When Busta Rhymes speaks into a mic, people tend to listen. Over the last twenty-odd years, he has proven to be one of the few artists who tackles absurdly creative extremes while still maintaining a core charisma that keeps audiences hooked.
He opens the 28-track scrapbook The Abstract and the Dragon with a simple announcement of his and Q-Tip’s arrival: “We here”. The two hip-hop luminaries share a long history together–they’ve “been brothers for 26 years”, after all–and their vast collaborative catalogue contains a mishmash of genre staples and passed-over b-sides. Consequently, a respectable effort to share these unreleased gems in the form of a mixtape marks a joyful, if nebulous, celebration of the duo’s coming of age.
Upon release, some frustration arose due to the relative lack of wholly new music on the project, though Native Tongues devotees’ expectations had been boosted to astronomic levels by the release of the infectious “Thank You”, which features banter from Lil’ Wayne and Kanye West.
Though the vast majority of these songs are, indeed, not new, the project serves as the first (nearly) comprehensive guide to the previously scattered library. For instance, “For The Nasty” was first heard on the NBA Live ’06 soundtrack, and all but the most dedicated fans may have missed this standout track, produced by the Neptunes at the peak of their prominence.
The central strand that balances the overlooked, well-known and brand-new is a series of soliloquies by Busta, who tells some great stories and shares glimpses behind the scenes that are just as hilarious and off-kilter as one would imagine (in the interest of keeping full entertainment value, I’ll let the listener hear the stories for his or herself).
These stories and musings are, in some ways, the real jewels of the album–it isn’t often that one gets to hear a legend reminisce candidly. They don’t, however, quite provide enough structure to the arc of the project, and the listener may find his or herself zoned out and bobbing to the steady boom-bap rather than paying close attention to the progression. And yet, the beauty of the project stems from such an ability to simply listen loosely and enjoy: the affect of the rhythm overpowers the story. It’s quality hip hop, beginning to end. With Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes, we’ve learned to expect nothing less.