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POP ALBUMS

Busta Rhymes Is First Among Friends

*** / FLIPMODE SQUAD / "The Imperial" Elektra

September 19, 1998|SOREN BAKER

Known as much for his outlandish outfits, vibrant videos and loudmouthed tirades at music award shows as he is for his fiery brand of party-flavored hip-hop, Busta Rhymes is more than a simple jester. Leaders of the New School, his first group, released two critically acclaimed albums in the early '90s, and both of his solo albums, 1996's "The Coming" and 1997's "When Disaster Strikes," have sold more than 700,000 units.

Now it's time for the dreadlocked New Yorker to branch out. Following in the footsteps of several other rap superstars, Busta unleashes the Flipmode Squad, his extended rapping family. While "The Imperial," the group's first release, is supposed to be a showcase for Busta's friends, he remains the centerpiece, outshining his pals at every turn. Rampage, who also released a solo album last year, and Rah Digga, the collective's female, emerge as the brightest second fiddles. Like their mentor, the two bring incredible amounts of enthusiasm to every one of their braggadocio-heavy performances.

As enjoyable as the songs on "The Imperial" are, they are sandwiched between a number of unnecessary and lengthy interludes that sap some of the energy from an otherwise more-than-satisfying set.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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