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At a time when "gangsta rap" dominated the airwaves and pop culture, Busta Rhymes introduced his own unique style of hip-hop, punctuated by lightning-speed rapping over exotic beats, which put him on the map and on top of the charts. Rhymes launched his music career with the East Coast rap crew Leaders of the New School and quickly emerged not only as the group's breakout star, but as a promising talent poised for a successful solo career. After the group disbanded, Rhymes earned solid critical reviews and delivered chart-topping singles with back-to-back hit albums The Coming (1996) and When Disaster Strikes (1997). A consummate entertainer, Rhymes branched out to film and television acting throughout his career, including dramatic turns in John Singleton's "Higher Learning" (1995) and Gus Van Sant's "Finding Forrester" (2000). Yet it was in music where Rhymes continued to have the most success, through hit albums and memorable guest vocals that established him as an influential and highly marketable figure in hip-hop.
He was born Trevor Tahiem Smith, Jr. on May 20, 1972 in Brooklyn, NY to Trevor Smith and Geraldine Green, who were Jamaican-born immigrants. Rhymes attended George Westinghouse Information and Technology High School, a vocational school in downtown Brooklyn that boasted future rap luminaries such as Jay-Z, DMX, and The Notorious B.I.G. He later transferred to Uniondale High School on Long Island, where he graduated from in 1990. It was around this time when Rhymes formed the rap crew, Leaders of the New School, along with New York natives Charlie Brown, Dinco D and Cut Monitor Milo. The group performed locally until hip-hop pioneers Public Enemy took notice and invited them to open their shows. Rhymes even received his stage moniker from Public Enemy front man Chuck D, who named him after NFL wide receiver George 'Buster' Rhymes. Leaders of the New School released its debut album A Future without a Past in 1991, which yielded the radio and MTV hit "Case of the P.T.A." The group, most notably Rhymes, received even wider attention when it collaborated with A Tribe Called Quest in the anthemic "Scenario," off Tribe's critically acclaimed album The Low End Theory (1992). Rhymes' growling self-proclamation that he was "like a dungeon dragon" on the track showcased he was fast becoming one of hip-hop's rising stars and a crowd favorite.
Leaders of the New School released its second and final album T.I.M.E. (The Inner Mind's Eye) in 1993 to mixed reviews. Even though the single "What's Next" topped the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart upon release, the album failed to live up to its predecessor's success, while reports of the group's internal conflict seemed to escalate. Not surprisingly, Rhymes garnered the most attention from hip-hop fans and critics. Mounting tension within the group - including an infamous appearance on "Yo! MTV Raps" (MTV, 1988-2004) where Rhymes and Charlie Brown argued on-air - eventually brought Leaders of the New School to a close, setting the groundwork for the rapper to embark on a solo career.
Rhymes released his debut solo album The Coming in 1996, which included the U.S. Top 10 hit "Woo-Hah! Got You All in Check." Sampling a line from Sugarhill Gang's "8th Wonder" (1980), the single was Rhymes' breakthrough and earned him a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap Solo Performance in 1996. He dominated the hip-hop charts with his second album When Disaster Strikes. Inspired by an apocalyptic theme symbolic of his breakthrough success in the music industry, the rapper saw his sophomore effort land at No. 1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Fusing Afro-drum beats, heavy bass lines, and his lighting quick delivery, Rhymes scored two signature hits off the album: "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" and "Dangerous." The former earned him his second Grammy nomination for Best Rap Solo Performance, while its Hype Williams-directed music video - a swirling kaleidoscope of neon-colored images and frenetic choreography largely inspired by the Eddy Murphy comedy "Coming to America" (1998) - nabbed multiple MTV Video Music Award nods, including Best Rap Video, Best Male Video and Best Breakthrough Video. The rapper continued his successful streak with 1998's "E.L.E (Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front)," which featured collaborations with artists from other genres - from pop princess Janet Jackson on "What's It Gonna Be?!" and rock icon Ozzy Osbourne on "This Means War!!"
With his feet firmly planted in a successful solo career, Rhymes branched out to acting in feature films. After making his debut with a minor role in the comedy "Who's The Man?" (1993), the rapper was cast in John Singleton's "Higher Learning" along with Omar Epps, Jennifer Connelly and Ice Cube. The film delved deep into race and gender relations at a fictional college that culminated with a tragic campus massacre at the hands of a disenfranchised white supremacist student (Michael Rapaport). Rhymes eventually moved to featured roles on the big screen, gaining favorable reviews for his acting in Singleton's remake of "Shaft" (2000) and Gus Van Sant's "Finding Forrester" (2000). He added horror films to his résumé in 2002, co-starring with Jamie Lee Curtis and cinematic slasher Michael Myers (Brad Loree) in "Halloween: Resurrection" and appeared in Joe Carnahan's critically acclaimed crime drama "Narc" (2002).
Rhymes returned to the recording studio in the new millennium with a barrage of hits that showcased his dynamic rap flow and globally inspired beats. He reigned on the charts with the sexy summer anthem "Pass the Courvoisier, Part II" (2002) that featured guest vocals from mega-producer P. Diddy and hip-hop star Pharell. The single almost cracked the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 (No. 11), but turned in more impressive numbers on Hot Rap Singles (No. 2) and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks (No. 4) charts. The rapper showed a more sensitive side in "I Know What You Want," a hip-hop duet with Mariah Carey off his album It Ain't Safe No More (2002). Rhymes finally landed at No. 1 on the mainstream charts with his seventh album The Big Bang, recorded under the tutelage of Aftermath Entertainment founder and rapper Dr. Dre and featuring collaborations with an impressive lineup of producers including Dre, Timbaland, and Will.I.Am. The album fared equally well in the U.K., where it landed in the Top 20. His subsequent release Back on My B.S. (2009) failed to live up to his previous work, both commercially and critically. Rhymes reignited his career two years later with guest vocals alongside Lil Wayne on Chris Brown's No. 1 single "Look At Me Now," off the latter's album F.A.M.E.
By Candy Cuenco
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