The Dragon Vies For The Crown (Of Thorns)

Updated: Dec 7, 2020


Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God

Thesis: ✭ ✭ ✭

Lyrics: ✭ ✭ ✭

Technique: ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Beats: ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Overall: ✭ ✭ ✭ ½


Notable Tracks:

“The Purge”, “Slow Flow”, “True Indeed”, “Master Fard Muhammad”, “YUUUU”


Scottie Pippen Award:

Nottz


It can’t be reiterated enough: 2020 has been a Year Without Precedent™. From wildfires to pandemics, from the rise of fascism to the disintegration of trust and consensus the world over, the theme of 'cataclysm' has truly and relentlessly inundated us . With all of these outlandishly and dramatically destructive events occurring either simultaneously or in close sequence, it can become difficult to dismiss it all as coincidence — even at the neurological level.


Our brains thrive off of pattern recognition, so much so that natural selection has conditioned us to identify patterns even in places or scenarios where none exist. So if you’ve somehow managed to avoid these cognitive traps, you’d be in the minority; around 51% of people admit to believing in at least one conspiracy theory. And with the release of Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God (ELE 2), the OG emcee Busta Rhymes — known in some circles as the Dragon — takes his own beliefs to a whole new level.


At the beginning of his solo career, Busta Rhymes constructed cinematic narratives around the idea that the world was going to end in the year 2000. Fast-forward two-and-a-half decades and on ELE 2, Chris Rock — who replaces the likes of Lord Have Mercy and Rampage in the role of both narrator and hype man — even screams out “There’s only five years left” in direct reference to Busta’s acclaimed efforts from the late 90’s. Given the way 2020 has gone, it isn’t all too surprising that Busta Rhymes has chosen to resurrect this ethos.


ELE 2 attempts to accomplish two things. Firstly, Busta Rhymes situates himself as a modern-day “prophet”, asserting to the listener his thesis that we are indeed living through the Apocalypse — the End Times that have been foretold in various Abrahamic religious texts. Despite this suffocatingly dark context, the underlying message he puts forth is one of hope; essentially, Busta proclaims that the night is darkest just before the dawn, and if we are prepared and vigilant, we can ensure that the End Times give way to a 'New Beginning.'


Secondly, with this album, Busta Rhymes strives to cement his status as a 'god emcee,' where he'd theoretically belong in the same pantheon as some of his contemporaries (Jay-Z, Nas, Biggie, Black Thought, etc.).

While his lyricism may fade into nebulous, breezy and inconsequential territories, Busta leans heavily on showcasing his technique — specifically, the impressive range he possesses for his delivery and flow schemes, as well as his precision when it comes to flow and syllable placement.


As Busta Rhymes proudly crows on the banger Czar: “You know my whole aesthetic: energy; kinetic” — the emcee’s artistry is exemplified less through what he says, and more through how he says it. In the words of his hype man Chris Rock, what matters most is how the record makes you, the listener, feel. Indeed, his mastery of technique, he argues, is enough to get him into that upper echelon.


Is Busta’s argument convincing? Is the Dragon able to assemble a case strong enough to support his thesis? Let’s get into it:


1) E.L.E. 2 Intro feat. Chris Rock, Rakim and Pete Rock (produced by Busta Rhymes & Nottz)


Hearing a cinematic opening on a Busta Rhymes album is like meeting up with an old friend. It’d be comforting if it wasn’t immediately clear that this album will be heavily steeped in conspiracy theories. Busta mentions the New World Order, “false flag” events, masons and so on.


He suggests that Hollywood is utilized to prime the masses to accept future machinations, mentioning that films about the end of the world, like Deep Impact and 2012, had Black presidents, thus foretelling how the cataclysms of 2020 closely followed Barack Obama’s years of service. He suggests that COVID-19 was created by the “Powers That Be”?! He insists that nothing we’re witnessing is coincidental. This rabbit hole is going DEEP.


Dope to see Busta get back to producing, though. He and Nottz weave a beat that winds and wanders along comfortably. Nineties as fuck. The drums drop out at the key point of the track, ensuring that Busta and Rakim’s lyrics are situated front and center and impossible to ignore. It concludes with a dope allusion to Nas’ Illmatic, with Pete Rock chanting: “Who’s world is this? It’s mine” The world belongs to the people.


Chris Rock, thank God, sandwiches this heaviness with hilarity and levity, getting us hype to have a new album from an emcee as legendary as Busta Rhymes.



Well…that’s one way to start an album.



2) “The Purge” (produced by Swizz Beats and Avenue)


Okay, here we go! Salute to the producers, because this beat is disgusting. The kicks are nicely layered, with just a dash of distortion. The way it perfectly sets the emotional table makes this beat the perfect “Track 2” instrumental. It builds potential hype and energy while promising pay off later on in the album.


This is belligerent protest music. “Sorry, country, I know you don’t want this really, but until we get us some justice, we’re fucking every city up.” Word. Busta’s technique is clean; sticks to a solid pocket, and he keeps the multis going. One’s head is instantly nodding.


3) “Strap Yourself Down” (produced by J. Dilla and Pete Rock)


This beat’s as good as you’d expect it to be given its creators. Good swing, timeless kicks. But Busta is here to show off. Voices! He’s showing his prowess when it comes to delivery, giving the listener a sampling of his ridiculous range. Lyrically…well, by his own admission, he’s talking shit; his first words are “talk shit every time I talk”, so there you go.


Beat switch! Yes! Busta goes from showcasing his delivery to showcasing his flow. This second beat has samples that are reminiscent of “Woo Hah!”. The Dragon doesn’t miss a step and just keeps floating over these instrumentals while simultaneously chewing them to bits.


4) “Czar” feat. M.O.P. (produced by Rockwilder)


Chris Rock is back to remind us that Busta Rhymes is a legend. I f*cking dig it, not gonna lie. He makes for a great hype man.


Classic Rockwilder beat. Loud, incessant and almost violent. Busta matches the energy without hesitation or difficulty, talking that 2000’s-era Genesis shit. M.O.P. shows up just to do background hypes! Gotta make sure the song reaches Maximum Hype Levels™.


5) “Outta My Mind” feat. Bell Biv DeVoe (produced by Busta Rhymes and Dready)


Okay, now Busta is really showing off. He and Dready construct a beat that is deliberately irregular just so The Dragon can show us that he’ll effortlessly float over it all the same. And if it isn’t immediately apparent, he let’s us know just how dope he is via his continued stream of wonderful, hype shit-talking. But there is a clear intention here; Busta seeks to, in his own words, “reinstate boom-bap and redefine sound”.


The “Poison” sample and the “Pass the Courvoisier Part II” allusion combine for the richest of nostalgias. This track is the “weird diamond in the rough” track — “Hot Fudge” meets “Abandon Ship”, but with “Gimme Some More” energy. You’ll either love it or hate it.


6) “E.L.E. 2 The Wrath of God” feat. Minister Louis Farrakhan (produced by Busta Rhymes and Nottz)


Okay, all that sh*t-talking was fun, but we were going have to get back to the serious stuff sooner rather than later. Title track, here we go.

Back to the cinematic, film score music; classic Busta Rhymes production. And here comes Farrakhan. I’m cringing, personally; calling this man “controversial” would be too gracious. That being said, the man’s gravitas is undeniable. His words are fire and brimstone aimed right at white supremacy. He reminds us of what Thomas Jefferson once said “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that his justice cannot sleep”. Warnings and threats of vengeance and retribution. Whoo-boy.


The cinematic music bleeds into the beat. Nottz has been putting in work. Here comes the head-nodding and the screw face, here comes Busta Rhymes and here comes the rest of his thesis. He makes the argument that the current discourse surrounding masculinity is actually a weapon of white supremacy. The aim is to de-fang Black men in order to diminish their ability to be effective resist and rebel against injustice.


In his mind, protests and marches have led to zero results — but because Black men have been demasculinized, this ineffective resistance is all we’re capable of mustering. In essence, Busta Rhymes, assuming his 'prophetic role,' is asserting that Black men must stand up in their holy role as soldiers in God’s army — as His weapon of retribution against white supremacy.


Okay. Cool, cool, cool. Yeah, can’t say that I agree with this framing, but go off. Heavy stuff.


7) “Slow Flow” feat. Ol’ Dirty Bastard (produced by Nottz)


ODB’s dusty, absurdist energy is a breath of fresh air, billowing in right on time. Nottz, on the other hand, is quietly putting together his own opus on this album. The combination is impeccable. Sheesh.


Busta returns to his loveable shit-talking mode. Lyrically, he drops references to classic Hip-Hop albums to illustrate his own legendary status. This is probably his least-impressive effort technique-wise, but that is more than offset by Nottz’s crazy beat and ODB’s incredible hook. This one is definitely a “diamond in the rough” candidate.


This track also marks a clear down-turn in the energy level, as well. We’re on our way south, taking it a little more easy after the feverish heights of “Czar”, “Strap Yourself Down” and “E.L.E. 2”.


8) “Don’t Go” feat. Q-Tip (produced by Focus the A.R.M.)


Busta continues to take his feet off the accelerator here. Focus the A.R.M. provides a softer beat — or, as Busta Rhymes puts it, a beat has you feeling as if you’re “floating down the Milky Way”.


Busta matches the instrumental’s softness with a cool, laid-back delivery and temperament. This energy is somewhat superficial, though; lyrically, he insists on his supremacy, reminding the listener of the many years in which Busta tracks dominated clubs, airwaves and streets everywhere. There are a few strands of bitterness laced between the lines, and he even hints that ELE 2 could be his last album.


Here’s where the beat choice comes into play, however; its softness melts this bitterness into something approaching nostalgia and sentimentality. And right on time, in comes Q-Tip with the OG pep talk. The Abstract urges Busta to not “move angrily” — to take it back to when The Dragon’s Hip-Hop was saturated with positive energy. Q-Tip reminds him that the game has forever respected and marveled at his skill, that he has nothing left to prove and that he should enjoy his own prowess.


If Q-Tip is the angel on Busta’s right, Chris Rock crashes the track towards its end as the devil on Busta’s left. It’s awesome, it’s hype and it’s enjoyable as fuck.


9) “Boomp!” (produced by DJ Scratch)


The energy decreases once again. At this point, I’m hoping it doesn’t get any lower; this track struck me as being largely forgettable. Great to see Busta working with DJ Scratch again, but there isn’t much about this song that stands out. I just found myself waiting for it to finish.


10) “True Indeed” (produced by DJ Premier)


As dope as you’d expect a Preemo beat that samples “Woo Hah!” to be. Energy-wise, we’re thankfully on our way back up. Busta approaches his first DJ Premier collab as one might expect, as well, going in heavy on his technique. “You wanna rhyme, ni**a,” he asks right before absolutely packing the instrumental to the gills with as many multis as he can manage.


Classic, standard shit-talking Buss lyrics here. Track ends with a poop punchline, for what it’s worth.


11) “Master Fard Muhammad” feat. Rick Ross (feat. Hi-Tek & Terrace Martin)


So apparently the album is now starting; in the transition into this track, Busta drawls “a’ight, we ready to start now?”


I saw that Rick Ross was featured, and completely understood why as soon as the beat kicked in and I took in its lavishness. Rick Ross sets the table for Buss, weaving a story about his come-up: from being called Bruce Bruce in middle school, sleeping on floors and in cars; to buying his mother a house and riding in stretch Maybach limousines. Master Fard Muhammad is invoked as simply a metaphor to describe how luxurious Rick Ross’ life has become following his early hardships.


But again, Rick Ross is merely setting the table. “Master Fard Muhammad” is about Busta Rhymes, who in turn invokes the NOI 'prophet' to describe how many people he and his swag have fathered. And the swag is on full display throughout his verse — one that will probably go down as Busta’s flawless gem on this album. Over the course of eight five-bar stanzas, Busta Rhymes flexes a flow that wields fierce precision reminiscent of Pharoahe Monch.


Lyrically, he pats himself on the back for his relentless hustle that has afforded him longevity and success, while at the same time lamenting that he rarely sees this same quality in the young Black men coming up around him.


Chris Rock the hype man returns right on time, reminding the listener that they just experienced some real heat and to “take notes; write it down, get a pad” and learn from a god emcee. I’m with it.


12) “YUUUU” feat. Anderson .Paak (produced by Anderson .Paak)


Oh ok, onto the 2020 pop aesthetic now. Contemporary sounds. Sonically, it’s a significant departure from what Buss has offered up to this point, but personally I’m with it.


I’ve been a fan of .Paak since Malibu. He’s one of the few contemporary “urban” artists that have excited me, and he and his efforts don’t disappoint here. He floats over his own beat as if it was a mix between a hot tub and a lazy river.


Holistically, .Paak’s and Busta’s verse run in parallel, shifting energies at identical points and in identical ways. (Hey, it’s a pop song, so repetition and familiarity are tantamount.) But the Dragon hits the shifts and flows at a level of proficiency that .Paak isn’t capable of reaching. It’s fitting that this track appears on the sequel to ELE with Busta Rhymes bringing back “Gimme Some More” types of technique.


This track is all vibes, and it’s a vibe that resonates. I’m down.


13) “Oh No” (produced by Dready)


More 2020 contemporary sounds. This is obviously supposed to be the “fuck up the club” track — a modern “Ante Up” or “Never Scared”. Matches and modernizes the energy of the first half’s “Czar”. It’s actually a shame that COVID-19 will deprive club goers of this experience.


14) “The Don & The Boss” feat. Vybz Kartel (produced by Schife)


I wasn’t surprised to discover that this track had been the first single release of the album; it has that vapid, inconsequential air to it, which is a tad unfortunate. It’s not bad! Has a nice bounce to it, and I can see it having some club success.


Vybz’s offering is somewhat forgettable, unfortunately, and while Busta goes ham with his flow and technique, it’s not enough to offset how ordinary the track feels.


15) “Best I Can” feat. Rapsody (produced by 9th Wonder)


The club detour has concluded, and now we’re getting into some storytelling with Busta sticking up for all the baby fathers out there! He and Rapsody act out a conversation between a man and woman trying to do their best to co-parent, and both agree that the woman has been tripping.


Good, classic 9th production; good verses; good storytelling. It’s all good. It’s a good song, and a nice album cut.


16) “Where I Belong” feat. Mariah Carey (produced by Rick Rock and Navi Beats)


This song, intentionally, sounds almost exactly like the early-2000’s smash hit “I Know What You Want”. Busta out here trying to get lightning to strike twice.


The song operates as a part 2 to the story that was started in “Best I Can”: our protagonist goes from arguing with his baby's mom to serenading the women he left his baby mom for, who has since become the love of his life.


It ends with a questionable speed-rap section. I could’ve done without it, to be honest. Not great. Overall, Busta is quickly losing steam on the album, and we’re hearing the slippage is both his lyrics and his technique. The thing is officially reaching “too long” status.


17) “Deep Thought” (produced by Busta Rhymes)


Part 3, if you will, of our story here, this time with our protagonist settling in with the love of his life following his serenade. She can sense that he’s troubled and invites him to be vulnerable; eventually he opens up and lets her know what’s on his mind.

And what’s on his mind is the passing of Chris Lighty, the co-founder of the Violator. In 2012, the music exec was found dead in his own home, from a gunshot wound that was apparently self-inflicted. Busta thinks otherwise and views the event as an unsolved murder. He promises that he won’t rest until he gets to the bottom of it — until he brings those who committed this crime to justice. Heavy shit.


Not much more to say, really. The beat is simple and serviceable with an interesting hitch to it, but really nothing to write home about. A more laid-back version of “Abandon Ship” with regard to the drums.


18) “The Young God Speaks” (produced by Busta Rhymes)


Michael Jackson vocals from “I’ll Be There” over the same beat. Sounds good. A nice interlude and works as a seamless transition between tracks.


19) “Look Over Shoulder” feat. Kendrick Lamar (prod. Nottz)


More Nottz heat, and Kendrick offers his usual excellence. Like Lebron, his brilliance hardly registers anymore because he’s just so consistent. A technical tour-de-force the way he flips flows without thinking. Busta does his best to keep up, but he starts off with what is my least-favorite of his flow schemes. His flow improves as the verse continues, but I don’t know, despite the technical prowess on display here, I found this track largely forgettable.


20) “You Will Never Find Another Me” feat. Mary J. Blige (produced by Busta Rhymes)


This is probably Busta’s best production work on this album; the beat is perfect for Mary, who’s going off and going in. Both she and Busta proclaim that they are each one of one, and explain how that fact alone cements their legendary statuses.


While Mary is giving it her all, Busta takes his foot all the way off the accelerator and allows the Hip-Hop Soul queen to take center stage. It’s a wonderful gesture. He throws some nice multis in there — but, overall, his straight-forward, ordinary technique renders his efforts forgettable.


21) “Freedom?” feat. Nikki Grier (produced by Nottz)


Nottz continues with his heavy lifting and Nikki Grier offers some soulful sounds. We’re back to protest music; the ethos of the second song of the album mirrors the album’s second-to-last track. This one is slower, however, less confrontational, more somber and mournful.


Busta, while lamenting the crisis of Black death at the hands of the state, parallel’s the music lower energy level with his verses. The lyrics are poignant, but the technique is replacement-level at best. Some of the rhymes are even a bit cringe-worthy. This album is kind of ending with a whimper here.


22) “Satanic” (produced by Rockwilder)


With the title, I’m immediately reminded of how Genesis ended with “Bad Dreams”, on some horrorcore sh*t. Nevertheless, here comes Busta with the “realest words from [his] heart”, and these words accuse industry folks of being devil-worshippers. He keeps it fairly general, though he does allude to Kanye West being one of them.


Not only does he call these folks out, but he serves up an admonishing of the highest order. He wags his metaphorical finger at the perpetrators, warning them that what they’re doing will only come back to hurt them, and it will hurt them plenty. But he also encourages them, knowing that they can fight and return to the holy side of things.


I’ll be honest: by this point in the album, I’m no longer fully engaged. The energy of the project has been on a slow decline since “YUUUU”, a full ten songs ago. I know Busta is trying to serve we, the listeners, some science here, but it stopped being a thoroughly enjoyable listen at some point.

And here comes Chris Rock to close it out, bringing that same comical, manic energy. He repeats, over and over, that “you ni**as can’t f*ck with the god Busta Rhymes”.


After taking in ELE 2, I’m not sure how completely I can agree with Chris Rock’s sentiment. All that hype and energy that was promised at its beginning didn’t pay off as well as I had hoped. After dragging itself to the finish line, one is left questioning whether or not the album would have been better served if it was half as long.


By: Matthew William Carter



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