Nineties hip-hop icon Busta Rhymes has returned with a bold statement on Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God—the long-gestating follow-up to his 1998 critically acclaimed album, Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front. He hasn’t released a body of work since 2012. That year’s Year of the Dragon lacked focus and scope. While The Wrath of God benefits from a tighter foundation, connecting with its predecessor and the difficulties 2020 has presented for everyone—the album comes apart toward the end of its 22-song track list.
Fans of golden-age hip-hop will be happy to find the production is dominated with an array of boom-bap beats featuring the likes of Swiss Beatz, Pete Rock, J Dilla and DJ Premier. Comedian Chris Rock also appears throughout the album, serving as Busta Rhymes’ hype-man as he raves about Rhymes’ return to the game. The songs take on more orchestral qualities with his use of brass, woodwinds and strings instead of more contemporary synthetic sounds.
The album opens with “E.L.E. 2 Intro,” a seven-minute track where a spoken-word piece summarizes a cataclysmic event that’s shattered the world. A combination of a punitive God unleashing his wrath and the hapless self-destructive tendencies of peopled have helped to usher in the apocalyptic undertaking as the bell tolls. Busta Rhymes enters with a verse proclaiming his experience of prophetic knowledge of the world’s impending doom. The track features legend Rakim, who expounds on environmental catastrophes in connection with the text of Judgement Day.
This song introduces a motif of deterioration. Many of the songs, in fact, feature crackling and popping sounds one would expect from an extremely worn-out vinyl record—without detracting from the sound quality, of course.
Songs like “The Purge,” the title track and “Freedom?” directly cite outrage at police brutality and systemic racism in the U.S., as Busta Rhymes expresses his solidarity with protesters all over the country. “While Trump is present with a mouth screaming louder than trumpets/ While you bow to the puppets, I’ma stand and stick around for the judgement/ Use the world’s stage with a God crown to put it down for the public,” he raps on the title track with his iconic growly, staccato flow.
Busta Rhymes also takes on a more boastful and domineering posture, reflecting on his career as a distinguished MC while delivering some head-spinning verses. “Czar,” featuring MOP; “Outta My Mind,” “Slow Flow,” which samples Ol’ Dirty Bastard; and “Don’t Go,” with Q Tip, are just the tip of the iceberg.
“Slow Flow” deviates with a striking 8-bit melody and accompanying garage-y percussion. On this one Busta Rhymes delivers what is easily one of the best verses on the album—a concept verse on which he name-drops many all-time classic hip-hop albums.
Unfortunately, much of the apocalyptic theme at the outset eventually becomes sidelined. The whole apocalyptic storyline fades into some personal tracks about Busta’s relationships with women—and they don’t hold up well. “The Don & The Boss,” “Best I Can” (with Rapsody) and “Where I Belong” (with Mariah Carey!) are out of place and rough around the edges.
“Best I Can” in particular might rub listeners the wrong way. Rapsody’s talents feel exploited as she takes on the role of his baby-mama who’s dealing with feelings of inadequacy and subsequently owning up to her flaws. Busta Rhymes wastes no time at all going off on her with an antagonistic verse that feels kind of unjustified with Rapsody’s verse in mind.
Thankfully, the album finds its dynamic footing again on “Deep Thought,” where listeners get a glimpse at the clashing of thoughts on Busta Rhymes’ mind. Meanwhile, “Look Over Your Shoulder” features Kendrick Lamar and samples The Jackson Five’s “I’ll Be There” as both Kendrick and Busta reaffirm their dedication to hip-hop.
Closer “Satanic” attempts to tie together the end of the album with the overall theme, as rolling thunder and sparse electric guitar rides in the background. Busta Rhymes goes off about the hypocrisy he’s seen over the past 12 months, but the track seems futile considering how off-topic the album has become by this point. Nonetheless, Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God is a welcome return to form from one of the greatest rappers ever.
Here’s hoping that his premonition about the actual end of the world doesn’t come come to pass.
Follow editor Tim Hoffman at Twitter.com/hipsterp0tamus.