HOLLYWOOD — Busta Rhymes is in Stevie Wonder's new video, but don't expect to see any of his usual eye-catching antics. In fact, don't expect to see him at all.
Under Wonder's guidance, Busta recorded an audio track that will serve as narration for the first descriptive music video for the visually impaired. Basically, it's an alternate audio channel for "So What the Fuss" that features Rhymes describing everything that's going on in the video ("Stevie's playing a pearl-white drum set ... a white girl gets her hair braided by her black friend").
Sort of like closed captioning for the blind, "descriptive" TV shows have been available for a few years via modern television sets' SAP (secondary audio program) capabilities, which allow stations to broadcast other information to the viewer, such as the program's audio track in another language. Descriptive movies are also available, but until now, no music videos.
"This is bigger than Stevie Wonder. This is for other artists, other singers, other rappers, other groups, to do the same so the millions of blind people who watch MTV can watch with their ears," Wonder said Monday after screening the video for members of the media live in Hollywood and via satellite to New York. "It's only the right thing to do."
Wonder got the idea after listening to the "oh"s and "ah"s of his staff while they watched his "So What the Fuss" video for the first time. "I spent all this money on it, I wanted to know what was happening," Wonder said with a smile.
Paul Hunter, whose credits include clips for Dr. Dre, Marilyn Manson and Christina Aguilera, directed the video. Along with performance footage of Wonder and En Vogue, who sing on the tune, the clip features mostly scenes of young people dancing, partying and enjoying life.
"I had some ideas of it being an urban but multicultural situation with people dealing with what's happening in today's world," Wonder said. "You've got people that are poor, just trying to do the best they can."
When Wonder went to Hunter with his idea to do a descriptive version, the director happily wrote out a script for his treatment. Wanting a voice different than his own, Wonder approached the gravelly Busta, whom he'd met when he recorded a guest vocal for Rhymes' next album.
"I said, 'Read this and look at the video and describe it as the script says,' " Wonder recalled. "He was kind of stiff at first, so I said, 'Busta, do it how you would do it. Put Busta in it.' So he was like, 'All right, here's how it's going down,' and it worked."
"I had to be a part of a revolution," Busta said in a video Wonder played for media. "It was fun. [Eventually, I was] dancing all over the music. I started to connect in a whole new way."
"So What the Fuss," a funky dance tune, started out as a sound Wonder heard in his head that merged country and rap elements with soul. It took on a new life when Prince got onboard to play guitar on the track.
"He came by the studio and played some stuff he was working on, and I played him some stuff," Wonder said. "I had a synthesizer thing on there but I wanted the real deal, and he's the real deal, and it just worked really, really good. I played drums on there and he worked really good with the groove."
The lyrics came from something Wonder heard President Bush say that included the line "shame on you."
"If we live in a time where every nation's fightin' round the world/ Yet we can't all agree that peace is the way/ Shame on us," Wonder sings. "Shame on me/ Shame on you/ Shame on them/ Shame on us/ So what the fuss."
"The point of the song is we know what the deal is," Wonder said. "So what the fuss?"
"So What the Fuss" is the first single from Wonder's first album in 10 years, A Time to Love, due June 14. India.Arie is also featured on the album.