LegenDARy Artists: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony

By @SpeedontheBeat

Let us begin by cranking up one of Bone's later hits, "Flowmotion," to the maximum (I'm talking the "Sky High"-sampling version, not the more ska-meet-DAS EFX version). You got it playing? Ok, good. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony is that type of group that a lot of artists today, even if they can't name Bone, they've been influenced by. As one of the more-prominent users of the double-time sing/rap flow, BTNH cemented their legacy on the first try, mainstream-wise. Not too many groups or artists can say that. For the sake of brevity, I'm going to focus on main BTNH releases and not side projects or solo projects. I will, for the TL;DR crowd say this about the solo releases: they're worth checking out, even if the quality may vary a bit between projects.

After releasing their initial project, Faces of Death, the then-Bone Enterprises tracked down Eazy-E, performed in front of him, and became Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Their first project, Creepin on Ah Come Up, featured classic cuts such as "Foe Tha Love of $" and "Thuggish Ruggish Bone," featuring a chorus from Shatasha Williams, a young woman who was practically picked up out of nowhere to record the vocals. Creepin properly introduced the group to the world and found a quite profitable niche between the mostly G-Funk of the West Coast and the boombap of the East.

In 1995, after their mentor Eazy-E died from AIDS-related complications, E.1999 Eternal dropped. Now, there's a misconception that "Tha Crossroads" appeared on the original version of the album. Nope. While there was a song, "Crossroad," on E.1999 with similar vibes and messages of tributes to the dead, the song "Tha Crossroads" was released as a remake of the original "Crossroad" song in early 1996 (and featured on all further pressings). Now,while "Tha Crossroads" was one of those songs that my friends and I, as kids, would be like "play this at my funeral," "Crossroad," in all its video game sampling-goodness, figures a bit more into the album, sonically. Nevertheless, with songs such as "Eternal," "1st Of Tha Month," "Buddah Lovaz," and "Mr. Quija 2," BTNH further established themselves as a group that was able to mix the occult, the retrospective, and the street into one.

1997's The Art of War, for me, is a divisive album. For starters, the album is more of a diss album to Three 6 Mafia, Twista, Crucial Conflict and other double-timers. Second, Bizzy's discontent is quite apparent. Third, it's a double album and some of the stronger tracks are on the second album. Finally, the vibe that is exhibited from the album becomes less and less like BTNH as the album goes on. It's not a bad album. But, after the classic. E. 1999, it's just a serviceable follow-up from a fan's perspective.

2000's BTNHReurrection, however, is a proper follow-up. It isn't perfect by any means. However, it features the group as a whole. That's something. But, when you look at this album and 2002's Thug World Order, a listener can tell the end was coming. There were more poppy tracks on these two albums. While that wasn't necessary a bad thing (Bone "poppy" tracks usually usurped many others' tracks of that ilk. Plus, ya know, some of their most-famous songs dance along the line of poppy and underground), songs such as "Get Up and Get It" from Thug World Order and "Change the World," in all of its Matrix-ripoff glory, just don't mesh as well--nor do they hold up as well--with the rest of BTNH's discography. 

Both of these albums have their moments. For instance, "Money Money," is one of my favorite songs from the album. And "Ecstasy" is, well, it's a dope track to float to (even if you don't pop E, by the way). However, these albums seem to become more about the discontent within the group than actually putting out classic music.

Thug Stories is one of those albums that can be seen as an experiment. It's the first album without Bizzy, for starters. Additionally, it plays around more with the harmonic excellence of the group. I like the album, since it reminds me of Jay Z's Kingdom Come. It's a bit more "mature" in its sound, but still manages to be Bone Thugs. The beat selection on the album, though, varies. You have beats for songs such as "Call Me" and "Don't Stop" (even though it's a bit dated listening back now. As an aside, it flips One Way's "Don't Stop (Ever Loving Me)" so much smoother than Nelly's "Luven Me," produced by J.E., did), but then have something like "What U See." Overall, it's a cool album; if you're expecting E. 1999, you'll be disappointed. But, if you go in expecting a bit of an older Bone Thugs sound, you're good.

Strength & Loyalty dropped my freshman year at UMD. I was probably one of the only people at UMD who was looking forward to the album, since BTNH had been out of the mainstream spotlight for a minute at that point (it was their first major label release in about five years). It starts on an epic tip with the aforementioned "Flowmotion." However, as the album went on, we saw two things. One, BTNH is incomplete with Bizzy and Flesh (sorry). Second, the album's poppy vibes, while it pushed the album to be the first gold album from Bone, felt a bit forced. "Lil Love," for instance, felt more like a JD/Bow Wow track than Bone. I did, however, enjoy "Order My Steps (Dear Lord)" and its approach. Could this album been more "Bone-like," sure. But, when it shines, it shines heavily. Inversely, when it falters, it falters hard.

2010 marked the unification of the group. Bizzy and the group squashed the beef and Flesh was out of prison. We got "See Me Shine," a triumphant return for the group. The album to follow, Uni5: The World's Enemy, follows Strength & Loyalty's approach to giving Bone over more mainstream sounds. It's, for me, their weakest album. Where S&L was, as poppy as it was, still focused, Uni5 felt less like an album and more like a mixtape of songs put together.

2013's The Art of War: World War III is part Uni5 leftovers and, well, I can't really describe the album. It's obviously a bit disjointed (the new tracks from the album are from another BTNH trio). But, in some ways, it still feels like classic Bone. So, I'll leave it at this: WWIII is a throwback to classic Bone, but still feels cobbled together. Ultimately, though, if all five members were on board, with new material, I feel this album could've been classic. I mean, they were able to get a song with Ty Dolla $ign that sounds classic but still fresh ("Everything 100"), even though the Auto-Tune felt like that time that The Temptations used it

So, there you have it. Layzie and Krayzie, Bizzy and Wish in the house, and Flesh also. 


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