In a studio hidden away from the noise of New York, Busta Rhymes thumbs through tracks from his latest LP, " Year of the Dragon." Between puffs of Newports, he pauses to deliver brief commentary on each song.
"I love challenging artists," he says as he plays a song featuring Gucci Mane. The track features the candy-painted rapper on a DJ Ted Smooth-produced cut and, as soon as the first note hits the eardrums, it's clear the Staten Island native has struck gold.
"Make It Look Easy" is one of several tracks on "Year of the Dragon" that caught the attention of Google. Partnering with the veteran rapper in August 2011 (before he signed a label deal with Cash Money last fall), Google developed a deal that allowed the 13-track album to be released exclusively through its Google Play service for free on Aug. 21.
"They thought Busta would be a great artist to catapult their situation into new heights as they were trying to become a part of the industry," says manager Rasheem "Bubba" Barker Jr. of Violator Management.
Known simply as the Android Market since its inception in 2008, Google relaunched the music service on March 6, 2012, as Google Play. Acting not only as an alternative to iTunes and Amazon, Google Play strives to give artists with creative control of their intellectual property an opportunity to distribute it to audiences through various means.
"We started talking about different ways to work together because he had no label deal at the time, so he was totally free to come up with innovative ways of delivering his music," Google Play head of content management Tim Quirk says. "Those are the types of artists we love working with the most, because they love doing new and creative things."
As a company that values creative control, this addition of a marketing element allows Google Play to differentiate itself from its competitors. In addition to the release of "Year of the Dragon," Google capitalized on the deal when the rapper headlined the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival in July and crafted scenes from the event into a mini-documentary, "Life & Rhymes," about his longevity in the music industry. Having made about a dozen exclusive releases since its inception, Google Play plans to continue the concept in the near future.
"We like to provide some content around [which we'll] give people other content to grab onto, just like we did with the Busta Rhymes documentary," Quirk says of the free album stream and mini-doc combination.
Rhymes and his management plan to continue their relationship with Google Play. According to Barker, the company will assist with further promotion and future performances, while Violator has a physical release in the works for "Year of the Dragon."
"I've never put out an album for free before, but I've got people that have been rocking with me, spending their money for the past 20 years of my career," the rapper says. "I take great pleasure in aligning myself with people who understand what the 'Busta Rhymes brand' is about, and Google definitely has a whole lot of people who do."
Unbound by traditional practices of the music industry, Rhymes has blazed his own path and "Year of the Dragon" is part of that attitude. Recognizing the changes within hip-hop, the 40-year-old artist has managed to adapt to the shifting climate, as evidenced by his timely collaborations alongside acts like Tiësto, Jodie Connor and Chris Brown, with whom he reached No. 1 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart on Brown's "Look at Me Now" in 2001. It was his second No. 1 on the tally, where he's notched 10 top 10s. Rhymes has sold 7.8 million albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
"I'm a fan of the music and that's pretty much it," he says. "No antidote or ingredient -- I'm just in love with what I do."