their second albums. Those two new artists have outsold every new artist in the business. They’re outselling motherfucking veterans! There’s not gonna be another Young Money. You gotta let them stand alone and respect the kind of monumental movement that is. Cash Money is the parent company to that. There’s nothing in the industry like Cash Money neither, and there’s not gonna be a new Cash Money. You have to respect what that is. I’m trying to build something that’s being embraced thoroughly by Bird, Slim and Wayne with my Conglomerate. Me and Bird talk frequently about what we’re going to do with the Conglomerate once I do what I gotta do with my Cash Money debut album when I release that. We’ve been building such a wonderful momentum with the Conglomerate and the “King Tut” record with J-Doe & Reek Da Villain. Reek’s been with me for 6 or 7 years. If you look back in the “New York Shit” video, you see Reek running around in that with me, and that came out in 2006. J-Doe’s been with me for 3 years. My dudes have been patient, dedicated, committed, loyal and now it’s their time. They got momentum, records in the street, and records on the radio in rotation. Everything feels like it’s supposed to feel. The dots are connecting, and everything is happening organically. Everything’s going exactly how it’s supposed to go. By the time they come out with their debut projects, this momentum that we’re building and continuing to build is gonna be really powerful coming from the Cash Money/Young Money/Universal system.
When it comes to social issues in the industry—like Nas’ ghostwriting claims for example—who do you believe when it comes to things like that? With the media, the Internet, and even the streets all claiming the facts, who do you look for to give you the truth?
I kind of just look to the facts for the truth. You got to research the facts. You can take a little bit from everywhere, but you research it and you get the facts. Fortunately I have access to a lot of resourceful information and people, so I base my shit on that. But speaking on the Nas ghostwriter thing, I think that’s really funny because I’ve known Nas from before he put out a solo album. I sat in Large Professor’s house, and he actually made the “Halftime” beat for me. The “Halftime” beat on the Illmatic album was originally for Busta Rhymes. I didn’t know what to do with it. I gave it to Nas and he sledgehammered that. Back then, Nas recorded in Power Play Studios [in Queens]. Power Play was also where Leaders Of The New School recorded some of the first Leaders’ album. Nas never needed a ghostwriter in his life—and I don’t have to ask nobody to confirm that. I know what I saw with my own two! I’m not taking away from nobody and what they do. I’m not even knocking ghostwriters. To each his own. Get your money how you live. Whatever way you got to live, get it the way you got to get it. I don’t knock nobody’s hustle, but Nas needing a ghostwriter, using a ghostwriter, or having a ghostwriter—for me to believe that, a nigga would damn near have to swallow gunpowder, swallow a match, blow himself up and float around on some Daffy Duck shit [Laughs].
Perfect answer. So to wrap this up, you had a monumental set at this year’s Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival—specifically with the Leaders Of The New School reunion? Why did you choose now to reunite with the Leaders? Why the BK Hip Hop Fest?
I actually didn’t choose to reunite with them for or at the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival. I don’t even think it was a choice then. Sometimes the universe has its way of working things out when it’s supposed to work itself out. Me and [Charlie] Brown broke up 19 years ago, and it was a big blow to me because I loved the group and I loved the opportunities that it created for me in my life. I never wanted to see it die, but it died at a time where I needed it the most because I was the first one to have children in the group. But when the group was over, I had my first son and I didn’t know how else to make money. I was really scared. The mother of my child was living with me because her mom wasn’t feeling the fact that she was pregnant, and my mom didn’t want me to have no bastard child in my crib, so my girl had to move in. I had to get engaged and shit. I wasn’t even ready for that, but my mother was such a Christian at the time that she just wasn’t having that shit. In the Bible you can’t have no kids out of wedlock, so the closest thing to marriage that my mom was going to make us do was get engaged. She knew I wasn’t ready for no marriage neither. It was a rough time. I was forced to do shit that I wasn’t ready to do, forced to become a man quicker than I was ready to be, and forced to find ways to support my child and the mother of my child when that source of revenue was just cut off because the group was over. So I held it against Brown for a long time. He was the demise of the group at that time, so I blamed him for not just breaking up the group, but he fucked with my living conditions. That’s some deep shit. That shit wasn’t just damaging to me. It was damaging to my son and it was damaging to my child’s mother. It trickled down. I really resented him for that for a long time. Time had to heal that.
About a week or two before the show, I didn’t feel [animosity], but I just wasn’t ready to get with him. I had to wrap my head around actually being ready to go see him. I wasn’t ready to talk to him. I didn’t have the same feeling as when we first stopped speaking, but I just had to get myself prepared. It was like if I get with the bro, and it brings back old feelings and old shit, I’m not trying to go back to that. I moved on and everybody moved on. I’m in a different space in my life and I don’t want to bring back no negative shit in my universe. My shit is functioning very beautifully right now. It was a little nerve-racking for me because I didn’t want to revisit old shit. But when I got with him, it felt so good. It felt like a weight was finally off a nigga. I missed my bro, I was happy to see him, and niggas shed a tear or two. We took a lot of pictures because the family was so happy to see that. The family and the friends that grew up around us, they didn’t see us embrace in 19 years. That shit was a big deal to us, for our family members, and for the friends that lived on that block that were around when we would go into Brown’s crib every day to write rhymes. As shorty’s, we were able to drink and smoke in Brown’s crib. We couldn’t do that shit in my crib or Dinco [D’s] crib. We were always at Brown’s crib. It was the fun crib to be at. We were drinking, blowing trees, smoking cigarettes, just fucking around at Brown’s crib because that’s where shit was able to be live at. We were able to have our action over there. It was just so good to be able to lift that shit off of you and leave happy. It’s great that we could be in this space. I spent a lot of hours that night, going down memory lane and reminiscing on all of the shit. Niggas was just being happy and alive. It felt so good that I was like, “Yo I’m headlining this festival. What y’all think about coming out there and surprising these niggas with me?” Once they said they were with it, I was like, “Wow.” Then I called Q-Tip. I said, “Tip, you headlined this shit last year, but you and Phife [Dawg] weren’t on the stage together. I came out with you and Kanye came out with you. How about we get Phife this time. Niggas ain’t seen y’all together since the [Beats, Rhymes, And Life] documentary. It was just so much intense shit going on between y’all in that documentary, that niggas would be really happy to see y’all on the stage together again too.” I just thought it was monumental. We ain’t did “Scenario” in its entirety since ’92 either. We ain’t did that shit with all of us on the same stage in 18 or 19 years neither, so it just felt like we got two milestone groups reuniting at the same time. It just felt like something that was Godly, man. I really cherish that moment because it was definitely probably one of the happiest moments in my life—my whole career.
Just the way you describe it sounds like a monumental occurrence. As fans watching that, we just felt it. It was awesome.
I ain’t gonna lie, there were moments where I was fighting hard from shedding a tear in front of y’all. That shit was just so crazy. Slick Rick is another one of my inspirations. He’s so iconic to me. You would’ve thought I had a shrine on my wall of that dude. I had too many Word Up! and Blackbeat magazine pictures on my wall of this dude, with his jewels and different pictures of his custom outfits with the eye patches to match. His swag was always on ten trillion. For me to be able to have him come out for me, and the whole Duck Down movement with Smif n Wessun and Buckshot, plus [Lil’] Fame from M.O.P., it was just a real golden moment, man. It was just beautiful and special. I’m holding on to that one. That probably is the biggest highlight of my life next to establishing a deal and getting my first advance.
Year Of The Dragon is available now for free, via Google Play, by clicking [HERE]