In the few years leading up to 1996’s The Coming, Busta Rhymes was everywhere. On A Tribe Called Quest’s “Oh My God,” alongside Biggie and LL Cool J on the remix for Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear,” on records by TLC and Buju Banton—his energy was so infectious that at a certain point he was getting hired just to talk on people’s albums, as he did on “Intro Talk” from Mary J. Blige’s What’s the 411?: “This is Busta Rhymes, spelled with a A…” His mom said that as a kid he’d reminded her of a little dinosaur: wild, primal, ferocious. With The Coming, we entered his Mesozoic.
The album’s center is that voice: raspy, deep, threatening but comical. His parents were Jamaican, and he credited a lot of his performance to the delivery of dancehall: the way flowing with the beat is less important than disrupting and jabbing at it, the way the content of the lyrics is secondary to the percussion of how they hit. “Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check” is era-defining, a bridge between the creaky hardcore of Wu-Tang Clan and the futurism of Missy Elliott and The Neptunes. And while his mania was the selling point (and evolutionary DNA for artists like Ludacris and Tyler, The Creator), The Coming reflects an era when hardcore rap albums—by Biggie, 2Pac, Nas, and others—were taking on a more balanced, pop-oriented shape: the jazzy feel of the Q-Tip collaboration “Ill Vibe,” the moral uplift of “The Finish Line,” the R&B/crossover of “It’s a Party.” “I would like to thank the whole entire world for absorbing such a special moment with Busta Rhymes,” he says on the album’s outro. If not the entire world, he was definitely reverberating way beyond New York.