Album Review: Busta Rhymes – Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God

[Conglomerate/Empire; 2020]

Busta Rhymes might just be the only person to have gotten, in a way, lucky due to the horrid dumpster fire that has been 2020. Since at least 2012, he’s labored to release the sequel to his best-selling album, 1998’s E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front (remember “Calm Down” with Eminem? Some epic songs have hit come and then disappeared over the years), the project has felt somewhat doomed from the start.

After all, how could he genuinely recreate the energy of E.L.E.? Forget the fact that it’s been damn near 22 years, the entire album was themed (as were his prior two albums, to varying degrees) around the end of the world, Y2K, if you will. Flash forward to 2020, Trump still in office, allowing people to die by thousands rather than acknowledge reality, the Supreme Court is verging on delegitimizing an election, and the Arctic not freezing as it should while world leaders refuse to even agree that climate change exists, Sigh… you get the idea. Point being, the end of the world? It doesn’t seem all too far off.

So, then, Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God, makes perfect sense to arrive as this cursed year comes to a close.

Now, it wouldn’t be a Busta Rhymes album if it wasn’t patently ridiculous and stuffed to the brim. Rest assured, The Wrath of God is most certainly both. Rather than simply opening the album with talk of just how screwed we all truly are, he begins with a nonsensical, nearly indecipherable apocalyptic screed about, uh, the world being ruled by one entity and speaking one language, all while aliens are prepared to invade – or something like that. It doesn’t really matter – Busta has idiosyncratically set the stage for the ambitiously absurd affair that’s to come. If that wasn’t enough, Chris Rock – who’s featured throughout Wrath of God – pops in to play hype man, explicitly connecting the album to its predecessor, and doing rather a lot of the thematic heavy-lifting for dear Bussa Bus.

Alright, then, you’re wondering: all this spectacle (and there’s a lot of it) aside, how is the actual music? Well, to some extent, the spectacle is the music. Busta is as spry as ever, defying father time with every breathless bar, and he’s brought more than enough crew along with him, packing E.L.E. 2 with guest appearances from Anderson .Paak, the legendary Rakim, and even Kendrick Lamar, the very first proper raps from the Compton rapper in 2020. Of course, old friend Q-Tip also appears, serving as a reminder as to just how long Busta has been around. Due to his second and third winds as a Dr. Dre sidekick and go-to fast-rapper-feature respectively, it’s tempting to think of the man as more contemporary than he is, but Busta Rhymes has been killing features ever since Tribe and Craig Mack.

He continues ripping verses here, and the most refreshing thing about E.L.E. 2, frankly, is that it’s far better than it could have been. For the most part, it definitely refuses to give in to more recent trends, sticking to sounds that Busta feels most naturally comfortable over, with production ranging from the aforementioned Q-Tip to DJ Premier. Longtime collaborator Nottz is also peppered throughout, most memorably lacing the Ol’ Dirty Bastard “Slow Flow” with an arcade soundtrack-like bounce. “Strap Yourself Down” even boasts Pete Rock backing up a posthumous Dilla beat.

But at 22 tracks and nearly 80 minutes in length, is E.L.E. 2 too much? Absolutely, but the first installment was hardly short, so it feels only right. Indeed, the album seems intent on recapturing various specific aspects of his prior success, including an appearance from a pop titan, Mariah Carey standing in for Janet Jackson. He seems to be toying with us all, too, genuinely uttering the words, “Alright, y’all ready to start now?” at the end of track ten.

Thankfully, in spite of all the goofy, raucous energy on hand, Busta is unafraid to deal with reality in moments. Following a predictably intense check-in from none other than Louis Farrakhan on the title track, our leading man addresses the Trump era and more. “Best I Can”, on the other hand, finds him getting personal alongside Rapsody on a pained ode to divorced co-parenting.

It’s undeniable, to some extent: Extinction Level Event 2 is just too ambitious for its own good. Yet, for all the lazy sequels and cash-ins in a genre rife with them, it’s hard to fault Busta Rhymes for striving a bit too hard to go that extra mile. Hell, he’s approached this project with more passion and devotion than his far younger peer 21 Savage did his own recent sequel. There’s certainly some tracks here that may have been best left on the cutting room floor, but Busta proves once again that he possesses one of the zaniest flows and voices in hip hop, and, honestly, with generosity in such short supply, there are far worse ways to spend your time than with too much of a decent thing.

Editor’s Note: “Calm Down” has been added to a Reloaded bonus edition of the album, which expands the LP to a whopping 26 tracks.