50 Years of Hip Hop: Busta Rhymes

Art by Sarah Tarlin
Art by Sarah Tarlin

We're celebrating 50 years of Hip-Hop by taking you inside the life and work of legendary MC's. This week: Busta Rhymes. Make sure to listen to ERS+ where history continues to unfold.

By Mo Wilks, Secret Spot Host


EARLY YEARS- Jamiacan Roots and Hip Hop on the Radio

Busta Rhymes emerged onto the rap scene in the early 1990's adding his gravely raspy flow to the Golden Era of Hip Hop. Born Trevor Smith, Jr. May 20, 1972 in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York, both of his parents were from Jamaica. Busta's Jamaican heritage would play a large role in not only his prideful presentation, but attitude and rhyme style. Busta became interested in Hip Hop at age ten listening to Bronx producer Afrika Islam's Zulu Beats Radio Show. 

Busta attended school with Christopher "Notorious B.I.G.' Wallace and Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter. Jay-Z and Busta would battle in school, but Busta was always thought his career was in dancing.  During his years in Uniondale, L.I. Busta Rhymes would bounce around in different breakdancing crews, dropping out of school briefly to pursue dance and occasionally write rap poetry. He went by the emcee name Chill-o-ski.  



Rhymes would eventually link up with fellow Long Islanders co-founder Bryan Higgins a.k.a. Charlie Brown, James Jackson, a.k.a. Dinco D and Sheldon Scott a.k.a. Cut Monitor Milo. They would go on to form the hip hop trio Leaders of the New School or L.O.N.S. The group would get their big break as the opening act for Public Enemy led by Chuck D., a fellow Long Islander. Chuck blessed him with a new name, Busta Rhymes after the 1980's football player George 'Buster' Rhymes and because people always asked him to "bust-a-rhyme" freestyle. By December 1989, at 17, Busta and his Leaders of the New School crew signed to Elektra Records. Their first album, "A Future Without a Past" was released in 1991.

Their first album was a Hip Hop back to the future album, reminiscent of pioneer's like Funky Four + One and The Furious Five, complete with a call-and-response style emcee style. It also introduced audiences to Busta's toast-master Jamaica ragga style of rhyming. "Case of the P.T.A." was the album's biggest single. They released their second album in 1993.


Between their freshman and sophomore albums, L.O.N.S. grew their profile in three big ways; collaboration, The Native Tongues and the song Scenario.

The Native Tongues rap collective consisted of Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Monie Love, Queen Latifah, Black Sheep, and Chi-Ali. In 1991, A Tribe Called Quest reached out to L.O.N.S. to make one of the most significant songs of its era, "Scenario" and unleashed Busta Rhymes into the pop music world.

The growing popularity of Busta Rhymes began to erode the strength of the group's unity. In 1994, Leaders Of The New School would officially break up, working only one more time in 1996 on Rhymes debut album "The Coming".  


1996: WOO! HAH!

His debut album featured the hits "Woo Hah!!" and "Got You All In Check", which brought back the famous Sugar Hill Gang lyric and solidified Busta as a star to watch.

"When Disaster Strikes..." Busta's follow up album contained the club anthem, "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" in 1997. Rhymes skillfully carried his vocals like a modern-day Cab Calloway from 'Minnie the Moocher'. The song's music video paid homage to actor Eddie Murphy's 1988 movie  'Coming To America'. The video allowed Busta to take full advantage of his already larger than life persona.

Rhymes would record 10 studio albums and create over 50 music videos.  In 1995, he would appear on screen in the movie Higher Learning, directed by John Singleton. In 2000, he appeared in Finding Forrester alongside Sean Connery and The Shaft movie reboot starring Samuel L. Jackson. In 2012, the rap dragon rose again to slay audiences with the fiery legendary feature on Chris Brown's hit "Look At Me Now" ft. Lil Wayne.  

Today, Busta Rhymes is still touring and releasing music.  During the pandemic, Rhymes even challenged a few rappers on Verzuz. All declined to get into the verbal arena with the larger than life Busta Rhymes.


Who Busta Rhymes INFLUENCED:

Travis Barker


Rah Diggah


Missy Elliot

Buju Banton

Fife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest



George Clinton

Jimi Hendrix

Chuck D and The Bomb Squad

Bob Marley

Shabba Ranks

Super Cat



1997 Grammy Nomination Best Rap Solo Performance, "Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check"

1998 Grammy Nomination Best Rap Solo Performance, "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See"

1999 The Source Awards Music Video of the Year  What's It Gonna Be?!" (featuring Janet Jackson) Winner

2000 Grammy Nomination Best Rap Solo Performance, "Gimme Some More"

2000 Grammy Nomination Best Rap Performance By a Duo or Group, "What's It Gonna Be?!" (featuring Janet Jackson)

2000 Soul Train Music Awards The Michael Jackson Award for Best R&B/Soul or Rap Music Video "What's It Gonna Be", Winner


L.O.N.S. - "Case of P.T.A."

L.O.N.S. - "What's Next"

ATCQ - "Scenario ft. Busta Rhymes"

Solo - "Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check"

'Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See'

'Gimme Some More'

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