Busta Rhymes has enough charisma to fill up a football stadium. He wore a
freaking Mariachi outfit to the MTV Video Music Awards, for chrissake, and
he made his group, the Flipmode Squad, wear 'em, too. Could Puffy pull that
off? Try imagining Mase in tassels.
The fact is, Busta can pull off just about anything. He's so charming that you
want him to succeed -- and when he does, especially in his weird, winning
videos, you're satisfied. So right there, The Imperial, Flipmode
Squad's debut record, gets the benefit of the doubt.
Charming or not, Busta's records were both -- as a friend of mine said --
endurance tests. He's totally overwhelming, and while it's nice for three
minutes at a time, you need a break every once in a while. Putting himself
in a group setting seems just the thing -- a whole record full of Bustaness
but without quite so much, er, Busta.
Believe it or not, Flipmode Squad really are a group. Though Busta's higher
profile means his voice oversees the whole record, this is no vanity
project. The six "Flipmodians" -- Busta, Rampage, Lord Have Mercy, Spliff
Star, Rah Digga and Baby Sham -- all have flow, and none of 'em are junior
Bustas. No one comes off as the record's star; instead, each voice supports
the others -- much like Busta's previous crew, the Leaders of the New
Maybe that comparison's unfair. After all, hip-hop is a very different game
these days, far more part of mainstream culture than when Busta was just
starting out. If anything, Flipmode don't really have much to prove, and
though they're all talented, you wonder if they'd have made it this far if
it weren't for their mentor.
It's probably not worth worrying about. Predicting hip-hop trends is about
as exact a science as predicting the fluctuations of the stock market.
The Imperial has
blue-chip numbers like "Everybody on the Line Outside" and "To My People"
to recommend it. But who knows if the public will bite?
"Everybody" has the same smooth and jittery feel of "Put Your Hands Where
My Eyes Can See" and could easily end up being the party track of the fall.
Ditto "Cha Cha Cha," which has the disarmingly silly chorus "Ya'll people
wanna get down/ ya suckers wanna battle/ now what ya'll wanna do?/ let's
cha cha cha cha cha."
Rah Digga, Flipmode's only woman, makes her strong presence known on
"Settin It Off" and "This Is What Happens," and though her delivery isn't
that distinctive, she makes the biggest impact out of her sheer force. Lord
Have Mercy, like Rah Digga an alumnus of the Lyricist Lounge, has the
opposite problem; his flow is the most unique of the five non-Bustas, but,
for whatever reason, he fails to shine. Rampage, Spliff Star and Baby Sham
are all capable and each gets a juicy part of a track or two to make
But, yes indeed, it's Busta's Bustaness that glues the record together.
He's infectious -- you feel what he demands you feel, and usually it's
have a good time Right Now. Providing 100 percent of the recommended
allowance of Busta Rhymes, The Imperial isn't The Low End
Theory, but it is ultimately satisfying (if not quite nutritionally