Pass the courvoisier: Busta Rhymes was the first celebrity to be unmasked on Season 4 of “The Masked Season,” as the show got underway on Wednesday night. (Scroll all the way down to watch.)
Rhymes wore the Dragon costume, which helped give it away for panelists Robin Thicke and Nicole Scherzinger, both of whom correctly guessed the hip-hop star. As Thicke noted, dragons have played a role in the title of several Busta Rhymes albums and mixtapes. And then there’s the star’s unmistakable deep growl of a voice.
Both Thicke and Scherzinger have also worked with Rhymes, who admits he was probably easy to figure out.
“I have a signature sound that I have vocally. And obviously I didn’t make it any easier by being the dragon, I’ve represented being the dragon for my whole career,” he told Variety. “It’s not too easy to disguise that it’s me, so I wasn’t surprised that they figured it out that quickly. I definitely tried to modify things. I downplayed the level of energy that I put into the performance and tried to make my voice deeper than what I would normally do. I still had a blast.”
Hip-hop stars have played a major part of “The Masked Singer”: T-Pain won the Season 1 competition, while Li’l Wayne was the first to be unmasked in Season 3.
Rhymes said he was eager to try “The Masked Singer” to have a little fun during this dark year.
“I like being a part of feel good energy,” he said. “And I’m a little tired of the way the environment has been, with these civil liberties being taken away from us. I’m watching a lot of my family and friends, my peers and everybody and how directly and indirectly affected we’ve all been. There’s been a significant gray cloud for an extensive period of time over everybody. This country is in a weird place. I just think that it’s important to remind people, regardless of what’s been happening, is the one thing we’ve got to fight for is being able to live life, and enjoy it.
“If we can’t enjoy life and laugh and have some fun with feel-good energy, what is like at that point?” he added. “So when the opportunity presented itself to be a part of feel good energy and fun times like these, I’m taking full advantage of it.”
Rhymes said he felt comfortable with the COVID protocols that were utilized to keep the set safe. He also said he appreciated the ability to perform at a time when everyone’s stuck at home.
“I come from being able to tour and being in front of thousands of people and being able to interact and really feel the love from the people firsthand,” he said. “Now we’ve got to perform in front of virtual audiences, we’ve got to be six feet apart, we’ve got to get COVID tested every couple of days. When you start putting that costume on, and that music comes on, and you gotta start performing, you escape all of that.”
Rhymes’ unmasking comes as he recently released the songs “The Don & The Boss” with Vybz Kartel and “YUUU” with Anderson .Paak. Next up, Rhymes’ new album “Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God” is on the way (but doesn’t yet have a release date).
“All of this coming together is a testament to how there’s no clock better than God’s clock,” he said. “I just think the timing of this is all the stars just aligning in the way that they’re supposed to.”
On “The Masked Singer,” Rhymes-as-the-Dragon performed LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
While Thicke and Scherzinger got it right, Jenny McCarthy Wahlberg thought it was another rapper, DMX, while Ken Jeong puzzlingly chose swimmer Michael Phelps.
New this season, the show’s panelists are also competing for a “Golden Ear” trophy based on their first impressions of each masked performer — and again, both Thicke and Scherzinger are now in the lead because of their Busta Rhymes guess.
“The Masked Singer” enters Season 4 with 16 contestants, and a few other tweaks — some due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For starters, There was no studio audience, although viewers wouldn’t know it: Video of past seasons’ crowds and an applause track were utilized to make the show look as normal as possible.
Also, animated clue packages were used to get around the difficulty of producing them on location. And with no actual studio audience, at-home voting was instituted via a network of “Masked Singer” superfans, who watched the episodes as they were being taped via closed circuit.
This season’s costumes include Baby Alien, Crocodile, Broccoli, Gremlin, Mushroom, Jellyfish, Whatchamacalit, Lips, Squiggly Monster, Popcorn, Sun, Dragon, Giraffe, Seahorse, Snow Owls and Serpent.
Per host Nick Cannon, the Season 4 contestants have a combined net worth of over $398 million; 46 Grammy nominations; three world records; an Olympic gold medalist; and an Oscar nominee in a major category.
Here were the other contestants and their performances on night one:
Song: “Cuz I Love You,” by Lizzo
Weakness: “Burns easily”
Voice-over: “Rise and shine, friends, and welcome to my solar sanctuary. I’ve had some extreme seasons in my life. When I sprung into existence, I felt like the center of the universe. At first, stardom was great. But it was a ton of pressure. The spotlight was scorching and I got burned out. So came my fall, into a deep depression. I was frozen. But within the darkness of a quiet lace, I transformed into a ray of light. And tonight I’m springing back to life in this new universe. Sun’s out, fun’s out.”
Panel guesses: Katharine McPhee, Demi Lovato, Madonna
Song: “Let’s Get It Started,” by Black Eyed Peas
Strength: “Reaches for the stars”
Weakness: “Door frames”
Voice-over: “Step right up, keep going up, and welcome to my glorious carnival. I’ve had a roller coaster career, full of ups and downs. Music is in my blood. But when I stuck my neck out and took a gigantic risk, I became the butt of everyone’s jokes. I was in knots, and felt so lonely. Like the party was over. But that crash and burn drove me to swing even higher. With hard work, I drummed up towering success. Now I’m in the driver’s seat, and I’m off to the races tonight. That’s a wrap!”
Panel guesses: Travis Barker, Garth Brooks, Vanilla Ice
Song: “What About Us,” by Pink
Strength: “Highly addictive”
Weakness: “Gets stuck in the teeth”
Voice-over: “Hey all you cool corns and cornettes. I’m Popcorn — Ms. Popcorn if you’re tasty. I’m a real sweet corn with a jumbo-sized heart. Straight up, I built a career around love. But that doesn’t mean I’m soft. I’m a hard corn hustler. To get where I am I work long nights, rushing from one job to the next. Eventually I went from a little puff cutting pictures out of Vogue to jet setting to exotic places with royalty. While you may think I’m a little cheesy, I worked for what I got. Now tonight you butter believe I’m ready to get things poppin’ in the spotlight.”
Panel guesses: Tina Turner, Carole Baskin, Mary J. Blige
Song: “Mama Said Knock You Out,” by LL Cool J
Strength: “Extremely rare”
Weakness: “Bad breath”
Voice-over: “Hey, welcome to my lair. Sorry it’s a bit humid in here. As you can see, dressing up in funky, outrageous costumes isn’t new to me. And like a dragon, I’ve always been a fire-breathing beast, on a quest to be the best. But at first, my fire was dangerous. Then I got a tip that helped me calm down and switch gears. And now I’ve got me this shiny treasure den. Tonight I’m coming back on stage to prove my fire’s still hot and drag the golden mask back to my lair.”
Panel guesses: DMX, Michael Phelps, Busta Rhymes
Song: “Say Something,” by A Great Big World
Voice-over: “Owl’s it going? So you haven’t seen us together in a while, but it’s time for a family reunion. Working with him — ‘who?’ You — he’s a prankster! A real wise guy. ‘Anything for a laugh!’ One summer, we were working in sunny Hollywood. ‘I was driving her home singing Let It Snow.’ His voice was way off key and I kept begging him to stop. ‘And I kept egging her on. Until we finally stopped at her nest.’ It was head spinning, he had it completely covered in snow. ‘I just wanted to make Christmas extra magical. So what better way to reunite than snowy owls?’ You ready to take flight again? ‘Let’s duet!’”
Panel guesses: Amy Grant and Vince Gill; Donny and Marie Osmond; Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara
Watch Busta Rhymes’ unmasking below: