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Review: Q-Tip & Busta Rhymes, ‘The Abstract and the Dragon’ Mixtape

Butch & Sundance
The Conglomerate Ent. & Mr. Incognito Inc.

Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip‘s new mixtape is for the most part, a compilation of classics. And although we hoped it would be all new material, we’re not mad at this stroll down memory lane and glimpse into the future of this dynamic Native Tongue duo.

The mixtape, ’The Abstract and the Dragon’ serves as a both look back and a reintroduction to the one-two punch of Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip, who’ve been frequent collaborators for over 20 years.

Accompanied by a few skits, tributes and a typically animated Busta Rhymes rant, ‘The Abstract and the Dragon’ mostly consists of throwback deep cuts, essentials and remixes sprinkled with some new material. This project may seem like a cop out to some, but it serves as a reminder of why these MCs are considered two of the greatest.

It’s also a checkpoint of sorts. Q-Tip is getting ready to release his G.O.O.D. Music debut ‘The Last Zulu’ — his first solo album since 2009′s ‘Kamaal/The Abstract’ — while Busta is preparing ‘E.L.E. 2 (Extinction Level Event)’ for release on Cash Money. Before moving forward, the two turned back the clock for what is an enjoyable listen for both nostalgia seekers and new listeners.

1. ‘Intro’

Spaghetti western guitars announce the arrival of the gods. On a track that reveals itself to be more old timey R&B than western, Busta Rhymes sets the tone by talking to the audience about his 26-year friendship with Q-Tip and their natural chemistry. The track ends with a guest asking what many have been wondering: What took so long for Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes to make a collaborative project? There’s no answer as the mixtape segues into the next track.

2. ‘God Lives Through’

Busta starts by remarking how he’s always wanted to rhyme over the ‘Midnight Marauders’ beat, which samples his voice on the chorus. The question is why hasn’t he? But this isn’t the time to be searching for answers though — it’s time for some rhymes. Busta does just that: “Skyscraper rhymes flying like the first bird / Penthouse view it help you see the Earth curve.”

3. ‘Getting’ Up’ (DJ Scratch Remix)

There’s still no new Q-Tip at this point, but a throwback from the Abstract is always welcomed. Revisit the danceable ‘Getting Up’ remix from 2008, which features lively performances from the two MCs.

4. ‘Steppin’ It Up’

‘Steppin’ It Up’ is one of the last A Tribe Called Quest/Busta Rhymes collaborations before the group disbanded in 1998. The two sides certainly rhyme like it would be their last time working together, delivering undeniable focus and cocksureness. The bouncy bassline buoys one of the better productions from the Ummah, which consisted of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and the late J Dilla. More on the latter soon.

5. ‘Thank You’ (Kid Capri Remix)

There’s been much praise for the original ‘Thank You’ mix, so there’s not really much remixing necessary here. Kid Capri slightly enhances the bassline while also switching up the chorus a bit. He serves about the same purpose as Kanye West and Lil Wayne as he plays another hypeman.

6. ‘Always Add On’ (Interlude)

Finally, some new words from the Abstract. Q-Tip uses the interlude to reveal the secret to his longevity: love of the game.

7. ’The Abstract & The Dragon’

Despite the title, Busta Rhymes is again the only rhymer on the track. While he delivers a strong verse, it’s the beat that steals the show. The production does sound like boom-bap from outer space as a wobbly synth mixes with a steady percussive rhythm. “Boom bap, original rap” indeed.

8. ‘Wild Hot’

‘Wild Hot’ sounds like something that would be a new cut for the mixtape, but it’s actually from the soundtrack to the 1997 hip-hop documentary ‘Rhyme & Reason.’ The age of the track doesn’t obscure how sharp it sounds with Busta and Tip trading chest-beating bars. The guitar riff only adds to the urgency of the rhymes.

9. ‘Speaks’ (Skit)

This is a super short skit full of laughs in which the duo decide to play ‘One Two S—.’

10. ‘One Two S—‘

‘The Abstract and the Dragon’ strikes the audience with a lot of throwback songs, but it does get credit for hipping them to a few slept-on, underrated cuts from A Tribe Called Quest’s catalog, like this B-Side to 1996′s ’1nce Again. The rough bass proves to be an addicting catch as the crew trade their witticisms, including Phife Dawg’s sudden patois inflection to help close out his verse.

11. ‘We Taking Off’

This is the first true new collaboration between Busta and Tip to appear on the mixtape. The collaborators share rhyming duties over a flirtatious horn sample. “We takin’ off / Never off of the work / Never off of the grind,” Tip sings on the hook. He’s talking about taking the track to the next creative level, but ‘We Taking Off’ ends before the duo has a chance to.

12. ‘Renaissance Rap’ (Remix) Feat. Busta Rhymes, Raekwon & Lil Wayne

The new material is followed up by the ‘Renaissance Rap’ remix, which slipped onto the Internet a few years back. It’s another example of Tip’s affinity for boom bap mixed with some quirkiness — this time it’s a whistling synth line. Even though the song is years old, it’s still surprising how Lil Wayne nearly takes over the song with his closing verse.

13. ‘Get Down’

Want to hear Q-Tip and Busta rap over what sounds like a 1920′s ragtime beat? Well, here’s a DJ Scratch-produced deep album cut from Q-Tip’s debut solo album ‘Amplified’ (where it appears as ‘N.T.’), titled ‘Get Down.’ A subdued Tip spits rhymes with attitude here while an amped-up Busta, yells on the hook. The track ends with some more Bussa Bus greatness as he commands the engineer to cut off the beat before going on a totally random tangent.

14. ‘Butch & Sundance’

‘Butch & Sundance’ is an interesting choice for the second released track from this Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes collaboration. ‘Thank You’ is an exercise in fluidity, something that Q-Tip mastered. ‘Butch & Sundance’ is more rugged with that funked out, persistent bass line. It’s a production the Abstract floats through, but Busta outright muscles with lines like, “Abort this, identify the God as your lordship / For how you funny n—-s be looking you an ostrich.”

15. ‘Speaks’ (Skit)

Hip-hop historian Shaheem Reid interjects to introduce the next track, which is a preview.

16. ‘Pardon My Ways (ELE 2 Exclusive)’

How can a dancehall-influenced single (‘#TwerkIt’) exist cohesively with a throwback jam (‘Thank You’) on the same album without feeling disjointed? Busta is one of the few rappers in the game to have the experience and personality to incorporate multiple influences well. In fact, he can do so in the same song. The Q-Tip-produced ‘Pardon My Ways’ is the mixtape’s lone ‘Extinction Level Event 2’ preview, and it features Busta shouting out Jamaican great Peter Tosh as he uses his patois accent over jazzy keys and what sounds like live drums. It’s hard to tell what’s in store for the upcoming album with the samples he’s released. Another Janet Jackson collaboration perhaps?

17. ‘Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program’

Shaheem Reid announces that there will be more throwbacks, remixes and collaborations to come from ‘The Abstract and the Dragon.’

18. ‘For the Nasty’

It’s hard to go wrong with the Neptunes, Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip on one track. The slinky Indian guitar riff here is boosted by a bold bass line, but the track wouldn’t feel as complete if it wasn’t for Tip’s nasally swagger and Busta’s rambunctiousness. The latter’s callback to ‘Make It Clap’ is a nice touch.

19. ‘Come on Down’ (Skit)

Busta Rhymes’ dragon impersonation from ‘Scenario’ excited many members of the hip-hop community, including Big Daddy Kane. Busta recalls how the legend asked him to incorporate his “rawr rawr” bit into his verse for ‘Come on Down’ even after it was recorded.

20. ‘Come on Down’ Feat. Big Daddy Kane

Here’s another criminally slept on Busta Rhymes/Q-Tip collaboration found on ‘Big Daddy Kane”s ‘Prince of Darkness’ album. Everything about the beat just feels loud, like there’s an event happening. Titanic strings constantly stampede, drums steadily march and a funk guitar somehow slips ever so slickly onto the track. It also helps to have three rappers at their peaks: Q-Tip displaying his masterful cadence, Busta Rhymes’ undeniable energy (punctuated with that “rawr, rawr), and of course, Big Daddy Kane’s technical prowess.

21. ‘J Dilla’ (Skit)

It’s been nearly eight years since legendary producer J Dilla passed away, and his absence is still felt by the hip-hop community to this day. Busta believes it’s ridiculous to do a collaborative mixtape with Q-Tip and not pay their respects to someone who’s been so influential.

22. ’You Can’t Hold the Torch’

Here begins the short streak of J Dilla-produced tracks. This track appeared on ‘The Big Bang,’ which came out a few months after J Dilla’s passing in 2006. Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip were understandably protective of J Dilla’s creative legacy on the song, with the former spitting lines like, “Ayo, I ain’t bringin they names up / These n—-s sound trash, straight foulin’ the game up.”

23. ‘Lightworks’ Feat. Talib Kweli

This remix of the track from ‘Donuts,’ J Dilla’s swan song, appears on 2007’s ‘Dillagence’ mixtape. Here, Tip, Busta and Talib Kweli pay tribute to the late great the best way they know how: with dope rhyming. Busta raps up, down and around the beat while Kweli puts together one of the most light-handed verses of his career (“That’s hard, like the population of Rikers”).

24. ‘Chris Lighty’ (Skit)

The duo pays tribute to their friend and former manager Chris Lighty, the famed music executive who tragically ended his  own life last year. The song features Lighty recounting the beginnings of Violator Records, the company he founded.

25. ‘Vivrant Thing’ Feat. Missy Elliot

It’s fitting that the mixtape continues with ‘Vivrant Thing’ after the Chris Lighty tribute. The song is the first single off Violator Records’ compilation album and marks a big moment in Q-Tip’s solo career. It also sounds as funky as it did in 1999.

26. ‘Ill Vibe’

Busta Rhymes’ ‘The Coming’ can be considered one of hip-hop’s most underrated debuts. ‘Ill Vibe’ is one of the album’s best cuts, featuring a lackadaisical key riff combined with a zipping synth produced by the Ummah. The loopyness of that beat doesn’t at all distract from the natural chemistry Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip have.

27. ‘Scenario’ Feat. Leaders of the New School

Including slept-on classics on ‘The Abstract and the Dragon’ is great, but the essentials also have to be included. Nothing is more essential than ‘The Low End Theory’ closing posse cut ‘Scenario.’ This wasn’t just a great hip-hop song, but also a career-making one, especially for Busta Rhymes with his frantic closing verse.

28. ‘Scenario’ (Remix) Feat. Leaders of the New School & Kid Hood

Double the energy of the prolific original cut and you get the remix. This edition substitutes the Miles Davis sample for a Kool & the Gang sample that’s far funkier and harder. The inclusion doesn’t only finish off the mixtape but also rounds out the line of tributes. Kid Hood, who has the opening verse, was killed just days after recording this song. Busta Rhymes refers to him as the “one who is in spiritual essence” before the beat drops and Hood lets off his opening salvo.

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