When it comes to longevity in rap, few MCs can match the consistency and quality over time that Busta Rhymes has displayed since dropping A Future Without A Past… with Leaders Of The New School in 1991. Seriously, the list is Black Thought, Jay-Z, Nas, and Snoop Dogg — everybody else either fell out of public favor or just hasn’t been around as long. Busta just dropped the sequel to his 1998 concept album E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front and by all accounts, it’s one of his best works yet (even despite my misgivings about it). Bridging the gaps between, not just one or two, but multiple generations of rap is no small feat but Busta handily accomplishes this task and makes it look easy.
In honor of Busta’s unmatched endurance through nearly 30 years of legitimate, groundbreaking, culture-shifting genre hits, we’ve compiled a list of the consensus best Busta Rhymes songs from across his massive catalog. There’s one caveat, though: None of his iconic features are included here because ever since tearing through his star-making verse on A Tribe Called Quest’s 1991 posse cut “Scenario,” he’s carved a path of destruction through so many other artists’ catalogs that writing them down would require another whole list (some examples: The Fugees’ 1997 “Rumble In The Jungle,” M.O.P.’s 2001 “Ante Up” remix, DJ Khaled’s 2007 remix of “I’m So Hood,” 2011’s “Look At Me Now,” which introduced Busta to the legions of Chris Brown fans on the latter’s comeback trail, and this year’s Stevie Wonder revival “Can’t Put It in the Hands of Fate”).
10. “Gimme Some More”
With its eerie string loops, the 1998 lead single from Busta’s third album E.L.E. was an unconventional one at the time. Nominated for Best Rap Solo Performance at the 2000 Grammy Awards, the Psycho-sampling cut ironically lost out to a single whose content more closely matched the film: Eminem’s “My Name Is.” Like many of Busta’s early hits, it was accompanied by a cartoony, Hype Williams-directed video, and a beat by DJ Scratch.
One of Busta’s earlier hits, “Dangerous” appeared on his second album, When Disaster Strikes. Sampling the Extra T’s’ 1982 “E.T. Boogie” and referencing a 1983 Long Island Regional Poison Control Council PSA about prescription drugs, the single is a stern warning to challengers, lightened up by a cheeky video with winking references to both Lethal Weapon and The Last Dragon.
8. “Don’t Touch Me”
A promo single for 2009’s Back On My B.S., “Don’t Touch Me” never actually made it on the album but still made a big splash when it dropped thanks to its surreal video and jazzy backing track. To this day, I have never seen a dance floor remain empty if it finds its way into a DJ’s rotation. While it was a relatively minor hit as far as Busta Rhymes songs go, it remains a beloved favorite due to its cultural connotations — a spot on the NBA Live 09 soundtrack and a number of placements in film and television.
7. “Look Over Your Shoulder”
Busta and Kendrick Lamar. There’s almost nothing else to say here. Two of rap’s great technicians teamed up this year for only their second collaboration ever on Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath Of God. Produced by longtime Busta go-to Nottz and sampling The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There,” Busta somehow managed to keep the track under wraps for almost four years; created it 2016, it leaked in 2018, then again with a different instrumental in 2019. However, the mastered version that found its way onto E.L.E. 2 lost none of its luster as the two MCs trade tyrannical verses reaffirming their utter dominance of the form.
6. “New York Shit”
If you’re from New York, stand up right now. Swizz Beatz’s quirky non-chorus even blasted out of whips in Los Angeles in 2006 as the third single from The Big Bang swept over radio and video, renewing interest in New York rap classics like Diamond D, whose “I Went For Mine” sampled the same song. Legendary NY rappers Q-Tip, Rakim, Slick Rick, and more appeared in the video, while dozens of remixes were created as half the rap game either freestyled over the smooth horns or put on for their own locales.
5. “Break Ya Neck”
The Dr. Dre-produced lead single from Busta’s 2001 fifth studio album Genesis helped kick off his new era after completing his disaster-themed initial run of late-’90s speaker thumpers. As much as it was a departure from what fans had come to expect by then, it was also the single that propelled Busta into the new millennium thanks to it’s buzzy, technological production and a typically exuberant performance from the always high-energy Busta.
4. “Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check”
Busta’s first solo single, “Woo Hah!!” helped propel his debut album The Coming to platinum status in just a year and landed at No. 8 on the Hot 100. Establishing all the tropes Busta would come to be known for in future years, it features an off-kilter melody sampled from Galt MacDermot’s “Space,” a trademark, just-short-of-unhinged performance from Busta, and an absurdist, colorful music video directed by Hype Williams. It’s also a stunning showcase of Busta’s one-of-a-kind flow and rhyme ability, as he maintains each verse’s scheme for all 16 bars without recycling any words.
3. “What’s It Gonna Be?!”
Although Busta is mainly known for aggressive battle raps and hyperactive party rhymes, he’s been known to throw a romantic line or two into his oeuvre. “It’s A Party” was pretty slick in its time and Flipmode Squad’s “I Know What You Want” with Mariah Carey is a classic in its own right. But the definitive smooth jam from
Busta’s catalog is his 1999 duet with Janet Jackson. With both artists at the height of their powers — at the time, at least — Busta and Janet exchange salacious come-ons over an unconventional track that suited both the way Janet’s wardrobe in the groundbreaking video hugged every curve. And the video was what made the song stick in the minds of a generation of hip-hop fans; from the then-state-of-the-art CGI to the suggestive imagery, it’s an unforgettable experience that earned Busta four MTV Video Music Awards nominations in 1999 and was one of the most expensive music videos ever produced.
2. “Pass The Courvoisier, Pt. II”
The fourth single from Genesis was easily the superior of the two “Pass The Courvoisier” cuts, adding Pharrell Williams, a bouncy, Neptunes-produced beat, and featuring Busta and Diddy trading laid-back verses with a back-and-forth flow that highlighted their chemistry and charisma. The video is suitably hilarious, drawing from Harlem Nights and Rush Hour 2 for a star-studded visual that ruled video countdowns when they were still a thing.
1. “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See”
The lead single from When Disaster Strikes, this song came along after Busta had been a rap fixture for five-plus years, yet it was also the one that announced that he’d truly arrived. While “Woo-Hah!!” had been a solid hit and “It’s A Party” with Zhane proved he had more to offer than just raucous party raps, “Put Your Hands” was the song that truly sealed Busta’s iconic status thanks to its video riffing on Coming To America. Ironically, though, the song itself never truly charted despite receiving a ridiculous amount of airplay. I distinctly remember tuning into The Box and/or MTV looking specifically for the video and never having to wait too long to see it. Busta was truly robbed at the 1998 Grammys, losing Best Rap Solo Performance to Will Smith for “Gettin’ Jiggy With It.”