(5) Classic Sounds

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Ah Yes, Remember all the hype and near-obsessive fanfare in 95-96??  What a time in life!

This is My FAVORITE rap group of all time!

Though I KNOW none of us understood what the hell they were saying, even with the lyrics sheet (backwards and all), don’t act like you didn’t get sucked into reciting and following their cryptic, Pirate-influenced twisty patois.

The kids around me had the tape before it even dropped, it seemed. It was a cult-like following that I admittedly was never apart of. It took me quite a minute to get out of my New York-centric 90’s mentality in the 90’s, and I certainly wasn’t gonna branch out by jumping on the bandwagon for a sometimes quintet of singing gangster weedheads with a flow that I couldn’t decipher.

Besides the fact that I kept hearing about their lean towards the whole demonic promotion gimmick, rife with Ouija board odes and chants and Skeletons littered across their covers, I also wasn’t too keen on hearing over the top homicide themes from a town that I couldn’t even relate to. I mean, who knew that Cleveland was so rough? But I’ve come to realize in my time, that this is common of the hardcore rap scene outside of New York.  The gangster rappers of Midwest and Southern cities, and even some west coast locales, have a penchant for being ultra-descriptive with their tales of violence. Even dating back to the first few Ghetto Boyz albums, the sway was in a horror-core direction. It’s not rare to hear boasts of being the Devil’s relative, or how a body was disposed of. The extra-ness is prominent, which prompted me to think ,’damn, is New York softer than all these other places? or is life just that different elsewhere?’ Living in dark, Gotham-like hoods such as  D.C. did make me see that the outlooks CAN definitely be more dismal than that of a resident of the city that never sleeps, no matter how rough the inner-city may be. So there’s where Bone sits, being from a state not too far from New york, but Midwest enough to be oh-so-different, they were somewhere between Brotha Lynch Hung and The Lost Boyz. I swear to God that most casual Bone Thugs fans probably don’t even realize what their whole schtick was and that their albums were as gruesome as they were because their singles were so melodically infectious and feel-good, that you get caught up in thinking of them for that. If only half the girls that loved singing along to “The Crossroads” and “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” could understand what the Bone boys were saying, then they’d cringe at songs like “Mo Murda” and “Body Rott”. I wouldn’t be surprised if people don’t primarily associate Bone Thugs N Harmony with Gangster Rap. And this is not because they watered down their style on their singles, it’s just that when you can’t understand alot of the words of songs that sound good or the content, you automatically tend to lean towards just grooving with the sound of the music. And since Bone’s singles all had an upbeat sound and airy vibe, that’s what would first come to mind by the larger population over the gritty and horror-movie esque soundtrack that was more prominent on their albums. Think of how many Erykah Badu songs we’ve bumped, not knowing what the fuck she was talking about. This proved excellent for Bone’s sales, but detrimental for the longevity of their career.

“The Crossroads” is what brought Bone to my official likeable meter, like many New Yorkers, although some of you finally got on late, after the Biggie song. Unfortunately, this was what started their descent, because they constantly attempted to capture the same massive success of that song on every subsequent album. Those buttery attempts never amounted up to it, and they came off as contrived, whereas ‘Crossroads’ felt natural. It’s just nice enough to break up the overt homicidal current streaming throughout the album, but still weighty and somber enough to not fuck up the mood. The version that we’ve all come to know and love isn’t even originally on there! It was a much darker song with different lyrics and not so many catchy chants. The decision to remix it with an Isley Brothers sample and put that version out as the official one was the wisest choice that Bone Thugs has ever made. “The Crossroads” is now one of the greatest Hits in American Music history and one the greatest videos of all time – it’s a pop standard.

At this point, I liked them, but still wasn’t a fan. My boy Khalil was their number one advocate in high school. At a time when the magazines were talking about an East Coast vs. West Coast beef non-stop, he was an avid hip-hop fan of anything hot, or different, and he had everything Bone, from soundtrack appearances, to remixes. He would always be trying to get me to listen to a track between periods or at lunch on his headphones. I’d put them on for one minute, listen – not knowing what the hell I was hearing, let alone which Bone Thug member was rapping because they all sounded the same to me, and give it right back. He would tell me the titles and I used to wonder what the hell they meant. What was a “Wasteland Warrior”? or a “Me Killa”? I was baffled and turned off. I also don’t know if Khalil even understood it himself, or if he just thought it sounded dope! But he he would surely defend it, knowing some of the lyrics. It wasn’t until a ride in a car during one of my visits to Atlanta with the same cousins from My It Was Written Experience, that my interest piqued. It was on the song, “The Righteous Ones” from their BTNH Resurrection album, hearing it at that high volume, going down 85 was an experience that made me think how many times I’ve heard a dope song from these guys and not a whole album. I remember borrowing Bizzy Bone‘s solo album from Khalil for a day and liking it. So from then on, I paid them better attention. At one point, while working on our third mixtape as a group, me and Brandon Carter, started going back and studying Bone Thugs’ flow patterns to hone our craft with faster rhyming speeds, or what we called “Twisting”. We discovered that what Bone did was actually not so much faster, but where they followed the drum, and as opposed to how people lump them together with other speedy rappers like Twista, they don’t attack beats to rhyme on top of them as much as they opt to rhyme inbetween them, overlapping words and making them rise and fall with the drum line. It was an epiphany to us. And it made me realize the actual genius involved in this style when trying to mimic it for the first time. Not only did they rap like this and master it, they also cleverly chose their group in the fashion of a barbershop quartet or Motown group, having members with lighter voices and deeper voices as well as diferent cadences and speeds. Wish seems to be the one who’s lines are easier to catch, because he raps the slowest, maybe the wackest, but is a great balance to someone like Bizzy, who raps high and super quick. Add the fact that they all really do sing and harmonize in between these flows, rap over dope detailed beats like no one else that range from R&Bish to gothic and have real criminal backgrounds, then you start to appreciate what you were bumping in 1995.

So let’s focus on this time, when Bone Thugs N Harmony were in their prime and dropped their sophmore album and had us all listening. It starts with one of the best hood odes  and introductions to a before unknown place, over one of the most head-nod-inspiring beats in hip-hop. One of the most gangsta ass instrumentals ever. “East 1999” is actually a shout out to the Block where Bone Thugs N Harmony formed and claimed as stomping grounds. Hope you guys remember the video with them rhyming in a lab and floating over fire. You don’t? Well, here you go…

“Shotz To Tha Double Glock” closes the album the way it began, with another hardcore ode to the Clevand block of St. Clair with 99 representing the most famous caliber number of a glock pistol. Yeah, Bone were all about making up their own language and slang, something that’s ill when you’re at the height of your popularity, but can lead to your demise once fans become jaded by it and new fans start scratching their heads because you sound like you’re rapping in foreign code.

There’s softer moments, like on one of their 2 smokers’ anthems, “Buddah lovaz”, with the expected 80’s love song sample(the other being “Budsmokers Only”), although sampling is rare in the production behind Bone. As much as I can’t stand the requisite rap songs about loving weed, this may very well be the best one ever made besides Scarface‘s “Mary Jane”. It’s so pretty you forget that it’s about drugs. They really exhibit their solidness as a group by distributing their parts evenly and harmonizing their asses off with yet again, more familiar Isley Brothers influence. But then there’s other soft moments where they rap over something like you’ve never heard. On the song “Eternal”, one of the dopest songs on the album, they seem to be killing what sounds like something off the score from Willow or Lord Of The Rings. It’s lead by a woodwind instrument with light sounds that fill it in with an ominous bassline that looms just enough to give it that hip-hop feel and slides into the album without sounding corny. As the second song on the album, following “East 1999”  it also concludes the incorporation of the title in a subtle way. Having all of that said, I STILL don’t understand what they’re saying on the hook.

If you’re like me, you prefer the moments on the album where there seems to be a meeting of both their hardcore and subdued sides. Those moments between tough joints like “Land of Tha Heartless” and soft joints like the aforementioned songs above, and here’s where they get the most creative. On “Mr. Bill Collector”, the Bone boys stick to their regular money and murder ethos, but this time assuming the character of a hustler who is collecting on debts owed. The smooth beat is gangster, but in a creeping way, and allows you to clearly hear how different every members style and voice is. Another middle-ground joint that straddles between soft and gangster is everyone’s favorite, “1st Of Tha Month”. I guess I don’t need to inform you that this song is a really unique ditty about welfare checks and hustling while scamming the system and having ghetto celebrations. But who can deny how dope this joint is? Now who had the best verse on here?

The rest of the album is laden with the dark stuff that I talked about that ends and begins the set, with titles like “Die Die Die”, but in the midst of all of that, you do get one track that has that hardcore vibe, but marries the same creativity that’s seen on the middle-ground songs. “Down ’71 (Tha Getaway)” is one of the most creative stories in hip-hop ever as far as it’s approach. Telling story raps as a group is difficult, even more admirable of a feat when done in the rapid-fire flow that Bone employs. So in this cinematic tale of a courtroom breakout over a dope beat that drops out to emphasize points and flow, and sound effects that pull you into the story, Krazie Bone cements his place as leader (Even though Lazie is the founder) and Bizzy gives early hints that he’s clearly the loose cannon of the group, although this scenario is all fictional. It’s just foreshadowing…

In all, the album lives up to it’s title by giving you a glimpse into Cleveland, not so much by laying it out and chronicling daily events, but by showing you a mentality that may be representative of the hood dwellers there. No body in Indiana may dress or talk or rap like Bone at all, but they sure as hell represented an aspect of the kinds of niggas you may meet there, and they certainly served as many of our ambassadors to that area of America.

It took me a long time to warm up to this group, and sadly after their star had faded is when I acknowledged the true genius behind their whole presence and style. They are true pioneers and Bizzy and Krayzie may be 2 of the greatest rappers of all time. I see I can overlook their whole Tales From The Crypt style from this era, cause even they abandoned that and came down to Earth afterwards. Upon listening even further, they weren’t really bragging about violence either, it was just kind of their retaliatory talk in the face of threats to their paper chase. At least, that’s what I think is going on…that’s certainly the case on their later work.

My favorite song on the whole album is “Crept and We Came” which is the sequel to 1993’s album title track “Creepin on Ah Come-up“. It’s another song over a beat that doesn’t sound typically hip-hop. It sounds like a level from an old Nintendo video game, but has the best rapping of the whole set to me.

The skit songs and overload of killing keeps this from being an overall classic to me, but it’s definitely Bone’s Best album ever and a rap classic just because of it’s pioneering and staying power and the genius moments. It gets 12 Candles out of a possible

4812 or 16.

4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)

8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)

12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)

16(Classic all around)

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2 Comments

  1. Malik. Stop hating on Bone. U N I both know that E. 1999 and Eternal was fire. Give em a 16 and let it go. Yeah, it was heli violent. But it was the 90’s bro: when gangbanging in the Midwest was at it’s height as far as what we do (and we ain’t have all these false flagging bloods running around Detroit on blue blocks) But anyhow, stop it. And give them they 16 for what you know is their best album and is a classic as far as I’m concerned.
    By the by, I ran across lifestyles of tha poor and dangerous at Best Buy of all palces and picked it up. I was nostalgic and rode around to that joint for like 2 or 3 weeks. Thanks. Hotep.

    The Real Tutankhamen

  2. Tut, chill homey…
    Don’t let your Midwest roots sway your opinion.
    I let it be known that Bone Thugs is my FAVORITE rap group. But that album is not completely balanced, even though it’s their best. Same reason I gave “It Was Written” a 12. It’s not skip-free. I can skip a good 4 tracks on this shit. And even if I didn’t, they just O.D. on the Murder Murder shit.
    You already know we used to bump that shit back in D.C. you and Steve taught me what them niggas was saying on “Crept and we came”.
    You my boy for real man. That Big L is def nostalgia all the way.


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