Before Busta Rhymes was the Busta Rhymes, he was Trevor George Smith Jr., just a Brooklyn-born kid who was attending the same high school as The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z.
After his family moved to Long Island, Busta connected with Uniondale locals, Charlie Brown, Dinco D and Cut Monitor Milo, and the four of them would go on to form a group called Leaders of the New School. At the time Busta was still going by his first rap name: “Chill-O-Ski.”
“I thought it was cool because at the time all of my favorites had three-part rap names like LL Cool J or The Fat Boys, right?” Busta later explained. “Prince Markie Dee or Kool Rock Ski or some of the pioneers like Grandmaster Caz or Grandmaster Flash.”
It wasn’t long before the group scored the opportunity of a lifetime – to perform as the opening act for Public Enemy. Busta had the chance to meet the legendary Chuck D, who gave him his new rap name, inspired by NFL wide receiver George “Buster” Rhymes.
“When Chuck met me I was about 13, 14,” Busta recalled to The Post Game. “I’m so animated and energetic, I like to give it all to the people, and he just said, ‘Yo, with this aggression that I ain’t ever seen with your performance skill set, you’re such a showman, it almost looks like you’re playing football when you rhyming, so you should call yourself ‘Busta Rhymes.'”
Initially, Busta wasn’t a fan of the name. “I hated the name,” he recalled. “Because Chuck D and them were the guys we wanted to be like and looked up to you usually wanted to try it, so I ran around for like three, four months and people fell in love with the name because it just matched – ‘Busta Rhymes’ – even without knowing about the legendary Buster Rhymes from the Minnesota Vikings.”
“When you see me in this burst of energy, how I’m trying to bust through, it just made sense with just the way I displayed how I did my thing, you know? So it still worked for me even without knowing about the Buster Rhymes history.”
Leaders of the New School went on to sign with Elektra Records and drop two albums – A Future Without a Past… in 1991 and T.I.M.E. (The Inner Mind’s Eye) in 1993 – but Busta’s star was shining so brightly that it wasn’t long before he left the group to become a solo act.
In an interview with Unkut, Elektra Records A&R Dante Ross recalled the moment he realised Busta Rhymes was on a different level to the rest of the Leaders of the New School, and encouraged the rapper to go solo.
Dante Ross: When Leaders of the New School turned in their second album it was bad – from me to you, it wasn’t a good record. I tried to change the record, make it better. They went back in the studio, had to do it again. It wasn’t working. Busta though, I knew was a star. Busta was killing it on the “Scenario” remix, and when we went to make the second Leaders of the New School record I had Q-Tip ready to help me make the whole record with them, like the way he did for Mobb Deep’s album. None of them dude’s were with it except Bus, and I saw right there that Bus is smarter than these dudes – he’s thinking. I’m gonna be honest with you, making that record – when they turned it in the first time, and I knew it was wack and I sent back in – I told Chris Lighty and Lyor Cohen, “It’s time to think about Busta doin’ a solo record.” In the interim of that record comin’ out, “Flava In Ya Ear” [remix] came out, so I was verified that he was a star to me. I knew the record was bad, that when they turned it in the second time I couldn’t make it no better – they would not let me. I was like, “Yo, put the record out, it’s not gonna perform but let’s get Busta thinkin’ solo deal.” And that’s what happened.Dante Ross – The Unkut Interview, Part 2: The Elektra Era | Unkut