(Guest Spots That Steal The Spotlight)
Busta Rhymes on Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now”
I really feel like my greatest and most holy calling in this life is preach the gospel of Rapping Fast ≠ Rapping Well. Technical proficiency is, obviously, an accomplishment in and of itself, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to great art. To us a non-rap example, Joe Satriani is a more skilled guitarist than Johnny Ramone, but I’d rather listen to any Ramones record than any record Satriani ever made. In a hip hop context, speed is just one facet of rapping as a technique; you need other skills (wordplay, sound repetition, an understanding of how to ride a beat) to deliver a truly excellent verse.
But, that being said, technical proficiency and great art aren’t mutually exclusive either. There are times when breakneck speed rapping can work within a song, and the results can be absolutely dazzling. One such instance is Busta Rhymes’s verse on the track above, Chris Brown’s smash hit “Look At Me Now”.
[Here is where we pause to emphasize that Chris Brown is an awful person, and belongs in the same category of talented scumbags like Varg Vikernes and Bill Cosby. (Yup, Bill Cosby) They’ve all made great art (ex: “Kiss Kiss”, “Snu Mikrokosmos Tegn”, and The Cosby Show, respectively) but they’re all also awful people. I think we should be allowed to enjoy and appreciate the art separately from the artist, but at the same time we should never forget who they are and what they’ve done.]
So wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah, Busta Rhymes raps fast and raps good! I mean, just listen to that verse! It’s in fucking triple time. At the end of the verse he throttles back to double time and it feels like he’s rapping in slow motion by comparison. Allow me be a Rap Game Guitar Center Employee for a moment: wow wow wow wow dude’s so so so so so so so good at rapping really really really fast.
But, speed isn’t the only notable aspect of his verse. Sure, it’s the most evident and also probably the most notable aspect, but he does so many other things well too. At the speeds he’s going, you really can get a good grasp on his actual rhymes and lyrics because they go by before your brain can process them. But, if you go track down the lyrics to his verse, you see that it’s packed with interior rhymes, assonance, consonance, and parallelism. All of those elements help to give his verse a sense of flowing, fluid rhythm, which makes his quick rapping seem all the more natural and fleet-footed. He’s not just rapping fast; he’s also rapping well.
PS: There are lots of inexplicable things about this track that I really feel like I need to mention. Here are some Rap X Files about this track that I just have to mention: