Hip-hop fans were read on March 24, 1996 when Busta Rhymes dropped his long-awaited debut album The Coming. Aided by the Top 10 smash "Woo-Hah!! Got You All in Check," featuring Busta's rapid-fire delivery keeping delirious production choices together, The Coming became one of the year's most treasured debut albums.
But real fans know Busta was working overtime in the years leading up to his proper debut. Here's a look back at his most powerful moments before The Coming reached record stores.
Leaders of the New School
Busta and high school friends Charlie Brown, Dinco D and Cut Master Milo formed this underrated group on New York's Long Island and soon became known on the East Coast scene thanks to a prime opening slot for Public Enemy. (It was Chuck D who gave Busta, born Trevor Smith, Jr., his stage name.) 1991's debut A Future Without a Past featured production from P.E. collaborators The Bomb Squad and a bright mix of messages and humor in their verses. Though the group infamously broke up almost immediately after a tense appearance on Yo! MTV Raps in 1993, they've since reunited for live appearances.
The Native Tongues and "Scenario"
Leaders of the New School got an even bigger break as part of New York's Native Tongues, a loose collective of hip-hop acts that included De La Soul, The Jungle Brothers, and A Tribe Called Quest. Tribe shared the mic with the Leaders on the immortal posse cut "Scenario," the closer to 1991's acclaimed The Low End Theory. Busta, all of 19 at the time, embarks on the track's final verse, a slow-burner that introduced even more listeners to his distinct sound ("Rawr! Rawr! Like a dungeon dragon") and an infusion of patois inherited from his Jamaican parents.
Delivering the 411
Months after "Scenario" was issued as a single, Busta made one of his first prominent solo appearances on "Intro Talk," an interlude off Mary J. Blige's debut What's the 411? In just over two minutes, our man makes a considerable impact, teasing the audience with some tips into full-on lyrical mindbending but never fully turning up the heat. It certainly made an impact on producer Sean "Puffy" Combs, who recruited Rhymes for a similar interlude on the back end of TLC's bestseller CrazySexyCool.
New Flavors on Beat
With Leaders of the New School disbanded, Busta officially stepped into the solo spotlight as a guest on a remix of Craig Mack's "Flava in Ya Ear." Standing toe-to-toe against emcees like The Notorious B.I.G. (who Busta attended high school with in Brooklyn before moving to Long Island), LL Cool J and Rampage is no easy feat, but he sure made it look simple, turning his energy levels to maximum and ending the track on a killer high note after Biggie's incredible first verse. The song reached the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, setting Busta up for an incredible solo career through the rest of the '90s, '00s and beyond.