Busta Rhymes has been a hip-hop heavyweight since the ’90s, but these days he’s feeling light on his feet.
“I was 340 pounds — and it was challenging as hell to come to terms with that — but I currently weigh 254 pounds, so I’m almost down 100 pounds,” said Rhymes, 48, who recently posted before and after pics of his body transformation on Instagram. “I had the stomach that looked like I was nine months pregnant, and then I had the stomach with the six-pack.”
Rhymes has been New York rap royalty for decades — first as a member of Leaders of the New School and then as a solo star. Along the way, he’s racked up 12 Grammy nominations while scoring hits such as “Woo-Hah!! Got You All in Check,” “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” and “What’s It Gonna Be?!” (featuring Janet Jackson).
The latter track was a Top 5 single off of Rhymes’ platinum 1998 album “E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front,” and his new album arrives as a sequel 22 years later. But the Brooklyn-based MC (born Trevor George Smith Jr.) isn’t the same Busta anymore.
“I was a lot more naive to certain things,” he said. “I definitely was a lot more uncomfortable with sharing my vulnerability. I would have never put out a song like ‘Best I Can’ back then, even though what I’m talking about in ‘Best I Can,’ I was actually going through it [when I made] the first ‘Extinction Level Event’ album.”
“Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God” is Rhymes’ latest LP — his first since 2012’s “Year of the Dragon” — and features an all-star array of guests, including Kendrick Lamar (“Look Over Your Shoulder”), Mary J. Blige (“You Will Never Find Another Me”) and his “I Know What You Want” collaborator Mariah Carey (“Where I Belong”). But perhaps the most surprising cameo comes from Minister Louis Farrakhan.
Getting permission from Farrakhan to excerpt from one of his old interviews was a coup for Rhymes. “The way he spoke, it just cut me to my soul, and it [captured] what I was trying to create as a feeling of seriousness, especially in these times,” he said. “I just thought it was important that we spoke directly to it, and I also felt it was important who it was coming from.”
But rocking a social consciousness is standard for Rhymes. “It’s always been an important message to all of my albums,” he said. “That’s why the names of my albums were ‘The Coming’ and ‘When Disaster Strikes’ and ‘Anarchy’ and ‘It Ain’t Safe No More.’ This whole catalog of mine is really like a holy scripture with different chapters.”
Rhymes turned the page on his weight struggle in March 2019, after he had a procedure to treat throat polyps and then attended Nipsey Hussle’s memorial in Los Angeles. After having those health problems and then mourning a rapper who died so young, he had a wake-up call. “I said, ‘If this is not the sign to get yourself together, I don’t know what else will be,’ ” he said. “And at that point I made my decision to get my life together, and I immediately got into this transformation journey.”
But he didn’t just make this “lifestyle change” for himself — he also did it for his family, including six children: “When you really sit back and you think about it, it’s selfish … Why are you putting yourself in a situation when you can actually collapse and die, and you got all of these people that love you that you’re responsible for? It was unfair to them — and unfair to myself.”
Now Rhymes — who credits Weight Watchers, Peloton and his personal trainers for getting him into shape — hopes that he will motivate others to bust some healthier new moves, too. “It’s been a blessing to be able to see this through and be able to share it with people and inspire people,” he said, “because that’s the goal at the end of the day for me.”
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