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Nathan Pearcy

Planted Not Buried: The Moral Courage Of Asante McGee

Asante McGee stands as a gleam of hope for young black girls and women. 

One would think the tides would turn after the six-part docuseries Surviving R. Kelly pried the wool from the eyes and ears of negligent music fans two weeks ago. Executive produced by writer and filmmaker dream hampton (stylized as such to honor bell hooks), over 12 million viewers total were gifted proof of Kelly’s predatory ways by archived interviews from the man himself with gripping testimonies from black women spanning the ages of 16 to 33.

While watching the 6-hour series, it became clear that Kelly’s 30 years in the game traumatized the lives of those he allegedly sang about in his platinum and gold hits. It’s a factor that would morally awaken anyone, but between protests and his label departure from Sony, something else happened that wasn’t seen in the wrecking of other abhorrent figures.

Sleuth-like behavior from the court of public opinion reared its head in the other direction, shaming the women who came forward with their stories. Hate came tenfold toward hampton for her previous career in music journalism, particularly a profile on Kelly in VIBE’s 2002 issue, a month before he was accused of engaging in sex acts with a minor on videotape.

Not only were hampton’s character and prior working relationships brought into question, but the intake of Kelly’s music also skyrocketed with average streams totaling 1.7 million a day compared to the 955,600 average in 2018. Even as Atlanta and Chicago district attorneys announced investigations, the singer celebrated his birthday with reported girlfriend Jocelyn Savage and adoring fans while singing “Bump n’ Grind.” Although Savage sat in the club with Kelly, her parents Timothy and Jonjelyn Savage hadn’t (and still haven’t) seen their daughter in several years since she met the singer at the age of 17.

Memories like cookouts, proms, love tales and weddings soundtracked by R. Kelly trumped a conscientious duty to at least lend an ear to black women. From the outside, black women continued to go unprotected as memes and Instagram influencers turned their pain into comedic relief. With black women at the front of today’s movements (Black Lives Matter, #MeToo) and the current political battle in the White House (Rep. Maxine Waters and Sen. Kamala Harris), moral courage from the rest of us shouldn’t be too much to ask for.

In a digital space where endorphins rise in the blink of an Instagram notification, it’s not lost on many that black women go ignored in cases of sexual violence. Presumably, it’s more important to take part in “call out culture” instead of adhering to black women who’ve sacrificed their bare bones for our community, preferably black men.

In the throes of the backward backlash, one of R. Kelly’s alleged victims, Asante McGee, stands as a gleam of hope for young black girls and women. It’s the mission statement during our conversation with McGee, one of the first women to publically share her story of her time spent living in the Atlanta home where Kelly reportedly kept women captive for sexual purposes.

For McGee and other survivors like Lisa Van Allen and Lizzette Martinez, there’s no joy in recalling the emotional, mental and sexual abuse by Kelly, but the determination to hold the embattled singer accountable for his actions is worth it.

“I have young girls inboxing me asking how they can spread the word; they want to help others,” McGee says during our phone interview. While the rest of us are in shock over black women standing up for Kelly, the mother of three is centered on standing up against the other R. Kellys of the world who are disguised as our friends, uncles and pastors.

Even as a TMZ report claimed McGee was contacted for a criminal investigation against Kelly, McGee says no one has done so, promoting her to be more vocal in her journey to share her truth.

It’s in her tone, calm and reserved, while seemingly being at peace as the public processes what’s been hiding in plain sight for so long.

“I've received more positive than negative [messages on social media] so I had to learn to outweigh what was best for me and my health,” she adds. “If I continued to focus so much on the negative, I wouldn’t be able to continue this journey on speaking out to young girls and women in general.”

As shared on Surviving R. Kelly, McGee opened up about being a fan who had the chance to travel with Kelly for two years before being invited to live in his Atlanta home. While there for only a few weeks, the days were unbearable once she realized she was there to be a servant to Kelly’s desires.

For McGee, the aftermath of the documentary was just as eye-opening since she learned how many people were complicit as well as the lengthy timeline of his reported behavior. It’s a juxtaposition many sexual assault survivors face in the aftermath of their healing. Studies have shown black women who face sexual violence in their lives have a higher rate of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicidal ideation, pain-related health problems, and low self-esteem.

Just a day before our interview, a page titled “Surviving Lies” surfaced on Facebook in an effort to discredit McGee and another survivor, Faith Rodgers. Mugshots from McGee’s troubled past were collaged together and a video of her ex-boyfriend taping a conversation with her then 18-year-old daughter without her consent also resurfaced. Believed to be conducted by a member of Kelly’s camp, McGee doubts it’s Kelly himself behind the page for one desolate reason.

“Rob is the one that does everything via video so he's not going to make a page called ‘Surviving Lies’ or any kind of website,” she says. “Any announcement he would make will be through a song or a video. I just feel like the person behind it has to be a fan taking up for him, but not realizing that page is actually showing that he's guilty.” It was taken down hours later but another quickly surfaced.

The tide will be brutal but McGee isn’t giving up any time soon.

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There’s a lot to take in here, but we can start off small. Sometimes, subjects don’t like to watch the documentaries they participate in. Have you watched Surviving? If so, what was your reaction?

Asante McGee: When I first saw the documentary, the first night had me very emotional because I learned a lot of things that I didn't know about him. Also even finding out that people knew about the things he was doing and were actually covering up for him.

So for the documentary, it was very emotional. With the documentary promoting itself, I know a lot of people were still defending him. But after night one, I just knew that we would change the minds of those who have defended him because of how in-depth it was. But then you had a lot of people claiming it was fake or scripted.

It was heartbreaking to watch and it was even more heartbreaking to see that people were still sticking up for him. There’s even a video of popular Instagram figures like Rizza Islam in tears while standing up for Kelly. How has the reaction been for you, especially from black men?

I received a lot of support from black men personally. They’ve been in my DMs thanking me for sharing my story and saying "As a father of young black girls, it hits home." They're happy that women like me are speaking out and actually letting people know just how much he's capable of.

I've seen a lot of black celebrities that weren't even speaking on the subject that have now come forward. I've seen a few black men that are still taking up for him, which (laughs) I really don't understand how and why, but I've seen more support from those not taking up for him.

Do you think your wounds are healed? I’ve seen interviews where people have asked questions and treated this like a reality show and not cases of sexual assault.

My wounds have definitely not been healed. While watching the documentary, I feel like I was reliving the events, especially when it got to the part of me going to house and just showing that black room.

What was it about your room that prevented you from going into the “black room” instead?

I didn’t want to enter my room because that’s where I felt like a prisoner. I was only allowed to come out of that room when someone would knock on my door telling me to come downstairs or if I was summoned to the black room. The black room is where we were forced to do all kinds of sexual acts with him and each other. When you were summoned to the black room you knew you were not going to enjoy it.

When you're on the outside looking in, people are generally judging. I don’t think people realize how emotional things got, and how questions like, “What happened next?” on social media as the documentary aired can be triggering.

I understand that you may want to engage in a conversation with us, but that wasn’t the time because we had just revealed a lot of embarrassing things to the entire world. That was not a moment to be proud of. I just wish people would just understand and I know a lot of people didn't mean any harm in doing it, but you know after I calmed down I explained to those why I didn't want to talk to them, they understood.

Do you feel like you're learning new things about yourself in this process?

 

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Definitely. I didn't realize how strong I was until now. I think I built myself to become strong after the documentary aired because like I said, I was receiving a lot of backlash prior to the doc and even leading up to it and I thought it would mentally break me down. I'm happy to know that I am stronger than that. I’m overcoming a lot of obstacles I didn't think I would overcome.

That's beautiful. The questions, as well as this interview, can be draining. It also doesn’t help that there’s a Facebook page called “Surviving Lies” floating around. Do you think R. Kelly was behind that?

Rob is the one that does everything via video so he's not going to make a page called ‘Surviving Lies’ or any kind of website. Any announcement he would make will be through a song or a video. I just feel like the person behind it has to be a fan taking up for him, but not realizing that page is actually showing that he's guilty.

Why are you trying to expose his victims? It's like you're trying to intimidate us and trying to get us to shut up by bringing out our past or just doing anything you can to manipulate the situation for people to say, “Oh, well that person was lying.” Their goal was to discredit us one by one.

The sad part about it is that they took that one down but that person has since created another one. So that it's another page saying the same stuff over again.

There was also a claim that you teamed with Jocelyn's father, Timothy Savage, to extort money from Kelly. Where do you think that accusation came from?

My ex and I had a bitter breakup so he’s behind that. I opened an HVAC business and he had one too, but the state sent him a cease and desist for his business due to fraud.

He knew that I contacted the Savages once I left the Atlanta home to inform them about their daughter. My ex knew I was helping them to get their daughter back and after our bitter breakup, he blamed me for his business closing and wanted to get back at me. He knew my reasons for going to his concert in December of 2016, I was on the phone with him the entire time. He’s trying to make money by using my name and discrediting me.

He also believed I was paid for my interview with Kelly so he taped a conversation with my daughter without her permission. She was 18 at the time and we were in a bad place. Like any parents and daughters, me and my daughter were having issues and she actually moved out and lived with someone else. He used that opportunity to call her after he saw me on the Megyn Kelly show. He knew that he could manipulate my daughter into saying whatever he wanted her to say so if you listen clearly to the conversation, you can hear how he's baiting her to say certain things.

At the end of the recording, you can hear her saying that I'm texting, “Do not tell him where he lives, he might be trying to kill me.” So clearly you can hear me saying that I'm afraid of this guy because of his personal vendetta against me.

He figured, “This is about to be my payday, I'm gonna go ahead and do this.” The video has actually been out since May and it just so happened that they weren't spreading it around until after the docuseries to discredit whatever I was saying.

How do you remain so zen during these times? How do you fight back during these negative clouds now?

 

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What really keeps me going and that motivates me every day is when I see these messages telling me how proud they are or they're sharing their stories and because we came forward, others are able to also come forward and start their healing process.

I have young girls inboxing me asking how they can spread the word, they want to help others. So just from receiving those messages, I've received more positive than negative so I had to learn to outweigh what was best for me and my health. If I continued to focus so much on the negative, I wouldn’t be able to continue this journey on speaking out to young girls and women in general. He's going to have these fans and they're always going to believe him, that’s the tough part.

What can people expect from your book, No Longer Trapped In The Closet?

I recently released the book (Jan. 3), but it came together as the BuzzFeed story and my interview with Megyn Kelly came out. At the time, I read the comments and just saw a lot of people doubting me because of my age. It said, “Oh, she’s lying. She’s too old.”

I just wanted people to get a better understanding of my life so they can say, “Oh okay, she was going through this and why she trusted him so much.” I included evidence to support my claims with him.

Do you ever think about the other girls who were in the house with you? Do they ever cross your mind?

I think about them every day. It's one of the reasons why I came forward, to begin with. My breaking point wasn’t just one moment. The controlling and dictating when I can eat and bathe was hard but there was one girl in particular who was close to my daughter’s age (who was a teenager at the time) doing things to him in front of me and other people. It hit too close to home. I thought, “I’ve heard the rumors,” but to see this young girl in his presence was too much. I knew at that point that this needed to stop.

Would you be comfortable sharing what that was?

The mind-blowing thing that I witnessed happened when it was myself, the young lady, him, one of his assistants and another girl. We were all sitting in his cigar room in the Atlanta house, just listening to music and drinking alcohol. All of sudden she just pops his penis out and just started performing fellatio on him. I'm hearing the sounds and I look up like “What's going on?” and everyone around me did not seem bothered.

I was the only one that was bothered by what's going on. I'm just like, “What in the hell, are you serious?” And I looked back down and tried to ignore but in my mind, I'm envisioning my daughter. This could be my daughter.

Can you describe your relationship with your daughters now as opposed to when you dealt with R. Kelly?

I’m sure other mothers can relate to this; mothers and teenagers have their ups and downs. This was a period where kids start to rebel against their parents. Now we are in a better place and that’s what matters and my daughter is very supportive of my story and this movement.

Has it been hard to tune into your sexuality after all of this?

My sexuality hasn't changed in any way, but it is hard for me to trust a man. At this point, any man that I have been in contact with has a hidden agenda. I've tried to date after Rob and it was a hidden agenda behind it. At this time, I don't have a question [or] doubt about my sexuality, it's just my trust in men in general.

McGee released her memoir No Longer Trapped In The Closet: The Assante McGee Story prior to the airing of Surviving R.Kelly. You can purchase the book from Amazon here.

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Edison Sigua

Meet Baka Not Nice: The OVO Sound Artist Who's Actually Pretty Nice

Baka Not Nice's entry into the music industry is unlike any other. The OVO Sound signee's path wasn't always that of a music creator. In fact, Baka's first taste of the music industry was as his mentor's Drake's bodyguard, and since then, the Toronto artist's background vocals have been heard in multiple Champagne Papi records such as "Free Smoke" and "Gyalchester." Thankfully for fans who have connected with Baka through those songs, the 40-year-old artist began releasing his own music, and he did not disappoint.

After signing with OVO sound on July 27, 2017, just three days later, he released his hit single "Live Up to My Name." The song saw success around the world, peaking at number 77 on the Canadian Hot 100 chart. Later on, Baka followed up with two EP's. He released 4Milli in 2018, which spawned a certified-Platinum status in Canada and a certified-Gold in the U.S.

Most recently, Baka dropped his three-track project, no long talk. He gave VIBE a personal interview, in which he discussed the EP and his journey thus far in music.

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VIBE:  I know you're currently on Drake's Assassination Vacation Tour, but you still managed to drop your latest project, and I wanted to know how was that for you, balancing being on tour with him and also dropping 'no long talk'?

BAKA NOT NICE: Actually, that project was done before tour. It was actually supposed to be released before we went on tour. However, due to attempting to get certain things like legalities, lawyers and stuff, it took a while to get certain things cleared and what not. But yeah, it was done before the tour. It just happened that it dropped while we were on tour.

And what was the creative process like making 'no long talk'? What was it like collaborating with Juicy J and Giggs?

Aw man, two legends you know? One from the UK and one from America. I feel like I was looking for a balance, so I think it worked out great. The vibe I was in was a laid-back vibe.

 I actually had another project that I was working on, I was promoting it, it's called Prada. But after all that crazy stuff happened with all the designers in America, and there was a lot of heat... I just didn't want to have to answer any questions during it. So I just put [Prada] to the side for a bit, but then I had to put some music out, some content out. So then, I just decided to work on no long talk and that's how that came up.

Why just three tracks for 'No Long Talk'?

Because I plan on releasing — I don't know if it could be a mixtape or an EP — but I plan on releasing this project in the spring or early summer. So I was just like, "Yo, I don't want to not drop anything until then." That's a long time to not have any music out there, so I decided to make a little project with two collabs.

 

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Is that the reason why you named it 'No Long Talk,' because it is a shorter project? 

Yeah because, I didn't scrap Prada, it just wasn't the right time to put that out there. Like I said, I didn't want to leave my fans with nothing until like mid-spring or even early summer, so three songs I felt was good enough to hold them over until then.

Now, speaking about your experience on tour, how has it been so far being on tour with Drake? How receptive have the fans been to you?               

Aw man, it's been crazy and only because, you know, I would say about a year-and-a-half ago or two years ago, my personal friends would tell me, "Baka, things are different for you, you know you got fans." And I would always shrug it off like, "I don't go no fans. I don't know what you're talking about."

But now, being on tour and being on stage, I interact with the crowd and the people that are there. I want to know what's going on, what they're feeling, you know? So, I'm looking at everybody and what's amazing is they're rapping the lyrics to my song. So, then it comes back full circle like, "I really do have fans out here man." I'm just humble about it because it's new to me. 

That must be a great feeling.

It's an amazing feeling, man. The project just dropped, but they're singing those songs too, so it's like 'wow.' Pretty amazing, it's a pretty amazing feeling.

So, you're from Toronto and how do you feel that you influenced Toronto's rap scene? How do you feel it has influenced your music?

I feel that they both go hand in hand. Of course, I feel like I influenced the rap game. The only reason why I'm saying that is because I feel like I'm giving young guys from where I come from, or dudes or females or whatever, that feel like they have [an] art. I feel like they see me, and my past and where I came from, and to see where I am now, I feel like they feel like they can do it too. That they have so much opportunity. It's not just music– it can be anything.

Are there other ways that you feel like you have influenced or are influencing aside from music?

Yeah, because there's the whole street side to it, too. Where I come from they know what I've been through. It just shows that when you put your mind to something and you say, "Okay listen, I wanna go a different route. I wanna try to do something positive and help my family" and stuff like that. I think it shows younger guys that are coming up like, "Yo, listen, all this fake stuff that's out here ruining our lives, let's take a different route." The guys that are like, "I gotta be on the block, I gotta do this." You gotta get alternate paths, you can't just be like that's our only way out.

Because there are multiple ways out from where you're from. 

There's multiple. We gotta stop using that excuse, I'm tired of that sh*t for real.

You're signed to OVO Sound, and your signed to the label with PartyNextDoor and Majid Jordan, and a bunch of others. Have you ever worked with them? Do you work closely with them? What's that like?

Well, to be honest with you, they're my label mates, but they're my brothers first. Each one of us has our own different relationships. I'm definitely going to be working with my brothers. It's crazy that you bring that up because before I came out on tour, Roy [Woods] sent my assistant a few songs that he wanted me to get on. But I just didn't have the time because I was preparing for the tour. I went to them and I was like, "You guys need to make a beat, let's rock out." Things are going to be in the works, everything's just timing, you know?

How did you feel when you found out your mixtape '4Milli' was certified platinum in Canada and certified gold in the U.S.? What was that feeling of hearing that news?

My whole motto is "no long talk," so I don't really have that many words for it. But I was just really shocked because, like I said, my story will be a movie one day. It's like... it's one of those ones where you think it's all over, you think you gotta hang it up and throw it out, and then bam... a light comes. A light at the end of the tunnel, and then you take off.

 

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You said that you have music coming eventually, and that Prada is coming later. What more can fans expect from you in the future? What do you hope to bring to the table?

I hope to bring some classic music. Obviously, I want to work with my mentor Drake, obviously that's going to happen. There's other artists I want to work with too, I want to try different stuff.

I'm just into music. My whole thing is:  I just love music. Even though I didn't know I could create it until recently, I've always loved music because music is a part of my life. My father's a musician, he played the guitar for over 15 years. Music was always played in the house, you know how it goes. They always played the greatest, like Motown. I was surrounded, and then coming out of prison meeting with Drake, I was surrounded by it even more.

Coming out of prison, did that change your mindset completely? 

It had to, because prison for young black men is a revolving door. It's so easy to go back once you get out. The restrictions that they put on you, they set you up for failure. You gotta somehow break free of that. You gotta be like, "Nah enough is enough."

And you succeeded at that. Now you're doing music and you know that, [prison] is not something you want to go back to, ever.

Yeah, I don't even think about that anymore. I thank God everyday that he opened my eyes. Now, I realize that there's another way. My message has to be now, "Don't give your life up, go, f**k the clout. F**k clout."

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Music Sermon: The Underrated Genius Of Busta Rhymes

The word “underrated” is overused. Even though I regularly write about underrated artists, I try to stay away from the term whenever possible–but it’s appropriate for Busta Rhymes. While his cohorts from the Native Tongues collective are highly lauded and celebrated, especially A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, Bus–who enjoyed a longer and more commercially successful hit-making run than the others–has become the old uncle to hip-hop fans. Maybe it’s a case of familiarity breeding contempt, because he has continued to record, instead of falling into a DJ and production role with occasional features like Q-Tip, or releasing indie joints like De La, or pursuing his acting career and branching into other arms of entertainment like Queen Latifah, or just hitting the old school circuit with the classics like Dres of Black Sheep. But Busta was a pivotal artist in hip-hop. Because of his flow. Because of his live performance. Because of his features. Because of his videos. He raised the bar and helped broaden the scope of hip-hop at crucial moments in the genre’s evolution.

Busta’s been referred to as hip-hop’s “jester” several times over the years (primarily by mainstream outlets, but I think we know better). This is a severe misnomer; an indication of how Bus’s high energy, colorful presence, raspy growl and dominating smile were misunderstood. “That energy? It all comes from the appreciation I have for what I’m doing,” he explained in an interview for his debut solo album. “I love the music creating something from nothing, adding the beats, the instruments. When I put the song together and it's banging, that’s my best reward. And when I’m feeling that? Oh my God, I’m trying to make sure you feel the way I’m feeling.” The ability to convey that joy and excitement through every medium, to get you hype ‘cause he hype, is the uniqueness of Busta.

When telling Bus’s story, most start at “Scenario;” the game-changing posse track from A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory (Tribe’s defining album; I will die on that hill.) which heralded Busta’s forthcoming solo career, even if we didn’t realize it at the time. But if you’re walking into the story when Q Tip asks Mr. Busta Rhymes to tell us what he did in “Scenario,” hit stop. Then rewind until you see a Long Island high school cafeteria with a slim, short-haired Trevor Jackson, Jr hitting the East Coast Stomp, highlighted with red animated graphics. Now press play. This is where the story begins.

Busta Rhymes the Mighty Infamous

We’ll get to Busta literally roaring into hip-hop infamy on “Scenario” in a bit. Before he was the breakout rapper on that track, he was the breakout star of The Leaders of the New School…which is ultimately why the Long Island group broke up. But LONS was itself was a standout group, that became part of a standout collective, so Bus sticking out amongst all that excellence was no small feat.

Hip-hop was always youth culture, but it was also a heavy dose of the realism of life and actuality (shout out to AZ). LONS and the Native Tongues were part of a new subculture of rap groups accessible to young hip-hop fans who didn’t grow up in the streets, couldn’t relate to hood tales, and didn’t identify with braggadocio rap, but still wanted to see themselves reflected in the culture. Fans who didn’t rock gold chains and adidas, but sported backpacks (because they were still in school), did regular stuff like homework and hanging out at the mall, and maybe even had both parents at home. This was the early alternative rap movement – hip-hop with lighter fare. “That Long Island environment was some fresh air type sh*t, that spacy sh*t that gives you room to be who you are and want to be without all those urban hangups,” he told the New York Daily News in 1996. “We thought hip-hop was so damn raunchy all the time oppressive. We needed some party, universal, happy sh*t…. We were comfortable, cozy. We were able to focus on hip-hop on a fun level.”

And the fun was infectious. Some hip-hop historians credit LONS for the rise of backpack rappers – young artists who emerged through the underground scene by way of college and mixshow radio. “PTA” got heavy video play on every urban platform, and soon there were black kids with backpacks doing the East Coast Stomp with fervor everywhere. Busta told Ed Lover years later during a radio promo visit, “I wish I could get a publishing check from every ni**a that does that dance.”

All wasn’t good inside the group, though. Even before the Leaders recorded their first album, the group was having issues and had split up, with Bus going off to pursue a solo career. When former Tommy Boy A&R Dante Ross summoned Charlie Brown for a meeting at his new label, Elektra, the guys initially went without Bus – but Dante wouldn’t sign them without him. Busta came back for the sake of everyone’s dream, but he and Charlie were continuously in a fight for control and prominence in the group. Literally. “Me and Brown used to fist fight and be bleeding at the mouth before we (would) get on stage,” Busta revealed to Vlad TV while discussing his tumultuous relationship with Leaders, “and then get on stage and be suckin’ and swallowin’ the blood in (our) busted lip while performing so the audience wouldn’t see the blood leakin’ from (our) mouth. And smile in front like everything’s good, and get back offstage and finish the fight.” Ew, Bus. Ew.

Publicly, however, the group was solid. They even scored a No. 1 with their final single from A Future Without a Past.

Busta spent time and put in work with established acts of the era, including his mentor Chuck D who, along with The Bomb Squad, gave Bus and Charlie both their emcee names and the group’s name (they had to battle another up-and-coming group for use of the name; the losing group took the title Young Black Teenagers), but was especially tight with Tribe. ATCQ was his creative refuge when he was feeling constrained within his own group.

When Tip came up with the concept for “Scenario,” his idea wasn’t just to give LONS a look; it was a platform for Busta. Tip wanted to position him as next. “’Scenario’ for Busta was like his step-out [moment],” he later explained. “That was my purpose… because I thought he was ill.” Tip wrote Bus’s early lines in the track, an introduction that keyed him up for his big finale. That moment changed Busta’s career, and I believe changed the weight and status of the posse cut’s anchor position.

Busta recounted the moment from his point of view to XXL around the track’s 20th anniversary. “(Q-Tip) handed me the ball. He was setting me up with an alley-oop. I could just dunk the shit on niggas. That was his idea. Once it got to the, 'As I combine all the juice from the mind,' that was me all day. He heard that 16 bars of the verse I said, he said, ‘Nigga, I’m gonna set you up to come in so crazy. That verse is so retarded! Nigga, I got to set that bitch up right.’ I was like, ‘Alright, big homie what you got in mind for me?’ He said, ‘I want you to say this line in my verse.’ I said, ‘Alright, cool.’ Did it and went into my shit. My life changed dynamically after that.”

The Leaders went on to do a second album, but internal tension continued. After “Scenario,” Busta was tapped for more collaborations. His energy immediately elevated everything, even just talking trash on an interlude.

His rapidly ascending star was a problem within the group, namely with him and Charlie, in part because Charlie considered himself the leader. The cracks became publicly visible, right up to the point of the group famously breaking up on air in front of Yo! MTV Rap’s cameras, mid-interview with Fab Five Freddy. Good news, Bus and Charlie finally reconciled in 2012.

Bus the Magic Dragon

Leaders split in 1993, but it took a few years for Busta to finally release his solo debut. For artists with heat and anticipation, that kind of delay can prove dangerous, however in that span of time Bus didn’t lose any energy or clout. Between LONS’ last album and his debut in ‘96, he had a look on another legendary posse cut, once again holding down the close.

From the first single of The Coming, it was clear that Bus was no longer an underground backpack rapper. He had graduated from repping the MTA-taking, still living at the parents’ crib, fresh out of school set; to pushing Lex’s through Times Square with Hype Williams budgets and major radio play. The years of 1993 to 1996 were a damn near time-warp sized leap in hip-hop, but Busta made the transition with no hiccups.

“Woo Ha” is the essence of Busta Rhymes in one record. It’s loud and disorienting and distracting - the track sounds like of like a distorted carnival calliope. It’s also fun, and almost annoyingly catchy. But it’s not silly. It’s a mistake to ever confuse Busta’s playful energy as silly (which is why I take umbrage with the “jester” descriptors). It takes skill to spit whimsical rhymes without just stringing a bunch of hat, cat, bat rhymes together. Busta and Missy Elliott both did that well, and they both translated it to visuals with great success. (Honestly, why more people don’t talk about the two of them as hip-hop’s creative twins is beyond me, but that’s another sermon). Hype’s fisheye lens was tailor-made for the two artists, and with his help, Busta’s first solo outing revealed that he wasn’t simply talented and animated, but a creative visionary. His delay was perhaps beneficial because he landed right at the beginning of the golden era of music videos.

Once Busta’s solo career was moving, it was full speed. Elektra had given him the Flipmode Squad imprint, and he was working not only on his own moves but building his camp. Between solo projects and Flipmode, he cranked out six albums in as many years before slowing down with his last two studio releases.

The Coming was a solid debut, but it wasn’t a classic. Really more of a follow-up from all his features; proof that his Busta-ness could sustain more than sixteen hot bars and some adlibs.

When Disaster Strikes announced his versatility and staying power. The first time I heard “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” on Hot 97, I was in my little cubicle at my first full-time job, and before the song was even all the way over, my friend and coworker called me from her cube down the hall, “That beat is so sick, I’m nauseous. I might throw up right now.” The beat was sick. More surprisingly, though, Bus had toned his flow down so we could appreciate his wordplay, and rode the Seals and Croft sample perfectly. This was a flow we hadn’t heard from him before – but he’d done it as a joke, after Puff and Q-Tip told him to chill with all the screaming on tracks because “b*tches don’t wanna do that sh*t all the time.” This is such a great big homie/little homie story.

Then, the video dropped. Listen (motions you to come closer), I’m not supposed to curse, but that shit was. a. f***ing. moment.

No blogs. No social media. But everybody was talking about this amazing ass video. The theme, the dancers, the women, the costumes, the damn elephant! The combination of Busta, Hype, Fatima Robinson, and production designer Ron Norsworthy (who also designed the sets for “Woo Haa,” “Supa Dupa Fly,” “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” and “If I Ruled the World”) came together for a stunning, surrealist take on Coming to America. And while Bus hadn’t toned down his extra-large performance style, it was obvious this was grown man Bus. Established artist, comfortable in his space Bus. The outlandish fits were a little less outlandish - and tailored. They looked expensive. Plus he’d been in the gym, and his locks were intricately and immaculately styled. This was a platinum artist – even if he hadn’t hit the sales yet at the time.

Bus’s glow up didn’t change the playfulness and incredible imagination driving his art. His follow up single, “Dangerous,” came from an old Long Island Regional Poison Control PSA warning kids not to play with prescription meds. I know we have plenty of nursey rhymes-turned rap songs in the annals of hip-hop, but I’m still baffled at the mind that said “Yo, remember that commercial about drugs? We should flip that.” Oh, but that's why it's Flip Mode! (Imagine Weebay gif here.)

Bus and Hype delved into movie territory again for the video, borrowing from Lethal Weapon and The Last Dragon (Bus is such an obvious Sho Nuff). Part of the reason Spliff Star is the greatest hype man in hip-hop history (except for maybe Flavor Flav), is his ability to so perfectly play Arsenio Hall to Busta’s Eddie Murphy.

If you don’t care to give Bus credit for being one of the most agile and adaptable MCs of his time, you have to acknowledge the inspired originality in his videos. Again, the only person even touching him in ideas and innovation was Missy.

It’s not an accident that Busta is featured in two of the 11 most expensive videos of all time (two of the top three most expensive if you limit it to hip-hop). “What’s it Gonna Be” remains Hype Williams’ biggest budget. This is the kind of budget you get once you’re not just a rap star, but a crossover hit, a benchmark Busta had reached by his third album E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event).

Busta’s complete albums haven’t been super consistent - a reason he’s overlooked as one of the greats of the era – but his singles and videos rarely failed, until the early aughts.

Also, the Harlem Nights scene in this video is also incredibly underrated. Mo’nique was perfect.

The People’s Choice

Busta is a cameo MVP, for obvious reasons. From the time he shouted, “Oh my God” over a Tribe track, Busta has been a go-to choice when folks want to turn the joint up a little.

I mentioned two of the most expensive videos of all time. “Victory” was the second, more expensive one. What other rapper can you perch on a statue at the top of a towering building in some dystopian, Running Man-esque scenario, covered in feathers, and it seem perfectly normal? Like “Oh, hey Bus.”

Even when Busta is opening a posse cut instead of closing it out, he adds a little extra something. “Ante Up” didn’t exactly need any additional cranking up, but why not?

I’m guessing that Busta would consider his most significant career features – aside from “Scenario” – to be the four tracks he was part of for ATCQ’s comeback album, We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service. Also Tribe’s final album due to the passing of Phife Dawg, We Got It from Here…  reunited not only core group members – including original member Jarobi White – but also brought together “unofficial” folks, like Consequence and Busta.

Bus stepped in for Phife at the 2017 Grammys for the incredible performance of the timely and topical “We the People.”

The Showman and the Hypeman

As I said before, it’s a mistake to believe Busta is any less serious of an artist because of his humor and high energy style. He’s remained active in the game for the last 30 years because his love for the art is real. He once referenced a concept instilled by Chuck D: CLAMP. “That’s this thing he would say when we was trying to get on,” he told The Daily Beast. “(He said) ‘If you muthafuckas don’t got your concept, your lyrics, your attitude and appearance, your music and performance right, you don’t have a CLAMP on this shit.’ I took that, applied it to everything: Concept. Lyrics. Attitude/Appearance. Music. Performance.”

People who know Busta personally or have seen him live often rank him amongst the best live performers in hip-hop. Bus will give the same performance in front of 24 people as he will in front of 24,000. He boasted during promo for The Coming, “If I have to bark louder, I will. If I get on stage before the other man, I’m taking all that energy, just to make sure he don’t catch wreck.” And right next to him, keeping the energy going, is Spliff Star.

Spliff has known Bus most of his life, and worked with him his entire solo career. As the hype man becomes a relic of the old school and members of artist’s camps eschew the name, Spliff is proud of being both one of the last hype men standing, and one of the best to ever hold the title.

“If I was going to be the hype man, I was going to be the best hype man,” Star told VIBE in a recent interview. “I wanted them to remember my name. Spliff Star never dropped a solo album, and I’m still a household [brand]. When the books close on hip-hop, I hope I’m on one of the pages, even if it’s on the last page.”

It helps that Bus and Spliff are of the same mind about the importance of a tight performance, something that even the Leaders agreed on. Early hip-hop performances could be boring unless the MC had dancers and/or danced himself (like Big Daddy Kane and Heavy D), or was high energy (like L.L.), or just magnetic (like Eric B. and Rakim). The acts you knew would deliver an excellent show had added elements to keep the energy up. We joke about Flavor Flav now, but his energy paired with Chuck D’s commanding voice and the S1W’s military maneuvers added up to a hell of a show.

“When you get on stage, you’re supposed to give the people a performance. I’m passionate about mine,” Spliff added. “I want you to be like, ‘Yo, that light skinned n***a was whyling.’ I want to bring you that energy, so when you see me, you know what it is. And if you see Busta performing by himself, you know it can’t be the same if I ain’t there.”

The Big Homie

A major point of distinction between Busta and some of his contemporaries is his desire to bridge the gap between his generation and the new. While he doesn’t love everything he hears, he doesn’t dismiss current music as out of hand, either. Because of his own experience coming up under more seasoned artists, he believes in mentoring and helping new artists find their way. “Leaders of the New School, we had a bunch of artists in a clique called New School Society,” he has explained. “Then we broke up, I start my own shit: Flipmode… There was always a lineage. I’m always an advocate for putting out artists, breaking artists, creating legacies and careers – and being able to pass on the information, giving them some guidance. Something that we can be proud of.”

Past what most would consider his peak years, Busta collaborated with artists including Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, DJ Khaled, ASAP Ferg, O.T. Genasis and more, plus projects with his contemporaries, like The Abstract and the Dragon mixtape with Q-Tip. Some may argue he needs to sit down and chill, especially after he fell off stage a few years ago during a performance. Bus claims he’s not trying to keep up with the young cats, just stay connected. He’s not stopping yet, either. Producer 9th Wonder tweeted a couple of years ago that new Busta music is coming, and I personally have confirmation that he is, indeed, in the studio. He still loves this, and still wants us to feel how he feels.

In 1998, Tourè asked Busta what kept him motivated in his career. Busta’s response was that there was no other option. “I attribute that to having no Plan B. No other plan of survival. A sense of determination that’s so extreme, I can’t accept failure as an option. I dropped out of school in the tenth grade; I don’t know any trades; I don’t know any particular field of business. If I don’t win at this rap shit, then I’ma really be fucked up.”

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#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past. 

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Window display at Harmony Music Shop, a record store in New York City, New York, possibly located in the Bronx, 1980. (Photo via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images).
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10 Classic Vinyls To Add To Your Collection For National Record Store Day

Record Store Day is often used to collect new or limited edition vinyl, but why not go against the grain and do a deep dive?

Saturday (April 13) is a day of events for music lovers, especially those fascinated with the crackles and pops of an enjoyable vinyl. As record stores bring out their best pieces, Sonos has done the same with their vinyl set ($799 USD) that includes a Play:5 and a Pro-Ject Essential III Phono. The innovative setup allows you to use their helpful app to play the records (if you're trying to live in the future).

 

But you can't have a setup without records. Beastie Boys, NWA, Eminem and Outkast all have must-have albums to add to your collection, but there are many others that deserve a spin.

Enjoy these picks and make sure you add them to your collection today.

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Diana Ross, Everything Is Everything (1970) Donna Summer, Donna Summer on The Radio Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2 (1979) J.Cole, KOD (2018) Childish Gambino, Awaken My Love! Virtual Reality Vinyl (2017) Miriam Makeba, The Voice Of Africa (1964) Nipsey Hussle, Victory Lap (2LP Vinyl) (2018) Flying Lotus, Captian Murphy's Duality (2012)

Editor's Note: Flying Lotus' alter ego project is extremely hard to find so save your coins for when it comes your way.

Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain (1984) Jay-Z, 4:44 (2017)

Editor's Note: Okay, we know officially the album isn't on vinyl, so be wary of bootleggers. This is also a gentle reminder for Mr. Carter to drop his critically acclaimed album on wax! 

J.I.D., The Never Story (2018)

Learn more about Sonos' vinyl set here.

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