Joker in the pack

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Busta Rhymes

The Temple, London

Veterans of hip-hop gigs in the UK rarely expect artists to start on time, but seemed determined to set some kind of new record by appearing two-and-a-half hours behind schedule (Wu Tang at Brixton Academy managed an impressive two hours). No one seemed to mind too much; the tunes (courtesy of Tim Westwood) kept the dancefloor heaving for hours: phat slices of hardcore hip hop with plenty of dancehall anthems thrown in for good measure.

The unscheduled appearance of K-Ci & Jo Jo (formerly one half of the American group, Jodeci) was a welcome surprise, but despite performing only three songs from their new album, the quality of their showcase performance served only to provide Busta with a hard act to follow.

When he did appear at 2.30am, he left nothing to chance by opening with his 1997 anthem, "Woo Hah! I got you all in check". is the Lee Evans of rap, the court jester of hip hop. While still hardcore, Busta's popularity proves the need for a lighter side.

His energy is overbearing but infectious as he bounds from one side of the stage, imploring the crowd to match his efforts. "Which Motherf--r stole my flow?" he asks before counting his options like a child, "Eenee, menee, minee-mo, Make you bounce around like this was calypso..."

His visual style is echoed in his rapping. Lyrics spew from his mouth at an incredible rate, graphic similes and metaphors that lack thematic cohesion but are always vividly animated and humorous.

Despite his previous success as a member of Leaders of the New School, forged his reputation via unforgettable cameos with numerous artists. His rhymes were always wilder, funnier, more animated and ultimately unforgettable. His impressive recent solo success is a direct result of his ability to sustain the same levels of energy and imagination over an entire album.

The material from his new album, When Disaster Strikes, lacks the overall impact of his first solo offering, The Coming, but there are still a few gems that he uses to work the crowd mercilessly. "Get High Tonight" may be a little too graphic to be endorsed by our sister paper's Decriminalise Cannabis campaign, but the crowd were definitely in sympathy.

The stage is half-filled with his cosmopolitan entourage but he is a one-man show. He launches into "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See", with it's infectious, Eighties, funk bassline, by playing an imaginary bass guitar before repeatedly ordering the DJ to cut the sample. When the crowd's decibel level is high enough he relents and launches into the rhymes, his face a myriad contortions.

doesn't politicise his lyrics like Chuck D or Jeru, while his rap flow doesn't match the lyrical skills of Nas or Notorious B.I.G. Having said that, he may well be the most innovative rap artist in the US by sheer force of will and his unique character - who else could get away with sampling the theme from Knight Rider and create an instant classic, "Turn It Up". Channel 5 would be well advised to air Busta's version if they persist with airing the dated Eighties series.

After competing his obligatory hour he departs promising to return with the full complement Flipmode Squad (only one member managed the journey this time around). There is no encore and no attempt by the crowd to induce one. Yeah, he was good but beating the stampede at the cloakrooms was much more important at that time of night.

Alister Morgan

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