March 26th 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the debut album from prolific hip hop artiste / producer / occasional actor Trevor “Busta Rhymes” Smith Jr.: “The Coming”. Before its release, he was known as one of the members of the now-defunct four-man group Leaders of the New School. Their brand of light-hearted, golden-age hip hop-hearkening music earned them a following in the East Coast alternative hip hop circuit, along with major groups like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest (my favourite rap group of all time, in case you didn’t know already). But it was the collaboration between A Tribe Called Quest and Leaders of the New School on the posse cut “Scenario” that propelled Busta to instant super-stardom, thanks to his hyperactive delivery and quotable lines (“RRRRRROAW RRRRRRROAW like a Dungeon Dragon!” See kids, THAT’S where Nicki Minaj got her chorus for “Roman’s Revenge” from).
After their 1993 sophomore album (“T.I.M.E. (The Inner Mind’s Eye”) flopped, Leaders of the New School disbanded during the recording of an episode of the MTV hip hop series “Yo! MTV Raps”, the main reason being Busta’s popularity over the other group members. Busta proceeded to capitalize on his success by making guest appearances on a number of artistes’ tracks, the two most notable being A Tribe Called Quest’s “Oh My God” off their “Midnight Marauders” LP (i.e. my favourite album of all time, in case you didn’t know already), and the remix to then-Bad Boy Records signee Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear” (one of the GREATEST posse cuts and remixes in hip-hop history) alongside his cousin Roger McNair a.k.a. Rampage. He also tried his hand at acting with his appearance in the Forest Whitaker-directed film “Strapped” and the John Singleton-directed “Higher Learning” (his second best film to date, in my opinion).
But still, Busta wanted to prove to the world (and himself, obviously) that he had what it took to do a solo project without the assistance of his LONS comrades. And the end result was “The Coming”, released by Elektra Records (where Busta recorded three more albums, his last being the WORST album in his career – 2000’s “Anarchy”) to critical and commercial success. Thanks to the smash hits “Woo-Hah!! Got You All in Check” (and its hyper-stylized, brightly-coloured, fish eye-lens assisted music video by Hype Williams) and “It’s a Party”, the world was officially introduced to the animated, aggressive and idiosyncratic Bus-a-Bus.
Additionally, listeners were introduced to a specific theme on the album that showed up on Busta’s second and third records (1997’s “When Disaster Strikes” – arguably the BEST album in his career – and 1999’s “E.L.E.: Extinction Level Event”, one of his most divisive): Y2K. Each of these three albums – which, for this review’s sake, I’ll call the “Pre-Apocalypse Trilogy”, opens and closes with an aural indication of what terrible, horrifying shit to expect in the year 2000 (See kids, this was back in the days when people thought the world was going to END on January 1st 2000. Fuck, I feel old).
While I will admit the intro and outro for “When Disaster Strikes” weren’t that terrible (at least the intro had Rudy Ray Moore a.k.a. “Dolemite” on it), and the ones for “The Coming” were annoying in their half-baked pretentiousness (more on that in a bit), it’s the opening and closing tracks for “E.L.E.” that were PAINFULLY excruciating to listen to. Despite all that, what really matters aren’t the self-indulgent warnings of a “Terminator”-esque future (I shit you not! Listen to the opening track for “E.L.E.” – if you dare!), but the tracks sandwiched between those torturous lobotomy sessions put on wax. Fortunately for the listener, on those three albums, Busta only delves a little (on a song/line or two) on that theme. But at the end of the day, he’s a hip-hop showman, and come hell or high water or nuclear holocaust, all he wants is to entertain the shit out of the listener.
So did he achieve that goal in his debut album? Let’s find out, shall we?
1. THE COMING (Intro) (ft. Lord Have Mercy & Rampage) – Even with its cartoonishly monstrous prologue by Flipmode Squad (Busta’s official rap clique) associate Lord Have Mercy, hyped intro by Rampage, TWO beat change-ups (the second of which creatively uses a snippet of the late, great Wu-Tang Clan member Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s falsetto from his “Goin’ Down” track off his “Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version” debut album) and some commentary on wack rappers and the state of the rap game from our host himself, this intro is too long and pretentious for its own good. Oh, and Busta mentions that “there’s only 4 years left”, which pretty much kicks off the Pre-Apocalypse Trilogy on a self-indulgent note. More on that later.
2. DO MY THING – For a 2-verse affair, Busta delivers some ridiculously witty bars (“Y’all think fast, before I get, all in your ass / Bend your frame like plexiglass”, “I will endanger your species like an ostrich / Hold you hostage, and crazy feed you swine sausage”) over a funky, heavy-bass beat by DJ/producer DJ Scratch. The short skit at the end (which re-iterates how Busta feels about wack rappers) was unnecessary as fuck, but overall, this was a really decent way to start the album off.
3. EVERYTHING REMAINS RAW – The heavy drums and off-kilter sampling of jazz icon Miles Davis’ “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” is enough to have your head NODDING all throughout Easy Mo Bee’s grimy, nocturnal beat. And Busta spits some of my favourite lines off this entire goddamned album (“Yo, I burn your food like Florence / Run up in your crib like my name was search warrants”, “I be the mostest with rhyme overdoses / Hot stepping over shit like Ini Kamoze’s / Sick lyrics like multiple sclerosis / Focus, while I display flows ferocious”). And not even his self-indulgent “There’s only 5 years left!” declaration (which is funny since he mentioned that “there’s only 4 years left” in the album intro, making it painfully obvious that this track was recorded back in 1995, but anyway…….) at the end of this song was able to kneecap it from becoming one of my all-time favourite Busta Rhymes songs EVER!!
4. ABANDON SHIP (ft. Rampage) – Speaking of all-time favourite Busta Rhymes songs ever – HERE’S ANOTHER ONE!!! Over an energetic, stripped-down instrumental produced by BUSTA HIMSELF (who’d have thought??), Busta and Rampage showcase their chemistry on the mic with one hyped-up, razor-sharp lyric after another. Speaking of instrumental, I always smile at the moment when it skips on purpose after the line “Yo, I’m gettin’ phone calls from that n***a Howard Stern”. This is another song that will have you nodding your head throughout its entirety – and also, if you’re like me, jumping up and down like a madman while you shout the catchy-as-hell refrain “You n***as talk shit, then abandon ship / N***as talk shit then they abandon ship” at the top of your lungs (Imagine me doing that for a minute. FOR A MINUTE! You don’t get FIVE!). And as an added bonus, you get to hear a minute of the light, playful jazz / funk song “Space” by Canadian composer Galt MacDermot. Yeah, it’s purposely placed on the album to inform the listener – “Hey, this is where we got the samples for BOTH the original and remix of “Woo-Hah!! Got you All in Check”, but it does helps to bring the energy down from “Abandon Ship”. And it’s guaranteed to put a goofy smile on your face – and ignore the person or two who caught you jumping up and down like a madman singing “You n***as talk shit, then abandon ship / N***as talk shit then they abandon ship” a minute ago.
5. WOO HAH!! GOT YOU ALL IN CHECK (ft. Rampage) – From its cleverly-written bars (for each of the three verses, the last word in each bar rhymed with one another) and manic delivery by Busta, to the infectious beat produced by Rashad Smith, this first single off this album resonated with me after I first heard it back in 1996- and still does to this day. Arguably his most popular song to date, and one of my top 5 favourite Busta Rhymes songs (and yours also – ADMIT IT), “Woo Hah!! Got you all in Check” is a certified CLASSIC!
6. IT’S A PARTY (ft. Zhané) – Easy Mo Bee’s groovy beat is clearly tailor-made for radio airplay, but it’s the perfect fit for R&B duo Zhané (whose debut album “Pronounced Jah-Nay” I recommend you check out. It’s one of the more better mid-90s R&B albums, in my opinion. And it has “Hey Mr D.J.” and “Groove Thang” on it. So yeah…..). They provide some smooth, seductive lyrics to this club song, while Busta plays the guy who lyrically flirts with them in-between their short verses and chorus. The interlude that appears after this track is simply there to force the listener out of the “club scene” of “It’s a Party” and return to the regularly-scheduled rap shit of the album. Busta’s “Aye yo, Saddam Hussein! Cut that shit off!” request at the end of the interlude is fucking hilarious, by the way!
7. HOT FUDGE – The instrumental by Vibe Chemist Backspin (awesome name, I know) tries to be all moody and nocturnal, but ends up being boring and monotonous. And Busta’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics do little to help things. Oh, and the sex skit afterwards (because fuck it, ALL debut album rap albums had to have a sex skit) is painfully cliched. The first misfire on the album. And I have a strange feeling that there’s more on the way.
8. ILL VIBE (ft. Q-Tip) – Now THIS is how the fuck to do a moody, nocturnal and most importantly, ENTERTAINING instrumental! And both MCs sound fantastic over it, especially Busta who copies his “last word on each bar sounds the same” formula from “Woo-Hah!!”, but in a less-manic fashion. Admittedly, this minimalistic, low-key beat provided by The Ummah (a music production collective consisting of A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and the late, great rapper/producer J Dilla) does sound like a leftover from “Beats, Rhymes and Life”, A Tribe Called Quest’s 1996 album which heralded a change from the upbeat jazzy instrumentation that defined the group’s sound to a slightly-darker, more chilled-out production aesthetic. Even Q-Tip’s bars, great as they were, sounds like a throwaway verse from that album, with that “dose of reality” style of lyricism he adopted after “Midnight Marauders” came out. Come to think of it, “Ill Vibe” would’ve worked better as a track on “Beats, Rhymes and Life”, but hey, who am I to complain?
9. FLIPMODE SQUAD MEETS DEF SQUAD (ft. Jamal, Redman, Keith Murray, Rampage & Lord Have Mercy) – In this eight minute and eleven second posse cut (yeah, this shit is loooong, son!), Def Squad members Jamal, Redman (who steals the show from everyone on this song) and Keith Murray (you’d think that Erick Sermon, one of the founders of Def Squad, would have been on this track, but nope! Nowhere to be found on this track!) join forces with Busta Rhymes, Rampage and Lord Have Mercy to demolish The Vibe Chemist Backspin’s marginally decent beat (at least it’s better than “Hot Fudge”) to the point that you forget it’s playing in the background. And THAT’S saying something!
10. STILL SHINING – J Dilla of The Ummah brings that spacey, snyth-assisted production that made him a LEGEND among hip-hop producers (And I should know. I’m a HUGE fan of his production) into a short but sweet acknowledgment of Busta’s own lyrical talents as an MC. The chorus is a throwback to a line from the remix of “Scenario”, which itself is a reference to the aforementioned line he spit in the original version of “Scenario” that, as I mentioned earlier, shot him to super-stardom. Speaking of Leaders of the New School…
11. KEEP IT MOVIN'(ft. Leaders of the New School) – After verbally scaring the shit out of his LONS peers to get themselves out of their retirement comfort zone to get to the studio (“Where da fuck y’all at?!!”) at the end of “Still Shining”, Busta attempts to re-create the chemistry between himself, Charlie Brown, Cut Monitor Milo and Dinco D over a J Dilla beat that fucking KNOCKS over its five-minute and thirty-second runtime. Lyrically and chorus-wise, it’s not that memorable, but the mere fact that all four members of Leaders of the New School were able to collaborate on this track made it really special. Oh, and the use of the same sample from Ohio Players’ “Ecstasy” – which was used in the instrumental for the “Scenario” remix – was a nice touch, by the way.
12. THE FINISH LINE – After an unnecessary “hood skit” (because fuck it, ALL hardcore rap albums had to have a hood skit), Busta warns the listener to be ever mindful of death, because….well…..death is waiting for us all. And honestly, his subject matter and delivery (for the most part) isn’t bad, but DJ Scratch’s beat is dull and Busta’s sung chorus (one of many in his career) sounds uninspired. But hey, at least we’re nearing the end of this album so…..
13. THE END OF THE WORLD (Outro) (ft. Spliff Star) – After Busta talks about getting ready for the end times and all that Y2K-relevant shit over the first beat from “The Coming” (Intro), we get a pretentious-as-fuck audio collage that sounds like the trailer for a bad, made-for-TV movie about the apocalypse. What a way to end the album, Bus! Oh, and Spliff Star. Damn. Forgot he was on this fucking outro too.
BONUS TRACKS TO ADD TO YOUR PLAYLIST
1. WOO HAH!! GOT YOU ALL IN CHECK (The World Wide Remix) (ft. Ol’ Dirty Bastard) – Trevor Smith Jr. and Russell Jones: a match made in hysterical heaven. Over a catchy, slow-tempo beat that loops another sample from the aforementioned “Space” over a hard drumbeat and heavy bassline, Busta and Ol’ Dirty Bastard go back-and-forth over three verses of demented bars and deranged flows. And they sound freakin’ AWESOME! You can literally feel the chemistry between the two MCs as they each try to support and one-up each other in terms of lyrical zaniness. Both the original and World Wide Remix are crazy in their own right, but this version (and its music video which you should DEFINITELY check out) trumps the former in terms of insane hilarity. But if you’re looking for a remix to YOUR FAVOURITE BUSTA RHYMES SONG (admit it) that’s a lot less ape-shit, then maybe you should try this….
2. WOO HAH!! GOT YOU ALL IN CHECK (The Jay Dee Bounce Remix) (ft. Rampage) – This remix takes the vocals from the original song and lays them over a groovy, mid-tempo beat provided by J Dilla (going by his former alias Jay Dee) himself. Now you’d think that taking Busta’s amped acappella and placing it over a groovy, mid-tempo beat won’t work. But because this beat is fucking FIRE, it totally works! This is one of the best hip hop remixes I’ve ever heard, and as a J Dilla fan, I can easily say that this is one of his best instrumentals. And if you’re a beat junkie, you should definitely source this one! You’ll have this shit on repeat! Trust me on that one.
MY THOUGHTS: “The Coming” isn’t a perfect album. Along with the Y2K theme that gets more annoying with his two follow-ups, there are a few tracks that you genuinely won’t care for, even if they do have Busta’s trademark vocal delivery on them. Fortunately, there are more good songs on this album than bad, and those good songs, fortunately enough, still hold up to this day. If you’re a Busta Rhymes fan, then you should already have this album in your collection. If you’re a die-hard fan of 90s hip hop like I am, then “The Coming” is certainly worth checking out. And if you’re curious of how hip hop sounded back in the 90s before Y2K gave birth to a spawn of wack-ass rappers who did shitty dances, spit shitty rhymes and put audiences to sleep with their shitty, auto-tuned flows, then give this album a listen. You’ll be surprised by how hip-hop sounded in the glory days, and hopefully – entertained as well.
MY RATING: 4 out of 5 stars (“Listen to this album”)