Busta Rhymes is a name known worldwide. A product of 1990s New York hip hop, the rapper (real name Trevor Smith jr) is known for his tongue-twisting verses, lyrical skill and rapid-fire delivery. With lyrical schemes that could blow your mind, Busta Rhymes is undoubtedly one of hip hop’s finest lyricists, but one song really put Busta on the map.
Released in 1998, Busta Rhymes‘ ‘What’s It Gonna Be?!’ featuring Janet Jackson is arguably the track that transformed him from a mildly exciting newcomer to a star. It was a rap hit with mainstream appeal and did wonders for the musician’s career, but funnily enough, it was a simple interview that birthed the track.
Busta Rhymes had already produced two albums by 1998; his 1996 debut, The Coming, and his 1997 sophomore project, When Disaster Strikes. Although the industry received these two albums well, they were not extraordinary projects. Busta Rhymes was undeniably a good emcee, but his body of work could have been better.
Having already released two albums in 1998, Busta was making headway on his third, E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front, but the rapper had no intention of Janet Jackson featuring on his album. It all happened as a result of a HOT97 interview.
Speaking to Billboard magazine in 2018 about the creation of ‘What’s It Gonna Be?!’, the rapper explained how he was in his car listening to a Janet Jackson interview on HOT97 when (after she was asked about future collaborations) he heard her name him as someone she wanted to work with.
Further elaborating on that day, the rapper recalled, “I was actually in my vehicle driving from Long Island to New York City, and I had to pull over because I almost crashed.” He continued, “Janet’s one of my favourite artists ever to exist in the world. To hear her say that was one of the biggest highlights of my life!”
The rapper explained how he took extremely swift action to make sure he got in touch with Jackson immediately, revealing, “I had Mona Scott Young, who was my manager with Chris Lighty, notify management. I told them to get Janet on the phone. They got Janet on the phone, and interestingly enough, I told Janet, ‘I had the perfect song for her,’ and I didn’t even have the song yet. With that being said, we found the perfect song!”
That perfect song ended up being ‘What’s It Gonna Be?!’ which peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and six on the UK singles chart. The single was certified as platinum, and its video (directed by Hype Williams) is said to be one of the most expensive music videos ever filmed.
You can watch the music video for ‘What’s It Gonna Be?!’ below.