Rick Ross and Busta Rhymes - Nokia Theatre - 1/13/12
Better than: Actually being Big Meech. Or Larry Hoover. At least in 2012.
"Schindler and I are like peas in a pod! We're both factory owners, we both made shells for the Nazis, but mine worked, dammit!" - Mr. Burns, "A Star Is Burns"
I don't employ the above quote because Rick Ross and Busta Rhymes are similar in any real way artistically: Busta emerged out of the Native Tongues diaspora in the early '90s, whereas Rick Ross apprenticed on Slip N Slide Records and hails from Miami, a city whose rap scene has no use whatsoever for "third eye" lyrics.
They couldn't rap more differently either: to this day, Busta is phenomenally dexterous MC, bug-eyed and animated, whereas Ross delivers bellowed proclamations in a halting cadence that sounds like he's allowing regular pauses for taking pulls of an asthma inhaler.
At a certain time, Busta Rhymes' physique had people wondering if he and Timbaland had the same steroids hookup. Ross, meanwhile, is someone many have seen shirtless against their will. But a single commonality and subsequent divergence determined why Rick Ross was headlining last night's show at Nokia Theatre despite the fact that Busta Rhymes has sold more records, had bigger hits, appeared in movies, been quoted on The Simpsons and is probably known by at least 33% of your parents' friends: in 2006, both Busta Rhymes and Rick Ross were lying about being drug dealers. It only worked for one of them.
Think about that for a second: the "What's It Gonna Be" video was more of an obstacle to street credibility than being a former cop. Then again, Scarface rap is in large part determined by fantasy, and while Ross was building his persona from scratch, Busta's recasting himself as a brooding, hardhead "King of New York" on The Big Bang, a record so simultaneously expensive and joyless that it could only be released on Aftermath, contradicted with over a decade worth of goofy videos and party-starting singles that were etched in the public domain.
Even in this day and age, Busta Rhymes' inability to put out an actual record remains kinda sad, but then again, albums were never his thing: even in his '90s heyday, When Disaster Strikes, The Coming and E.L.E.'s best tracks were almost always the singles. And though he's managed brief re-entries into the conversation ("Arab Money" unfortunately comes to mind), Busta is still Busta and can still be relied upon for a track-stealing fast-rap verse and little else these days. But as his performance last night proved, even if he has no artistic direction whatsoever in 2012, his sheer technical ability and twenty years of goodwill are still enough to get the job done.
It didn't seem that way in the beginning, as Busta took the stage in a majestically feathered jacket that looked like something Scott Weiland might rock if it were ten times smaller. Unfortunately, the first thing you notice is just how badly he and definitive hypeman Spliff Star had let themselves go. On the unforgiving Nokia Theatre screen, Spliff looks something like a shrunken and melted Chuck D who hadn't slept for a week, and ever since he cut his dreads, Busta has been going for a supersized Tracy Morgan look, or at least "Bang Bang Bart" from that episode of the Simpsons where Marge and Homer are told their son's future lies as a male stripper if he doesn't get his grades up.