Busta Rhymes is one of the most recognizable figures in hip hop, a musical genre replete with recognizable figures. With a ferocious lyrical attack, Busta is known for delivering complex, humor-laden Afrocentric rhymes -- first with Leaders of the New School, then as a solo artist and now with the Flipmode Squad.
As an actor, Busta has appeared in countless television commercials, TV’s The Steve Harvey Show and Cosby, the films Who’s the Man? and Strapped as well as John Singleton’s Higher Learning. For Shaft, his latest outing, Singleton wrote the character of Rasaan specifically with Busta in mind.
Shaft marks Busta’s biggest role and biggest film to date, playing opposite Samuel L. Jackson in a $40 million action flick. When we sat down at the Four Seasons Hotel, Busta spoke about making the transition from rapper to actor, changing Samuel L. Jackson’s mind about that transition and the meaning of the word “anarchy.”
Do you remember the first time you saw the original Shaft?
My aunt Hyacinth was babysitting me and her son Ian, who was about 19-years-old. She has about five or six of his boys over. I was about 7-years-old, and I couldn’t go into the room because they were smoking weed in there. They left the door halfway open, and I was looking through the door and I seen the movie. What I recognized the most was that the hero of the movie was a black dude and at that time I had never seen another film where the hero was black.
Now that I am 28-years-old, I get the opportunity to be a part of the film where the black dude is the hero. Not only has it remained in my mind as one of the more classic flicks, but also I now have the opportunity of be a part of something that was created for me to be a part of. I didn’t have to try out for it. I had to definitely be able to carry out the part or I wouldn’t be there. I appreciate the fact that John had me in mind when he was writing it. He wrote a specific part for Busta Rhymes. It was a good thing. As soon as I seen the role, I immediately fell into the character. I became it.
Did you make the choice to make the character sort of Rasta?
Well, I didn’t realize how much of a reggae guy he was until three or four weeks into filming because I had a flavorful accent to go with the part. But because I had already did most of the part sounding American, I couldn’t fake it and start speaking with an accent in the middle of the film. It was when I got into the apartment and I saw the flags from Trinidad and the West Indies dance party fliers, I was like, “If I had only knew!” because I live around this everyday. You would have gotten much more flavor from me because I am about that. My family and upbringing is West Indies, so there would not have been a problem. But, it is what it is. And I think it is one of the more flavorful flicks of the year.
I am not disappointed with the way it came out. I think it would have been a better thing. I can’t sway in either direction. I know that I could make you understand more with the accent. I know with the accent it may have been harder to understand the terminologies because with the West Indies broken-English, it can be difficult to understand. But there are ways to do it to make sure it is understood and that it gets across to the complete understanding of what that character was there to represent.
Sam Jackson gave you much love for your work…
I love him. I love him because he doesn’t play any games. He doesn’t hesitate to speak what he feels or thinking. If something is not connecting, he will stop, let it be known adjustments will have to be made before we continue. I guess you do have to work to get to his level of success to be able to put your foot down like that. That’s the kind of strength the man has. He makes sense. I don’t think people make adjustments to accommodate someone unless he’s right and unless he’s respected.
What did you learn from Jackson?
As a proud humble apprentice, I pretty much absorbed all the information that I was able to be around like a sponge. I was able to be around to see how he handled his business and establish a whole different respect for him. It was to a point where I didn’t feel comfortable with a line or two, he helped me figure out how to say it. If the line looked like bullsh*t, he would take the line to the them and say, “Why you gonna make him say this shit like that? That ain’t the way you say sh*t.” No problem.
I was like, “OKAY, I like your style. I’m going to try that, too.” Not the way he does it. But if I didn’t like a line, I established enough comfort and respect with people because I was on time for my job to be able to go out there and say look, “Is there any possible way I can say this line differently?” I didn’t approach it like Sam, where he would be like, “Get this sh*t out of here.” He didn’t disrespect anybody unless he was going through something with them and it had to get to that point, but you seen how serious he was about business and how adamant about what he felt. He had no time to waste in expressing what he felt which saved time with going back and forth trying to figure out how to do thing.
I was feeling like a blessed dude being around such icons as Vanessa Williams, Sam and Jeffrey White. He has a die-hard fan after this movie. But we have to respect a legend like Sam. I think he has a different respect for rappers becoming actors because of me!
Hip hop culture has always shown mad love for Shaft, and all props to Isaac Hayes’ theme, but this updated version seems to be desperately lacking any hip hop music. How do you feel about that as a hip hop artist?
I think they should have incorporated some more hip-hop. The whole purpose of involving me and my age group is to attract my age group as a demographic. That music (hip hop) is going to help do that. I don’t think that because they did not do it, it takes away from the movie at all.
And that is definitely not a politically correct answer because I’ve seen it. I’ve watched the movie from beginning to end. I think the only thing that I might be a little unhappy about is the fact that I’ve seen stuff that the consumers won’t see. I wish they used some of the scenes that they didn’t use. But because you did not see those scenes, when you see it, you won’t feel like you missed anything. The finished product is 100% to my satisfaction and I hope it is to everyone else because it is one the more stellar films that I have seen this year.
Was acting always a part of your plan?
I never asked for anything outside of the music industry. Everything pretty much started to come like a domino effect, one after another. I look it all as the Lord’s blessing. The Most High definitely provides every one of us with a blessing that we all have to identify with sometime in our life. I don’t limit anything. I feel I was given a blessing to be anything I want. So as long as I strive to be what I want, I’m gonna be that.
They offered me the opportunity to be the reptile dragon voice in Rugrats and I did it. It accommodated me well, and the kids loved it. I have kids, and it was fun being able to bring them to watch it. They were proud of their dad, and I was proud that they we able to enjoy something that I could do for them and getting a check at the same time to feed them beyond making them happy.
I am able to be amongst the likes of Sam Jackson and do these films. I am going to take it very serious, get me an acting coach and let these people see that I respect this opportunity to be this close to them. I am not going to come around them and be unprofessional or that stereotypical dude that they may already have in their mind about me because I’m a black cat from the urban city area. I may not have a long resume of being a professional actor, so I just like to exceed the level of expectation that people have, and I think that was provided here, and that was a blessing, and I am going to run with everything that I do.
What else are you doing?
I have this clothing line called Bushi. I have my new album coming out June 20th -- four days after Shaft -- entitled, Anarchy. I have a female rapper, Rah Digga. She has an album out now called Dirty Harriet. She is almost gold. She has sold 430,000 albums. My Flip Mode Squad has an album coming out in September -- around the Labor Day holiday. Being able to do all of these things at the same time comes from the blessings that are provided by the Most High. Nobody can take it from me. So, I am definitely gassed to do anything and everything -- continue to grow in acting. Primarily, I love to perform my music. I’m never going to stop growing there because that is my first love, and I owe it to the music for everything else that I have gotten.