It’s hard to be underrated when you’ve had five consecutive platinum albums followed by two gold, but somehow Busta Rhymes has done it. It’s similarly difficult to be one of Hip Hop’s most talented and recognizable emcees, yet have no truly signature release to point to as the crown jewel in your discography. Still, Bussa Buss can lay claim to these dubious distinctions, while enjoying a career that has spanned over two decades. While fans wait for his Cash Money debut, the Brooklyn emcee offers up a “free album” (read: mixtape), Year of the Dragon.
“Til We Die” adequately rides the Rick Ross gravy train, with forgettable contributions from Trey Songz. “Do That Thing” sounds like it was a leftover from Big Bang-era recordings, and could’ve remained on the cutting room floor, it stands out amongst what’s offered here. Undeterred by Lord Finesse’s frivolous lawsuit against Mac Miller, Busta raps over the same James Brown sample utilized by Notorious B.I.G. on “Dreams (Just Playin’).” The fact that Bus is so comfortable on the cut isn’t surprising—he is a staple of the ‘90s, after all—but Gucci Mane actually serves as an outstanding feature, from the attitude he brings on the cut to his raspy, laid-back Southern sensibility on his verse. “Grind Real Slow” features a beat that could easily be a hit in the clubs—if it hadn’t already been made by Far East Movement with their hit “Like a G6.”
“Sound Boy” gets off to a dubious start with questionably synth-y production, but all is forgiven with that good old-fashioned NYC ignorance that only Cam’ron can offer. As a bonus, Cam references the best line from Fat Joe’s heavily underrated Darkside Vol. 1, a bonus for any heads who’ve been paying attention for the last few years. “Doin It Again” takes it back with Hi Tek’s beat from Jonell’s “Round and Round,” but the reference only makes it awkward with Busta’s and Reek’s harsh rhymes—it’s a square peg in a round hole. “Crazy” is an awful reach, sounding like some of the garbage Bangladesh submitted for Back on My B.S.
Year of the Dragon feels more like a mixtape than an album, but if Busta bills it as an album, then that’s what it is. As such, it’s disjointed. Many may see features such as Wayne and Gucci as reaches to remain relevant (and lord knows that Busta’s tried extremely hard to reach the younger crowd over the past five years or so), but that’s not what drags this project down. In fact, the features show out pretty well, save some maddeningly corny lines from Weezy. The problem is the same one that’s plagued just about every single Busta Rhymes album: the Dungeon Dragon cannot decide on a direction for the project. It’s not cohesive in production, styles, or subject matter. Busta’s all over the place, and does nothing to improve his reputation as one of the greatest emcees to not have a great album to his name. Here's to hoping the real album will be better.