Five Years Left: How the Apocalyptic Vision of Busta Rhymes Prepared Us for Trump
Kim Jong-Un and Putin, we've got you all in check.
“There’s only five years left.”
Busta Rhymes gives us this warning on “Everything Remains Raw,” from his 1996 debut The Coming. Busta’s first solo album was also the first in what would be a trilogy of doomsday-themed records from the New York rapper. The Coming, When Disaster Strikes…, and E. L. E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front all contain allusions to a massive event sparking a catastrophic end to the world.
At the time, it was fair to assume that the world-ending event was Y2K. It seems silly now, but there was real fear about computer systems crashing and causing a massive worldwide blackout due to the transition from 1999 to 2000. Even typing it out makes you feel stupid, but I promise it was a legitimate fear.
Y2K, like the 2012 Mayan prophecy after it, became the target of massive proclamations of the coming apocalypse and an impending doomsday. Busta, who has always been into doomsday predictions, for a long time centered his music around it. And not just his albums, but also his dark, apocalyptic music videos like “Put Your Hands (Where My Eyes Can See).” Even Puff Daddy’s video for “Victory,” which features Busta, plays on nightmarish dystopias.
Suffice it to say, Y2K never happened and Busta moved on from the apocalyptic records when the 2000s came. However, if you let Busta tell it, he was right all along. In a 2012 interview, he told MTV News, “This is what people misinterpret: I never said the world was gonna end in a literal sense, even though that’s the way I always gave it up in the music and through the concepts of my albums. When I put out ‘Everything Remains Raw’ in ’96, five years after that was 2001 and, in 2001, the world that we knew changed because of the Twin Towers.”
In theory, this makes sense (even though the other albums confirm that he seems to be talking about the year 2000). The assumption is that The Coming was recorded in 1995 so the “five years left” warning would have applied to 2000, but if you just consider it from the year of its release in 1996, then it refers to 2001, and yes, it’s fair to say the events from 2001 changed our world as we know it.
Busta Rhymes is overplaying his hand in what he claims he saw coming, but more than anything else, 2001 created a sense of fear and dread in America from which it (and the larger world) has never recovered. Busta even more or less predicts it: On the song “Against All Odds”, he raps, “None of y’all niggas really wanna war / The type of nigga to crash my plane in your building / In the name of Allah.” By this point, terrorists had tried to bomb the World Trade Center once before but not by using a plane. It’s a huge coincidence (as is Baby Sham making reference to boxcutters in the song’s opening moments), but it lends credence to Busta’s belief in this time as the end period.
“Best form of advice I could give is remain calm / The repercussion is something you could never imagine would be going on,” he raps on 1998’s “Extinction Level Event (The Song of Salvation).” It became sound advice after 9/11 and continues to be so in the age of Donald Trump’s presidency, which is itself the product of our national fears, anger, and racial animosity that seemed to only ramp up after the terrorist attacks of September 11th.
It’s hard not to stir the pot of doomsday prophecy with so much destruction and chaos happening and being promised.
The idea of an Extinction Level Event has made its way back to the imaginations of the culture at large, and it’s easy to see why. The events of Charlottesville have shown that white supremacists are ready, willing, and able to take what they believe is “theirs” by force while having, if not support, then quiet approval from the president to do so. The same president has openly antagonized and entered a pissing contest with Kim Jong-Un over nuclear war. Both Trump’s doctrine and Brexit promised to rid their respective countries of illegal immigrants—even if it means also going after legal immigrants and discriminating against anyone who cuts a certain religious profile—and just recently Trump called for more American troops to enter into Afghanistan. Add to that a pair of destructive hurricanes.
So, yeah. It’s hard not to stir the pot of doomsday prophecy with so much destruction and chaos happening and being promised. And while the world probably will not end, it’s hard to imagine our reality not continuing to spiral toward the abyss.
On the title track of When Disaster Strikes…, Busta warns, “When disaster strikes, you will all feel / When disaster strikes, you will all see / When disaster strikes, you will all bear witness / To the most high exalted.” There are many ways to interpret these lines. In the context of the album, the most high is the Flipmode Squad. A constant theme throughout these albums is that of Flipmode, Busta’s crew, being an omnipotent, destruction-bringing force that will crash down to our world by 2000. In a more general sense, though, it also has religious connotations. In Christianity, God has been known as the Most High and the biblical Book of Revelation tells the story of the apocalypse. In another general sense, as political disasters have been brought upon the world, those who benefit—the 1% or the elite class—have continued to reach higher heights of power, influence, and wealth, banking on our fears and desires for security. Busta’s proclamations may not have been exactly accurate (especially in regards to the power of the Flipmode Squad), but they teach us a lot about how our world has changed.
Going back to “Everything Remains Raw,” many of its depictions of doom come in the form of weather or gas (“Once you inhale smoke from my flow—carbon monoxide! / Use your imagination, let me take you higher / Rain, hail, snow, earthquakes, earth wind, and fire”) and the human dread of being alive in drastic times (“While niggas is scared to death they breathe they last breath / Days of my life goes on, word is bond”). It’s not hard to hear a reflection of our own global-warming fears. The “There’s Only One Year Left” intro from E. L. E. is essentially a roadmap of the deepest fears about our dying planet and what would turn out to be Donald Trump’s America. Lines like “The nations of the civilized world will collapse under the impressive weight of parasitic political conspiracies which remove all hope and optimism from their once-faithful citizens” and “Unleash total worldwide destruction by means of nuclear holocaust” could be ripped from news of today.
The only comfort I can provide is that Busta Rhymes is not alone in his affinity for these prophecies. Predicting or obsessing over the end of days is a common activity in the world since the beginning of time. From the Mayans to church leaders to the people who yell at you on the street, everyone has their theory on when and how the world will end; the common ethos of Christianity is that the end is nigh. We have a clear fixation on doomsday, and in some ways we create our own demise by focusing on it.
Throughout his tour of doom and gloom, Busta is assured in his belief that he’ll be alright. “And while you coughing I be flossing like a fuckin’ dolphin” he says on 1996’s “Survival Hungry”; Busta is a born survivor and he is always optimistic about his chances even while warning us of what’s to come. These albums are ultimately about surviving in the new age, not being bogged down by fear or depression, which is what we tend to do to ourselves in the face of calamity and bad news. Whether inadvertent or not, Busta Rhymes shows us the way forward this with these three albums. Each one is more apocalyptic and nightmarish than the last, and by the time 2000 came and went, Busta had turned his attention elsewhere. He had stopped focusing on the end times in his music. He had made his claims and then moved on; he began focusing more on the life in front of him and making the best music he could. We could all learn that lesson from him too. FL