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 that leaves his listeners speechless. With rhyme schemes that could blow your mind, Busta is undoubtedly one of hip hop’s finest lyricists.
However, coming out of the Wu-Tang Clan, Ol’ Dirty Bastard (ODB) was known for his abrasive, direct delivery that could dissect and destroy even the most lyrical MCs. Alongside his cousins, RZA and GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard was an integral figure with regard to the formation of the Wu-Tang Clan. Unlike many of the crew’s members, ODB was not from Staten Island but instead brought the raucousness of Brooklyn to the clan. Many of the clan’s members were profound lyricists. However, ODB brought dark humour, dynamism and a vigorous edge to the clan that was welcome.
Busta Rhymes, with a totally different style, made his early music with the collective Leaders Of The New School. However, Busta quickly set himself apart from the rest of his crew. Busta’s unique rapid rhyming style, with his dreadlocks and eccentric rap persona, was not common in New York hip hop during the 1990s, and he quickly gained popularity. As well as standard rap, he embraced his Jamaican heritage in his music by including patois and Jamaican cultural references in his lyrics. Busta featured on songs with Big Daddy Kane, Another Bad Creation, The Notorious B.I.G., Brand Nubian, A Tribe Called Quest, and KRS-One before he made it big, but he was known regionally in New York.
Ol’ Dirty Bastard, as part of the Wu-Tang Clan, was renowned and loved for his bluntness shooting into the mainstream upon the release of the crew’s 1993 debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). In fact, Ol’ Dirty Bastard (real name Russell Jones) even featured on a track with Busta Rhymes in 1996 for Busta’s ‘Woo-Hah!! Got You All In Check (The World Wide Remix). However, by the turn of the millennium, the two were on very different paths. As Busta began to tame himself for fame, ODB’s raucous Brooklyn attitude spiralled out of control.
In 1998, the rapper stormed the stage of the Grammy’s to tell the crowd that Puff Daddy didn’t deserve his award for ‘Best Rap Album’. In 2001 during a two-year prison stint for possession of crack, the rapper was dropped from Elektra Records, but was picked up by Roc-A-Fella Records in 2003. In an online biography written by Steve Huey, during the early noughties, “it was difficult for observers to tell whether Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s wildly erratic behaviour was the result of serious drug problems or genuine mental instability.” However, while recording at RZA’s Manhattan studio in 2004, ODB collapsed and died as a result of what was found to be a lethal mixture of cocaine and the prescription opioid tramadol.
Although Busta would live on to have an illustrious career, take a look at this rare footage of the two MCs freestyling in a cypher at the 1994 Gavin Convention in San Francisco.