A Track-By-Track Breakdown of Busta Rhymes & Q-Tip's "The Abstract & The Dragon"

On Thursday, Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes celebrated the release of their first joint mixtape, The Abstract & The Dragon, the culmination of over two decades of collaborations. The two Native Tongues associates each have countless classics under their belts, but they often come up with something really special when they get together, from Busta’s star-making turn on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” to Tip’s ridiculous flow on Busta’s new single “Thank You.” The mixtape mixes highlights from the duo’s long history together with new music, sometimes within the same track. Here we go (yo) with a track-by-track breakdown of The Abstract & The Dragon

Written by Al Shipley (@alshipley


01. Busta Rhymes & Q-Tip "Intro"
02. A Tribe Called Quest f/ Busta Rhymes "God Lives Through"

“Me and Tip, we’ve been friends and brothers for like 26 years,” Busta reflects in the mixtape’s spoken intro. Given that “Scenario” is only 22 years old, that statement in and of itself just makes you wonder what kind of stories they have from late-'80s dawn of the Native Tongues, before the hit records. From there, the tape jumps into “God Lives Through,” the closing track to Tribe’s 1993 classic Midnight Marauders. Along with the single “Oh My God,” it was actually one of two tracks on the album that looped Busta’s vocals from “Scenario,” in an early example of an act creating a hook by sampling a verse from their previous releases, now a standard production technique in hip-hop. “I always wanted to rhyme on this shit,” Busta says, before spitting for a minute and a half at the top of “God Lives Through” before the original Tribe verses play out.

You realize how much Busta Rhymes has changed his voice and delivery over the course of his career, and start to get whiplash as the mixtape hops around chronologically, leaping years in the space of a few seconds.

03. Q-Tip f/ Busta Rhymes "Gettin' Up (DJ Scratch Remix)" 
04. A Tribe Called Quest f/ Busta Rhymes & Redman "Steppin' It Up"

For the last decade and a half, Busta Rhymes has remained a solo star while Q-Tip has transitioned into more of an elder statesman role in hip-hop, but one got the sense there was never any hesitation on Busta’s part to contribute his charisma and name recognition to whatever Tip was doing. In this section of the tape, we get two examples thereof. First, the remix to “Getting’ Up,” one of the singles from Q-Tip’s excellent 2008 solo comeback The Renaissance. The remix originally appeared on J. Period and Q-Tip’s 2011 mixtape The [Abstract] Best Vol. 1, with Busta taking aim at the new school on his verse, “Lemme give you my Erick Semon/A lot of niggas is getting shine they ain’t deserving/Ringtone money going out of they pockets is hurting.” From there, we get Busta and Redman’s appearances on a posse cut from Tribe’s 1998 swan song The Love Movement.

05. Busta Rhymes f/ Q-Tip, Lil Wayne & Kanye West - "Thank You (Kid Capri Remix)"
06. Busta Rhymes & Q-Tip - "Always Add On (Interlude)" 
07. Busta Rhymes & Q-Tip - "The Abstract & The Dragon"

Now, we finally return to what the dynamic duo are doing in 2013. Kid Capri’s remix of “Thank You” doesn’t add much to the great song you’ve already heard, retaining the original verses and stretching out the hook sections that sample the vocals from the 1981 Alicia Myers soul classic “I Want To Thank You.” On the spoken interlude, Q-Tip sums up his attitude about making music today, “What’s done is done. The history, I’m thankful and grateful for it, but it’s done now, you know what I’m saying. I’m still here, the creator still got me here, so now we gotta, in this moment, look forward.” With Busta Rhymes voicing his agreement, they transition into the Q-Tip-produced title track from the mixtape. Instead of another back-and-forth cypher, however, Busta rips the mic for all of the song’s two minutes and then chuckles, “Yo Kamaal, I know you wanted to rhyme, it’s my fault, but I’m excited.”

08. A Tribe Called Quest f/ Busta Rhymes - "Wild Hot"
09. Busta Rhymes & Q-Tip - "Speaks (Skit)"
10. A Tribe Called Quest f/ Busta Rhymes - "One Two Shit"
11. Busta Rhymes & Q-Tip - "We Taking Off"

About now is the point that you realize how much Busta Rhymes has changed his voice and delivery over the course of his career, and start to get whiplash as the mixtape hops around chronologically, leaping years in the space of a few seconds. “Wild Hot,” which was credited to Busta Rhymes & A Tribe Called Quest (though Phife doesn’t appear on it), originally appeared on the soundtrack to the 1997 hip-hop documentary Rhyme And Reason. And it may be the hardest track Tribe ever made, with a dark, almost Mobb Deep-esque beat and a chorus punctuated by gunshot sound effects.

“One Two Shit,” a 1993 B-side to the “Oh My God” single that later appeared as a bonus track on The Love Movement, shows Busta’s flow in its super-animated Leaders of The New School era of development. And that contrasts hugely with the gruff, constipated modern day Busta you hear on an apparently brand new track, “We Taking Off,” which features Q-Tip on the hook sounding exactly like he has for his entire career.

12. Q-Tip f/ Busta Rhymes, Raekwon & Lil Wayne - "Renaissance Rap (Remix)"
13. Q-Tip f/ Busta Rhymes - "Get Down"

If Busta Rhymes is the Kevin Bacon of hip-hop, appearing at the nexus of so many moments in hip-hop history that he can bridge the gap between any two artists, then he was the essential connective tissue in a track like the “Renaissance Rap” remix. A remix to a Q-Tip song featuring members of the Wu-Tang Clan and the Hot Boyz might cause some cognitive dissonance, but Busta also being in the cut rounds out the lineup and gives it some kind of logic. “Get Down” initially looks like something potentially new, but it’s actually just “N.T.” from Tip’s 1999 solo debut Amplified under a new title.

14. Busta Rhymes & Q-Tip - "Butch & Sundance"
15. Shaheem Reid - "Speaks (Skit)"
16. Busta Rhymes - "Pardon My Ways (ELE 2 Exclusive)"

Back to the new music, “Butch & Sundance” is actually the only track on the tape that features previously unreleased verses from both Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip. It’s not as unrelentingly ill as “Thank You,” but it’s much in the same vein, with the two going back-and-forth over a funky break. Then Shaheem Reid of MTV introduces a preview of a Q-Tip-produced track from E.L.E. 2, Busta’s upcoming sequel to his 1998 album (ironically, the only one of Busta’s ‘90s solo albums that Q-Tip didn’t have a hand in). The 67-second preview only gives a quick taste of the lush, piano-driven beat and Busta’s disjointed flow, but you hear enough to catch Busta Rhymes say the words “watch how we fart.”

17. Busta Rhymes & Q-Tip - "Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming (Skit)"
18. Busta Rhymes f/ Q-Tip - "For The Nasty"

“For The Nasty” is an interesting curio from 2005 that I had scarcely heard or thought about in the eight years since it briefly got a few radio spins, peaking at #86 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. During the nearly decade-long pause between Amplified and The Renaissance, when 2001’s Kamaal/The Abstract was shelved (and eventually released in 2009), it was just about the only high profile Q-Tip solo track, produced by Pharrell and featuring Busta (although oddly credited to Busta featuring Tip here). It ended up being just a one-off single that appeared in NBA Live 2006, but we can’t help but wonder if Tip had a more radio-friendly album planned before he ended up making The Renaissance.

19. Busta Rhymes & Q-Tip - "Come On Down (Skit)"
20. Big Daddy Kane f/ Busta Rhymes & Q-Tip - "Come On Down"

Hot on the heels of “Scenario,” Busta and Q-Tip were invited by a major star to link up again on a posse cut, appearing together on Big Daddy Kane’s 1991 album Prince of Darkness. “At the time I was getting tired of doing the ‘rawr rawr like a dungeon dragon,’ on the record,” Busta recalls on an interlude introducing the track. “I came out the booth and Kane looked at me like, ‘Yo, where the rawr rawr at?’” In the end, Kane got his way, and Busta let loose his roar at the close of the track.

21. Busta Rhymes & Q-Tip - "J Dilla (Skit)"
22. Busta Rhymes f/ Q-Tip - "You Can't Hold The Torch"
23. Busta Rhymes f/ Q-Tip & Talib Kweli - "Lightworks"
24. Busta Rhymes & Q-Tip - "Chris Lighty (Skit)"
25. Q-Tip f/ Busta Rhymes & Missy Elliott - "Vivrant Thing"
26. Busta Rhymes f/ Q-Tip - "Ill Vibe"

Busta reflects on his relationship with the visionary producer J Dilla: 'He left so much incredible music behind with me personally for me to continue to share with the people that it almost feels like he knew that I was a vessel for him.'

This section of the tape pays tribute to two fallen friends who had major roles in both rappers’ careers: manager Chris Lighty and producer J Dilla. Here, we get one of the three tracks that Q-Tip and Dilla’s production team, The Ummah, laced on Busta’s solo debut, The Coming, along with Busta’s feature on the remix to Tip’s Dilla-produced solo smash “Vivrant Thing.”

There’s also “You Can’t Hold The Torch,” one of the first posthumous Dilla tracks, released a few months after his death in 2006. Busta also throws a new verse on “Lightworking,” a 2007 Q-Tip/Talib Kweli track that used the beat from the Donuts instrumental ”Lightworks. ”

At the end of his verse, Busta reflects on his relationship with the visionary producer: “He left so much incredible music behind with me personally for me to continue to share with the people that it almost feels like he knew that I was a vessel for him. He knew that I was one of those individuals that would be able to continue to champion and campaign his movement.”

27. A Tribe Called Quest f/ Leaders Of The New School - "Scenario"
28. A Tribe Called Quest f/ Hood & Leaders Of The New School - "Scenario (Remix)"

The Abstract & The Dragon closes out with the song that started it all, the track that made Busta Rhymes a bold-faced name and gave him the alias used in the mixtape’s title, as well as the closing cut on the album that made A Tribe Called Quest legends, The Low End Theory.

And it’s always welcome to hear the remix, which will never quite equal the original, but puts a whole new spin on the beat and the hook, and deserves its own spot in the posse cut hall of fame. Perhaps if history had gone down differently, we’d be talking about Phife Dawg and Charlie Brown’s legendary friendship, but it seems that whether or not they’d become solo stars, Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes still would’ve remained close through the years.

RELATED: End of Discussion: Why A Tribe Called Quest’s “Midnight Marauders” Is Better Than “The Low End Theory” 
RELATED: The 100 Best Native Tongues Songs 

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