Busta Rhymes has had a rough time lately. The hip-hop powerhouse spent the past three years dealing with a string of arrests and subsequent weapons and assault charges as well as the death of his friend and bodyguard, Israel Ramirez, who was shot while guarding Rhymes' jewelry on the video set of his 2006 song "Touch It." But after some soul-searching (and court-mandated community service), Rhymes has returned with a new image, a new sound and a new album. Back on My B.S., out May 19, features guest appearances by a glittering cast of stars ranging from Lil Wayne to Linkin Park. The rapper talked to TIME about his new record, the New York City hip-hop scene, and why he didn't mean to offend anyone with the song "Arab Money." (See TIME's graphic, "The Roots of Rap.")
What's your new album like?
I wanted to make something that reminded people of the way albums used to feel. I wanted something as good as the stuff put out by the Bomb Squad, or Dr. Dre and his production crew, or A Tribe Called Quest. I miss albums like those.
You've got tons of people helping you out with this record; there are at least 15 major collaborations. Who were you most excited to work with?
Everyone. I had a wish list of people I wanted to work with and it actually came true. With every song I have a person in mind who, in a perfect world, would perform with me. Usually I end up not getting that person, and I'm forced to settle for someone else. That did not happen to me on this album. Every person I wanted came through and delivered.
Which successful collaboration surprised you the most?
I have a song called "Decisions" that features Jamie Foxx, Mary J. Blige, John Legend and Common. It's about people who have made a decision to really stand by you as friends.
There's a song on the album called "Arab Money" that incorporates verses from the Koran as well as statements about women and partying. Some people are really offended by the song and its video. I know you've stated publicly that the song isn't meant to demean anyone. What were you trying to say there?
I think the handful of people who disagreed with this song really misunderstood what the record was about. What I'm talking about is getting money. I was really trying to point out that Arabs have one of the richest cultures in the world, not just from a monetary standpoint but also a spiritual standpoint. In the United States and North America, we're not really identified with a particular faith. We don't really have a culture that anyone can identify with because America is a mixture taken from everyone else's [roots]. My thinking is that if we're going to take from a culture, let's take from a culture that has exemplified success for thousands of years.
You've had a rough past few years, what with your legal troubles and the death of your friend. How are you doing now?
I'm doing great. I was able to get past all of that without having to compromise what I love most, which is my music and taking care of my family. I went through the thick and the thin. It all helped me distinguish who my real friends were.
What's the New York hip-hop scene like and how much do you credit it for your success?
New York is traditional New York, you know what I'm saying? It's the stomping ground of the hustlers and go-getters. It had a few slump years, but the scene is starting to reemerge. Brooklyn is where I primarily developed. I had an opportunity to make records and perform in clubs here and there, and I started networking with the right people in the right places. My making it is a combination of grinding, grinding, grinding and being lucky enough to finally get a shot.
You've acted in a bunch of movies and you have some new films coming out. Is this something you want to continue to do?
I'm a fan of making films. Whether I'm on stage or in front of a camera, one of my first loves is performing for the people. I'd like to do more acting. I'm in the negotiation process for two other films. One is with Martin Scorsese. If I can get movie roles to come as consistently as the opportunity to make music, I would definitely embrace every one of those opportunities.