Perhaps the most overexposed hip-hop artist of the '90s, Busta Rhymes has always been more of an entertainer than a rapper or lyricist. A carnival barker, hype man, human cartoon, and one-man brand all rolled up into a synergistic ball, Rhymes exploded onto the pop-music radar with his verse on A Tribe Called Quest's "Scenario," and proceeded to wear out his welcome with an intensity bordering on superhuman. Film, television, clothing, advertising: no medium has been safe from Rhymes' assault on the American public, but as he got bigger, his music became increasingly incidental. Rhymes remained capable of turning out the odd infectious single, but his albums became mere vehicles for spreading the Busta Rhymes brand, the hip-hop equivalent of the product The Rolling Stones spits out so it can fleece fans during world tours. As its title suggests, Genesis is intended as Rhymes' artistic rebirth, and few artists in any genre are as desperately in need of a fresh start. A masterpiece of style over substance, Rhymes' first album for J Records features collaborations with a dream team of producers (Dr. Dre, The Neptunes, Diamond D, Pete Rock, Jay Dee) on songs designed to turn even the most recalcitrant Poindexter into a dyed-in-the-wool Party Person. The best album Clive Davis' money can buy, Genesis happily trades profundity and depth (never Rhymes' strong points) for trunk-rattling bass and radio-ready hooks, and the results are surprisingly terrific. Nowhere is this strategy more apparent than on "Shut 'Em Down 2002," an amped-up remake of Pete Rock's justly revered remix of Public Enemy's furious anti-corporate jeremiad. Rhymes' version drains the song of any political content, while raising the volume exponentially. On a lyrical and political level, that's a pointless, even regressive move, but it works sonically, as does virtually the entire album. As in the past, Busta Rhymes' lyrics dwell on such matters as the need for party people to move various parts of their anatomy while acknowledging the greatness of Rhymes' Flipmode Squad. But with masters like Dre and The Neptunes manning the boards, that lack of substance becomes wholly forgivable. At 77+ minutes, Genesis eventually runs out of steam, but not before delivering some of the best hip-hop dance music in ages.

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