Was Busta Rhymes ever an anarchist? His love of money and material things would suggest otherwise, but despite mainstream success, his earlier albums followed a pretty atypical theme. His debut The Coming and subsequent two albums are threaded with apocalyptic visions, looking toward the year 2000 as a doomsday clock would. With Anarchy, the new millennium has arrived, and with it a state of (purported) socio-political disarray.
Thus the cover of Anarchy looks more like something from Rancid or Iron Maiden than a rapper who had, in 1999, just reached #3 on Billboard with a Janet Jackson-featuring single. The heavy metal energy is there, but behind the dark presentation is an unsung masterpiece, arguably the most fun and passionate release in Busta Rhymes’ discography.
It doesn’t hurt that the first real song on here flips “Betcha by Golly Wow” into an addictive soulful beat that works as a perfect introduction into the world of the album (think Jay-Z’s “December 4th”). The next 9 tracks, featuring beats from J Dilla, Swizz Beatz, Scott Storch and Just Blaze are pure gold, all solo Busta at the top of his game with a couple notable peaks. Just Blaze’s “Street Shit” wobbles with that turn-of-the-century bounce you find in tracks by Timbaland. Shit slaps. On the other end of the spectrum is “Show Me What You Got”, a Dilla classic that flips Stereolab(!) into something marvelous (Busta’s words, mind).
The second half of the album is where the features are, with some interesting appearances. “The Heist” is, as far as I can tell, Roc Marciano’s first appearance on record (this happening a decade before his debut album), and he sounds great, which is no small feat when rapping after Rae and Ghostface. But to his credit, Busta Rhymes’ final verse annihilates the ones before it. “Make Noise” with Lenny Kravitz is as palatable as Goodie Mob’s rock track “Just About Over”, which is to say that it’s a lot at first, buuut give it a chance and it works. I mean, Busta had already featured Ozzy Osbourne on 1998’s ELE, so it’s not the craziest feature. And in any case it’s worth it just to hear Busta repeatedly exclaim, “Busta Rhymes! Lenny Kravitz!” Dude, I know. Awesome.
“How Much We Grew” is a beautiful track in which Busta takes you from his birth to his adolescence on a journey of reminiscence. “A Trip Out of Town” is captivating with its dramatic storytelling and unexpected turn. “Why We Die” opens with a typically emotive DMX and finds Jay-Z at his most contemplative (“They say the good die young / In the hood where I’m from / I only got one question for that- / Why the fuck am I here?”). I could go on listing great songs here.
Anarchy brims over with passion. Most Busta albums are long, and he’s surely a hard-worker. But other than his still under-appreciated debut The Coming, none of his releases are as consistent as Anarchy. The energy, technical skill, style, hell, even the adlibs are potent over the albums 22 tracks. Other than a couple f-slurs (smh), it’s hard for me to find fault in this album, which is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets in early 2000s hip-hop.
Listen to Anarchy here.