Busta Rhymes has navigated his iconically loud, in-your-face persona, billion-words-per-minute flow and raspy baritone through the annals of rap for longer than most of his current fans have been alive.
His first major performance on the room-clearing banger “Scenario” took him into relative stardom, but his solo single “Woo Hah!” and subsequent albums made him a revered monster of his time.
Sad to say that in contemporary terms, most people know him as “the really fast guy on that Chris Brown song who says nothing.” He’s always been a stalwart of mainstream radio, but never before had he played third fiddle for a young buck.
In fact, the first flagship single I can recall from Busta was “Touch It,” which was dope, but the last one, “Arab Money,” left a lot to be desired. Anyway, the man known for “causing rambunction” seems to have turned over a glossy leaf by signing with YMCMB, presumably squeezing as many dollars out of the industry before his will to tour nonstop runs out.
His first release under the new banner, Year Of The Dragon, at least entertains more than it panders to pop cliches or oddball Bussa Buss antics (sloppily bop?). The album certainly acts as a cache of potential radio singles, yet with Busta behind the wheel, it certifies a standard of quality and freshness that would otherwise be missing.
Take, for instance, the opening track “I’m Talking To You.” Over an anthemic chorus of concertgoers, slapping drums and a echoing Tears For Fears sample, he sets the scene as any pop rapper would – I got money, I got cars, right hand Cyrus etc. The lyrics work fine, but run short of cinematic or even dope, and his flow, a deliberate tip-toe compared to the ubiquitous verbal slip side, adds very little to the hype factor. But his voice COMMANDS attention. It has an indomitable fury that cannot be thwarted and gives the track a much-needed edge.
The same applies to tracks like “Love-Hate” and “Make It Look Easy” which are able to glide past their contemporary’s limits by sheer inclusion of the Bussa Buss serum. Heck, it makes a song about grinding completely tolerable (“Grind Real Slow”), allows him to pull off a fantastic dancehall/riddim performance (Wine & Go Down”) and gives incentive for sitting through a couple of pretty cheesy hooks.
Also, the production rarely fails to get a rise out of listeners. Year of The Dragon prides itself on having solid beats that bang, bump and blow speakers just as much as the “boom shit” southern style, of which one does exist on the album, “King Tut” produced by Jahlil Beats. Aside from the gratuitous gospel feel from “Til We Die,” each tracks allows an excusable amount of lyrical turn-off for the beat alone.
When the album falters, however, there’s not reason other than pop’s tried-and-true sensibilities. “Ugh, the hook is so repetitive.” Well, yeah, it’s pop rap. “Gosh, the lyrics are so similar to those other three songs.” Well, yeah, it’s pop rap. “Sheesh, its three songs too long, don’t ya think?” Well, yeah, it’s pop rap. “Gucci Mane has such a mushmouth. His verse would be so much better if he stopped eating grits in the studio.” Well, yeah, its Gucci Mane. “Oh no, Lil Wayne, I bet it sucks.” Um… it doesn’t, at least compared to his more modern, outrageously anemic songs. That’s one pitfall the album succeeds in stepping over, mostly due to having a Wayne feature that sounds recorded from the Carter III days. His voice even clears up at the end. I know, hypocrisy, but give credit where credit is due.
As stated earlier, the album sets out to exist in a familiar space while adding some rambunctious flair as garnishment and it does that to a T. Year of The Dragon does not deserve a spot on any year-end list, but due to its free status on Google Play and the chance to hear Busta Rhymes command an entire project, certain arguments fall to the wayside. Enjoy it for what it is: entertainment.