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"But, at the same time, I never really focused on that primarily, 'cause at the end of the day, there was nothing too different about me, know what I'm saying? The way the kids acted at school, we were all pretty much the same. The only thing about me was I was a little more outgoing. I always wanted attention, I wanted to do the things and be in the places where I could be acknowledged for those things. So I started to discover that I needed to grab a microphone and be on the stage."
In 1983, Rhymes moved from East Flatbush to the more sedate Long Island, where he developed under the tutelage of Public Enemy. In fact, PE leader Chuck D coined Rhymes' stage name, taking it from a former Minnesota Vikings player named Buster Rhymes. To this day, Rhymes splits his time between Brooklyn and Long Island, two of the most fertile sources for the East Coast style that Rhymes perpetuates. Yet, as proud as he is of his East Coast pedigree, he's equally tired of the coastal rivalries that have fueled so much hatred in the hip-hop community, and may have contributed to the murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. That's why Rhymes waxes so rhapsodically when discussing his current participation in the mammoth Puff Daddy arena tour sweeping across America.
"This has definitely been a step in the right direction from the hell-driven shit that hip-hop and entertainment had to encounter on a whole," he says. "We're all out here for each other, we're all out here in the name of hip-hop. We're all out here to get money, and do it the right way, you know what I'm saying? You ain't gotta get money by unnecessary means, and you ain't gotta be out there advocating any violence. As far as entertainment is concerned, we can address issues that are violent issues, no doubt, because the truth is undeniable. If we've got violence in our areas, we can talk about that all day. But it's the way you go about it.
"So far, this tour has been the symbolism of the unison that's needed in entertainment as a whole. It's a predominantly East Coast rasta tour, but the artists that are charting the most are the East Coast artists right now. But I would love to see a tour with a bunch of East Coast and West Coast artists. We've all just gotta come out and chart together."
The chart success of When Disaster Strikes firmly elevates Rhymes to the top echelon of hip-hop icons. The week after its September 16 release, it debuted in Billboard at No. 3, and has already sold more than a million copies. The album gets off to a slow start (with an overly long cameo from blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore as Dolomite), but once it kicks in, with the ultra-phat KC and the Sunshine Band homage "Get High Tonight," it rarely lets up. "Turn It Up" takes an Al Green sample to beat-pumping euphoria, and the surreal nonsense-rhyme single "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" draws sharp parallels between exuberant party rituals and scary police commands. The haunting "One" lifts a choral harmony from Stevie Wonder's "Love's in Need of Love Today," and features a scat sermon from Rhymes' friend Erykah Badu on the importance of family unity. But such social statements are always secondary to Rhymes' unflagging mission statement: to use music as a source of escape from life's pressures.
"When I'm in the studio, I can put a beat on, and turn that shit up real loud and smoke me a blunt, and whatever was bothering me outside of that studio can't even get in there," he says. "Go in your room, turn your shit up real loud, and nobody can even get into that world until you let them, know what I'm saying?
"That's what this music does for me. That's why I've always got something out there, because there's just so much bullshit in life to deal with, from a personal level to a business level to a general level. My salvation is music, as far as happiness, 95 percent of the time. Music, my son and my mother. Those three elements right there help me stay happy. Until I find another source of energy that can provide happiness for me, this is where it's gonna remain for me."
Busta Rhymes is scheduled to perform on Monday, December 15, at America West Arena, with Puff Daddy and the Family. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.