Happy 20th Anniversary to Busta Rhymes’ second studio album When Disaster Strikes, originally released September 16, 1997.
There's an awkward moment in a 1993 episode of Yo! MTV Raps when midway through being interviewed by Fab 5 Freddy, the group Leaders of the New School split up. It was only a short time since the release of their second album T.I.M.E. (The Inner Mind's Eye), the follow up to their acclaimed 1991 debut A Future Without A Past. The unraveling of a group that helped define the classic early ‘90s hip-hop sound was a loss to listeners, but what we gained was the emergence of one of the biggest personalities in rap.
Busta Rhymes’ path toward solo stardom had in fact begun a while before his group fell apart, thanks to a run of show-stealing guest appearances since 1991. Highlights include his spot on A Tribe Called Quest’s anthemic “Scenario,” where he somehow managed to upstage Q-Tip and Phife, and a verse on “Come on Down” from Big Daddy Kane’s 1991 Prince of Darkness album.
The years that followed the LONS break up saw Busta continue to outshine anybody dumb enough to invite him onto their music, before he finally hit the big leagues with the excellent 1996 full-length debut The Coming. It was a solid record that appealed to both the purists and the masses, bolstered by the flamboyant “Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check,” and the even crazier remix featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
The formula was kept somewhat the same a year later in 1997 when Busta released his sophomore album When Disaster Strikes. It easy to overlook a monster single like “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” and the expensive Hype Williams video attached to it, but it captures exactly what Busta Rhymes is: an entertainer. The track is also an absolute clinic in how to spit ferocious raps and slick wordplay, and placed Busta up there among hip-hop's most skilled rhymers.
The equally popular “Turn It Up (Remix)/Fire It Up” (a remix of the original album version, released as a single but also appearing on some mixes of the album) and “Dangerous” provide further proof of Busta’s skill as an all-rounder. Not every artist can rap over a beat that samples the Knight Rider theme and another that borrows its hook from a public service advert about keeping children away from medicines, and make them not sound tacky.
Beyond the familiar singles, When Disaster Strikes offers several head-nodding deeper cuts produced by the perennially underrated DJ Scratch, including “We Could Take This Outside,” a track deserving of special mention for sampling the hauntingly melancholy “The Windmills of Your Mind” by Henry Mancini. DJ Scratch would for a time become the default beatmaker for Busta Rhymes and his Flipmode Squad, while also occasionally still making music with the group that gave him his original breakthrough, EPMD. “So Hardcore” meanwhile is produced by The Ummah, with J Dilla continuing to hit his stride, by now well on the way to greatness.
When Disaster Strikes also has some low points including a few wildly misogynistic and homophobic skits. The entire concept of the hip-hop skit was fast becoming passé by 1997, but you could still find them on classic albums from that year, including Likwidation by Tha Alkaholiks and Organized Konfusion’s The Equinox.
But skits and other bad moments can be forgiven because it’s hard to stay mad at Busta Rhymes. For every misstep, and there have been plenty since When Disaster Strikes, there are flashes of brilliance. And in a genre that takes itself as seriously as rap does, we need people as vibrant and loud as Busta once was.