The unlikely inspiration behind Busta Rhymes’ classic ‘This Means War’
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The unlikely inspiration behind Busta Rhymes' classic 'This Means War'

Few artists have had as much influence on the culture of hip hop without the due respect that shift deserves more than Busta Rhymes. It was Busta’s unique use of sampling that put him over the top.

Sometimes, even the most unlikely pairings can result in artistic brilliance. Al Green and Annie Lennox did it with ‘Put A Little Love In Your Heart’, Colonel Sanders did it with popcorn chicken, and Black Sabbath did it with one of hip-hop’s most revered talents. So how did Black Sabbath, a group widely regarded for pioneering heavy metal music, end up inspiring the sound of late 1990s New York? Let’s take a closer look.

Originally released in 1998, Busta Rhymes’ Extinction Level Event (The Final World Front) is, as the name suggests, an expansion on the apocalypse theme the rapper explored in his first two albums, The Coming (1996) and When Disaster Strikes (1997). The venture earned Rhymes three Grammy Award nominations for Best Rap Album, Best Rap Solo Performance and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. As well as earning critical acclaim, it also spawned three Billboard chart singles, including ‘What’s It Gonna’ Be!?’, Busta’s highest-charting and most beloved single.

Less known is ‘This Means War!!’, which samples Black Sabbath’s 1970 single ‘Iron Man’. Busta utilises the original track’s slow churning fuzz as well as its central riff, emitting Ozzy Osbourne’s “I am Iron Man” vocals and replacing them with his tongue-twisting lyrical tricks and flips. You’ll notice that Osbourne’s name is featured in the title. That’s because the Sabbath singer actually performed this alongside Busta, singing between his rapped verses with the same metal growl he used on the original song.

Recalling the collaboration, Rhymes said: “He (Ozzy) was great. I remember when I first heard the song ‘Iron Man.’ The lyrics like ‘Is he live or is he dead?’ just affected me. The power he puts behind it. The intensity, the effect – it’s the same way I approach my shit, whether I’m recording or performing. To be able to do this on E.L.E. blew me away.”

While it might not seem like the most obvious pairing, for Osbourne, the partnership made absolute sense. “Busta Rhymes is a trip,” the singer said. “The rap world is totally different, not very rock and roll. But, Busta Rhymes was nothing but a gentleman, a really good guy to be around.” There’s a sense of dramatic irony in Osbourne’s words. In the late ’90s, the world of hip-hop had groups like Nirvana and Oasis to compete with, groups for whom rock ‘n’ roll was less of an aesthetic and more a way of life. These days, rap and hip-hop seem infinitely more rock ‘n’ roll than anything in the rock sphere.

Make sure you check out ‘This Means War!!!’ below.