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‘The Coming’: How Busta Rhymes’ Debut Album Foresaw The Apocalypse
Warner Music
In Depth

‘The Coming’: How Busta Rhymes’ Debut Album Foresaw The Apocalypse

With manic energy, Busta Rhymes’ debut album, ‘The Coming’, marked the arrival of one of hip-hop’s most unique and charismatic voices.

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Released in the spring of 1996, Busta Rhymes’ debut album, The Coming, launched the Brooklyn-based rapper into the spotlight and cemented his place in hip-hop history. Dominating MTV like a prophet of doom, the rapper instantly set himself apart with his high-energy, fast-paced rhymes and bombastic delivery. But nothing could prepare fans for what awaited them: a record that fused New York City street-smarts with Jamaican toasting to warn hip-hop heads of a coming apocalypse.

Filled with doom-laden imagery, The Coming showcased a dark, tub-thumping side of Busta’s personality while also enthralling listeners with his gruff-voiced verbosity and freewheeling eccentricity. Here is the story of how The Coming predicted the end of the world as we knew it, and prepared hip-hop for a whole new era.

Listen to ‘The Coming’ here.

The backstory: “My voice was always what it was”

Born to Jamaican immigrant parents on 20 May 1972, Trevor George Smith, Jr, grew up in the Brooklyn borough of New York City during the birth pangs of old-school hip-hop. With the sounds of Rapper’s Delight, by The Sugarhill Gang, inspiring him as a young boy, the future Busta Rhymes always knew rap music had lit a creative fuse within him, and his Caribbean-tinged flow was a powder keg waiting to explode. “My voice was always what it was,” Busta later told GQ magazine. “My moms always told me when I was born I sounded like a little dinosaur.”

On his journey to becoming a talented rapper in his own right, the young Trevor would hone his craft in high school by scribbling rhymes in notepads and taking part in cyphers and freestyle sessions. In 1986, he formed a rap group with school friends Charlie Brown, Dinco and Milo, called Leaders Of The New School, and they quickly leapt ahead of their peers by getting booked as a support act for Public Enemy. Acknowledging Trevor as a voracious student of hip-hop, Public Enemy’s Chuck D christened him Busta Rhymes, and also schooled the young upstart in the ways of Afrocentric lyricism and the importance of socially conscious messaging.

With the influence of Native Tongues Posse groups such as Jungle Brothers, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest creeping into Busta’s pen game, Leaders Of the New School broke through to the hip-hop mainstream with their 1991 single Case Of The PTA, which peaked at No.4 on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart. Sampling the piano hook from Mighty Quinn, a 60s hit by British Invasion group Manfred Mann, and a jazz sample from The Ramsey Lewis Trio, the song made considerable waves on the New York rap scene.

However, it was Busta’s game-changing appearance towards the end of A Tribe Called Quest’s single Scenario, from their 1991 masterpiece, The Low End Theory, that truly put him on the map. His snarling verse, filled with rapid-fire rhymes and delivered with fiery gusto (“Rawr! Rawr! Like a dungeon dragon”), earned him critical acclaim and widespread recognition. Proving Busta could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Tribe legends Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Jarobi White, there was no denying the young rapper’s rising star power.

By 1993, after releasing two albums, Leaders Of The New School disbanded following an ill-fated appearance on an episode of Yo! MTV Raps. With his raspy and bombastic rapping style, however, it wasn’t long before Busta scored himself a solo record deal with Elektra Records. Opting to establish his own production crew, Flipmode Squad, Busta set about working on his debut album, The Coming, seizing the opportunity to bring together everything he had learnt to date. The time had come for him to bring the ruckus.

The recording: “I just let the music inspire the way that I would flow”

After starting work on his first solo album towards the end of 1994, recording in Los Angeles, Busta Rhymes flew back to New York and spent his time in three different recording studios: The Mix Palace, Nipskab Lab and Soundtrack. Supplying him with beats were a number of different producers, notably DJ Scratch; Q-Tip’s music collective, The Ummah; Easy Moe Bee; Rashad Smith; The Vibe Chemist Backspin; and Rick St Hilaire. Careful not to lose any memorable lines, Busta wrote his lyrics in the studio and made sure everything was noted down on paper.

Nothing was left to chance: each zany vocal tic and outlandish outburst was entirely pre-planned long before he stepped inside the recording booth. “I just let the music inspire the way that I would flow and how I would attack the record,” Busta later said in an interview with The Ringer. Inspired by a philosophy taught to him by Chuck D, Busta set about ensuring his debut album was anchored by an overarching concept. “It was called CLAMP: Concept, Lyrics, Attitude, Music and Performance,” Busta explained in an interview with GQ. “I live by that to this day. That has never failed me.”

Busta intended for The Coming to be a bold statement for the world of hip-hop: a prophetic work that warned of a looming catastrophe, with a style that put a more surreal and cartoonish spin on socially conscious lyricism. Not only did he want his debut album to resonate with fans of Wu-Tang Clan’s gritty underground sound, but he also wanted it to hark back to the playful output of the Native Tongues Posse, gesturing towards hardcore themes while leaving mouths agape with his tongue-twisting flair.

The album’s lead single, Woo-Hah!! Got You All In Check, was released in January 1996 and blew up on MTV thanks to a joyously bizarre music video directed by Hype Williams, who would also soon help bring Missy Elliott’s vision to life with a string of Supa Dupa Fly clips. Sporting dreadlocks and wearing a range of outrageous outfits, Busta channelled the otherworldly fashion choices of his 70s funk inspiration, George Clinton of Parliament-Funkadelic, while letting loose with a madcap flow that drew upon the style of Jamrock toasters. “I’m of Jamaican descent,” Busta told GQ, “so reggae and dancehall culture, this is what I was raised on.”

Boosted by a remix featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard, whose own debut album, Return To The 36 Chambers (The Dirty Version), had emerged a year ahead of The Coming, Woo-Hah!! Got You All In Check went platinum and peaked at No.8 in both the UK and the US. Showcasing Busta’s mixture of playful flamboyance and wild vocal acrobatics, the song perfectly built anticipation for The Coming by introducing its creator as a unique and distinctive voice in hip-hop.

The release: “Nobody can say that my shit ain’t tight”

Released on 26 March 1996, The Coming debuted at No.6 on the Billboard 200 and was greeted with widespread critical acclaim. Leaving listeners in little doubt that Busta would be a major force, the album’s kaleidoscopic marriage of hard-hitting beats and energetic wordplay was a quirky and uproarious revelation. True to his vision, it also saw Busta ring in the end times like a doomsday preacher.

With lyrical references to Armageddon and the impending destruction of society, The Coming painted a vivid and unsettling picture of a world on the brink of disaster. As if reciting from the Book Of Revelation on the album’s opening track, The Coming (Intro) (“There’s only four years left”), and revelling in wanton doom-mongering on its penultimate cut, The Finish Line (“Son, you’re runnin’ out of time, and you ’bout to cross/The finish line”), Busta delivered an hour-long sermon that was exhilarating and unnerving in equal measure.

The second single lifted from the album, It’s A Party, was released in June 1996 and peaked at No.23 in the UK. Featuring R&B duo Zhané, the song finds Busta at his most playfully deranged (“Back to my dungeon shack, where the party is at/Where I can tickle your nipples and your feminine fat”) and skewers the empty-headed hedonism of the “bling era” years ahead of schedule.

Sounding like a bug-eyed scientist scrawling equations on a chalkboard on Everything Remains Raw (“I make you feel my proton, neutron, and electron”) and gabbling like a Bond villain hell-bent on global domination on Still Shining (“Hit you with my ultraviolet/Skin cancer-causin’ laser beam-flow then cause a riot”), Busta proved himself as versatile as he was frenzied in the lyrics department. “Nobody can say that my shit ain’t tight when it comes to my music,” he said in a 1996 interview with Lorie Caval, in PAPER magazine.

Elsewhere, the Leaders Of The New School reunion track Keep It Movin’ proved there was no bad blood between Busta and his old sparring partners, while Ill Vibe, a jazz-rap collaboration with Q-Tip, was an early launchpad for the soon-to-be legendary producer J Dilla. “He was creating a sound that nobody else was doing,” Busta later told The Ringer of Dilla’s work. “I loved it, and it reminded me of that hard-slapping, creative way of sampling records that Q-Tip was already doing.”

Released as The Coming’s third single, Do My Thing mined the same cavern of grimy funk that RZA spelunked on Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Peaking at No.23 in the UK, the laidback song was a radio hit, its bare-bones beats proving that Busta could just as much embody the ire of underground rap as he could the in-your-face razzle-dazzle of Woo-Hah!!! Got You All In Check.

The legacy: “It did what it was supposed to do”

Chock-full of infectious grooves and catchy vocal hooks, The Coming was a groundbreaking debut album, confirming Busta’s status as a hip-hop superstar with crossover appeal. Going on to sell over a million copies and becoming certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association Of America, the record has long been cherished as a jewel in the crown of 90s hip-hop. Sounding completely unlike most New York rappers, Busta channelled his Jamaican heritage in order to bring a fresh and offbeat energy to the rap game, embodying the spirit of a dreadlocked Rasta barking his way to glory from the swamplands of the Great Morass. “I think a lot of what made it intriguing is what I got from dancehall culture,” Busta acknowledged. “The animation of the performance – that all comes from dancehall culture.”

With a style marked by rapid-fire rhymes, exaggerated inflections and an almost cartoonish energy, Busta’s boundary-pushing display of creativity on The Coming meant his impact on popular culture was undeniable. Most notably, it’s easy to see how his surreal and mischievous music videos would go on to inspire other rap mavericks. “I feel great about [The Coming] for the time that it came out,” Busta acknowledged to The Ringer. “It did what it was supposed to do. That’s it.”

In the realm of hip-hop, few debut albums have had as lasting an impact as Busta Rhymes’. Over two decades later, The Coming remains a classic of the genre and has influenced generations of rappers. In fact, for many fans, The Coming remains one of the best Busta Rhymes albums. From the gritty, aggressive Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check to the more introspective Abandon Ship, Busta tackles a variety of topics with equal skill over an array of raw and whip-cracking beats, with plenty of samples that give the album an old-school vibe.

Perfectly showcasing Busta’s unique flow and commanding presence, The Coming attracted legions of fans, its apocalyptic vibes capturing a snapshot of a time when the rapper was just beginning to make his mark on the world. Even now, it’s an album that can still get heads nodding and feet moving – a testament to the transformative power of earth-shaking music. For this reason, it’s easy to see why Busta Rhymes is still regarded as one of the most respected and influential rappers of all time.

Looking for more? Check out the best debut albums of all time.

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