How many times did Bus-A-Bus have to beat us in the head with that for us to get the drift? Already a recognizable figure on his own, ’98 saw Busta Rhymes formally introduce the same crew who blessed When Disaster Strikes a year earlier. But unlike every rapper trying to put they “mans on,” Flipmode actually knew what was expected of them, and went the distance. Simply put: The Imperial is one of the best group albums ever. From the Spanish hypnosis found on “Cha, Cha, Cha” to Swizz Beatz’ blistering “Run For Cover,” the hardcore sextet produced nothing but pure New York street heat. They even featured a couple of surprises like the sequel to Black Moon’s “Got U Opin” and getting the entire Squad involved for some “Straight Spittin.”
But if you peep the liner notes, notice each one of the members had a chess piece by their picture. While it was a clever way to make them appear as an united machine, the correspondence between the pieces and their actual roles couldn’t have been more accurate…
Rampage – The Bishop
Unorthodox in delivery just like the bishop in movement, Rampage didn’t necessarily possess the power to run the show on his own. But he remained a vital piece in Flipmode’s army, commanding like a diocese just as he did on the chorus for “Run For Cover.”
Spliff Star – The Knight
How ironic was it that “Spliff” always made references to “smokin’ blunts and L’s” because as you may know, the knight moves in that 3 square “L” motion. However he had no trouble jumping outside the box, blazing joints like “Cha, Cha, Cha” and “Last Night.” Busta’s right hand lived up to his board game moniker, proving he had skills with the mic as well as the baggies.
Lord Have Mercy – The Rook
“Lord Have Mercy stay super like the Son of Jor-El!!!” Straightforward in his approach similar to his coinciding chess piece, Lord Have used his booming baritone to completely abuse the production on “Everybody On The Line Outside” and “Run For Cover.” Unfortunately just like the rook, he possessed a lot of power (skill), and attempted an unsuccessful castle, eventually fading into obscurity in the subsequent years following the album.
Rah Digga – The Queen
Digga Digga, first name Rashia. Despite being the only member able to carry the “queen” title and take it as a compliment, Rah Digga held down her side of the throne with her witty lyrics and sharp tongue. “Spittin’ more verses than the Book of Job,” “Deliveries harder than girls in obstetrics, “I be milky like Way’s or milky like WIC/or whatever type phrase rappers choose to model…” and so on and so on. Digga murdered every track she blessed like she refused just to be the “girl” in the group. Can’t blame her for that.
Baby Cham – The Pawn
Generally speaking, calling someone a pawn is “fightin’ words,” but let’s not forget in the game of chess, a pawn can cause a checkmate if the gameplan falls apart. Cham may have been overshadowed by his more experienced teammates, but that didn’t prevent him for showing he had heart—-namely on the album’s most substantial track “Do For Self.”
Busta Rhymes – The King
The top dog. The general. The reason you play the game and the reason you even know who the Flipmode Squad is. As commander-in-chief, Busta orchestrated the movement of his crew and the album’s flow, implementing some of his hilarious skits while still allowing the Squad to get their shine. But he still took over the battlefield when needed as shown on “Everything” and “Straight Spittin.” And just like a winning game of chess, the king is left standing while the other pieces lick their wounds. That’s why a decade later, Flipmode is nothing but a memory and Busta is prepping his 8th solo album.