Busta Rhymes Shares Near-Death Experiences That Transformed His Life

The hip-hop superstar opens up about his health struggles for 'Men's Health's September issue.

Busta Rhymes is opening up about the health struggles and terrifying incidents that motivated him to "transform" his body.

The 51-year-old rapper recently spoke with Men's Health for the outlet's ongoing "Hip Hop Health" content series, which examines how the evolution of the health of Black and brown men can be traced through the genre in honor of hip-hop's 50th anniversary. Busta divulges how grief led to his weight gain, and how experiences with his ex and one of his sons led to him losing 100 pounds and changing his life.

Busta -- real name Trevor Smith Jr. -- explains that he never properly dealt with the death of his father in early 2014, and his grief led to him "drinking, smoking, eating bad -- the whole nasty -- and recording a bunch of songs just to escape the pain."

The rapper's coping methods had him weighing up to 340 pounds and struggling with a bevy of medical ailments, including polyps that developed on his vocal cords, blocking 90 percent of his air passages and causing severe sleep apnea. Despite knowing that surgery could fix his ailment, Busta admits that he was fearful because of the risk it posed to his unique baritone, sharing that his surgeon had warned that it could change the octave of his voice, "closer to a chipmunk kind of n***a."

Shayan Asgharnia for Men's Health

"One night, I was getting ready to have an intimate moment with my ex [and] I had a breathing issue after the intimate interaction. I was having a really difficult time breathing, so I got up, and I walked out of the bedroom so she wouldn't panic seeing me trying to keep myself calm," Busta recalls. "I was trying to inhale, and it felt like it wasn't working. I felt like I was having an asthma attack, but I don't have asthma... That was scaring me so much that it was a mindf**k, because I had to stay calm and make sure she didn't hear me panic or hear me struggle to breathe. I'm butt-a** naked in the living room, trying to calm myself down."

The rapper shares that when he "got right" and returned to his ex, she candidly told him something "that really f**ked me up."

"She was like, 'Yo, this is not who I fell in love with.' She didn't know what had happened outside, but she was looking at my body and the weight. She was like, 'You gotta lose this weight. This breathing is scaring me. When I met you, you wasn't like a musclehead, but you, you was slim, you was cut, you had your s**t right. I need you to get back to who I fell in love with,'" he tells Men's Health.

Looking back, the rapper notes that the incident wasn't the only moment where he realized things were getting out of control with his health. In May 2019, after a heavy night out celebrating the 47th birthday weekend of the late Notorious B.I.G and the memory of Nipsey Hussle -- who had died two months prior -- Busta drank himself into such a stupor that he appeared to be in a coma.

The rapper was unresponsive for over 40 minutes, during which his eldest son and his security detail attempted to snap him out of it. "Security was like, 'Your son is very disappointed and concerned by what he saw last night,'" he reveals. "I felt ashamed because I wasn't in the right mind to even be aware of what had happened the night before. I set up a doctor's appointment the next day." 

Shayan Asgharnia for Men's Health

"That's when I got surgery and started to get back in shape," Busta shares, saying he's lost 100 pounds. "I've actually transformed my body three times. Now it's 'my season' again, I’m getting ready for the tour. I'm gonna be on stage with 50 [Cent] and don't want to be the weak link. Also, it’s gonna inspire people when they see you in shape when you walking around here, moving and shaking. Me, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre -- a lot of artists now -- understand the seriousness and significance of self-preservation: a healthy diet regimen, significant water intake, getting your sleep so your body can repair itself when you beat it up, and you tear that muscle from the workouts. The most important thing in life is self-preservation."

He adds, "Mind, body, and spirit: make sure that you're in the healthiest space that you can be in so that you can use your better sense of judgment at all times. Go to the gym, eat good, sleep -- get it right cuz it's important. Find that balance mentally and spiritually so that you can find that peace of mind and that happiness to be your best self. Not just for you, but for the people that you love, bro."

Since then, the rapper has turned his health around and is "living his best life." Along with his 50-plus-date Final Lap tour with 50 Cent, the rapper is gearing up for the release of his 11th studio album, executive-produced by Swizz Beatz, Pharrell, and Timbaland. 

In June, he was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the BET Awards -- presented by Marlon Wayans and Swizz Beatz -- where he shared an inspirational message in his acceptance speech, and got emotional while reflecting on the award.

Speaking with ET after the show at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, Busta explained what, exactly, brought him to tears during his speech.

"I was thinking about everyone that I acknowledged. I was thinking about the ones I couldn't get to because I ain't have enough time," Rhymes explained. "[And] I'm looking at my kids for the first time all together at such a prestigious moment in my life."

Several of the artist's six kids were in the audience, and Rhymes admitted that it was their love and support that really moved him.

"I ain't going to lie, one thing I didn't want to say on the stage is that, as I'm looking at my kids, [there were] a lot of times when I had to leave home to do this s**t to make sure they were straight. And I lived with that guilt for a long time, because I might have missed a graduation, you know what I'm saying, I might've missed a birthday. I might've missed teaching my kid how to ride a bike," he reflected. "But as they got older, they understood. And I'm super grateful because to see how proud of me they are now, sometimes made feel like I might of let them down in the past."

"It was challenging to look at them so happy, and still feel like I got work to do to make them happier," he added.