Music: Pop - Ringmaster General

He's the Dolly Parton of hip hop, a tough talking Jamaican giant in crushed velvet. Emma Forrest admires the glamour that adorns the talent of the hugely cool Busta Rhymes.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Busta Rhymes has a flat wide nose, big Bambi eyes and a mouth like Carly Simon cubed. Six foot three, with his hair tied into two schoolgirl bunches, he looks amazing. At the Notting Hill Carnival, with tough competition in the glamour stakes from artists such as The Fugees and Lil'Kim, it was Busta in his purple crushed velour suit who was mobbed. Almost two years after its release, his single "Woo Hah! I Got You All In Check", is still such a big crossover hit it is practically a novelty record.

"The carnival was incredible. I never heard of a million people in one place at one time anywhere. Plus it was peaceful and fun. More appreciation for hip-hop than I could absorb at one time. I've toured a lot, been to a lot of different places, but that was unlike anything else."

Sitting in a Kensington Hotel, he is calm and unshowy. People shuttling in and out of the room keep whispering about how handsome he is. In his videos, he seems to be working against that: grinning, and twisting his mouth until it looks like it's going to eat the screen.

In the latest clip, for the quaintly titled "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See", he is dressed as a technicolour tribesman, with a bone through his nose and dayglo paint on his chest. In "Woo Hah!" he was wearing a bunny costume with ears, alongside Ol' Dirty Bastard of The Wu-Tang Clan. What he has in common with Dirty is the inherent humour of his persona. Some feel it plays on negative stereotypes of the African- American male as being a sex-crazed, high-as-a-kite buffoon. Certainly, "Woo Hah!", with lines like "How dare you ver try to step on my suede shoes" was part Carry On, part Run DMC.

But off stage, he is a paragon of tranquility, articulate and soft spoken. Sure, he's smoking a spliff the size of Sweden, but he's saying: "I'm comfortable being on a major label. They employ people whose job it is to translate the street into a succesful marketing strategy".

So he is left to get on with the creative stuff. The new album, When Disaster Strikes is far more interesting than its predecessor. "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" has a drum beat that's tripping over itself and then pulling itself up, like a man fighting for his own way. "I can make my world anyway I want to in my music," murmurs Busta. "All my dreams are there."

"One", a duet with blues singer Erykah Badhu, is about trying to be a better husband, a better black man. Her black power philosophy is one Busta shares. "F*** American shit. My parents are Jamaican and I lean in that direction for its morals and belief system. But if you look like me, don't matter where you from, you can't be identified as anything other than a black man and you should be proud. You have to understand the significance in black and then it would be a lot more respected."

Wu-Tang's RZA said: "Our music is a living, breathing map of the way out of the slums and you gotta memorise it by heart." It's hard to explain to the uninitiated what it is about hip-hop. "It's the only form of music that's a raw reflection of the truth, good or bad. Hip hop is the only music that can take on any genre: you can take orchestra, folk, jazz, country and make it hip-hop. But you can't make hip-hop into anything else."

With hip-hop you get a stage show and Busta Rhymes is a prime example. He is a cartoon in the same way that Dolly Parton is a cartoon. All crazy hair and flashy costumes. But at the core is a very solid talent.

Foxy Brown and Lil' Kim play scary bitch rap. Wu-Tang Clan have made two albums bursting with creepy urban symphonies. Bjork has asked RZA to produce her next album. There is a lot going on in hip-hop, which is turning out fewer one hit wonders. You get the raw truth of it but you also get stars, people who aren't afraid to wear purple velvet suits.

And Busta's role in it all? He just smiles that Carly Simon smile. "I feel like the Circus ringmaster".

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