Anyone who points to the Midwest blowing up as a recent phenomenon in rap music has no idea. As Doughboy said in “Boyz N the Hood,” anyone who thinks Kanye and Nelly are breaking down barriers just “don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care.” Bone Thugs-N-Harmony has been around for quite some time. After all, they were discovered by the late Eazy-E, who is an old-school legend in every sense of the word. One of the most unique, and popular, rap groups of all-time, Bone-Thugs pretty much invented a style of their own, which nearly everyone took a shot at biting off of. Various solo albums and strenuous dynamics have signaled the decline of the group, but Bizzy, Krayzie, Layzie, and Wish have all been putting in work on their own.
2005 is here, and these Thugs have been around for over a decade. This project, the “Bone Brothers” album, is a new venture for the crew, as it is released by the duo of Layzie and Bizzy Bone. Don’t be fooled, because Krayzie Bone is on six tracks and Wish Bone on another, but for the most part it is the former two’s show. The in-house production is almost entirely done by Self and Deenucka as well. “Like Me” is a fitting opening to the record, as the duo rides a smooth production, accentuating the track with a catchy hook. The Bone Brothers reintroduce themselves:
Layzie Bone: “Look y’all, I’m a thoroughbred
Killa with the scrilla man
Hit you with this hot lead
Trend-setter, nobody does it better
Wanna GP with a thug, nigga
Better get yo’ shit together”
Bizzy Bone: “Me and Layz tighter than Nelly and his homie Murphy
Owning the game with a stomach full of Henny
I’m spiritual, y’all earthly”
The more recent Midwest hip-hop influence is easily discernable on “Like Me,” but with a harder edge on the beat. Additionally, the Bone Brothers take pains not to switch up their groundbreaking flow too much, and they retain much of the inflection that brought them up in the game. Nelly must have been influenced by the vocal stylings of these artists, but they manage to distance themselves from their wildly popular counterpart.
Though neither the vocal nor musical aspects of this record are terribly unique, Layzie and Bizzy separate themselves from the norm by sprinkling interesting concept songs throughout the album. “What’s Friends” is a depressing song featuring Krayzie Bone that questions the value of friends, and whether friends exist at all. Again, a nicely executed hook is the backbone of the song. “Dick Riders” is a similar type of concept song, something that has clearly been beaten to death over the years, but a solid cut nonetheless. Here, the duo briefly exhibits the breathtaking rhyme style that they have been known for in the past. Over most of the album, they tone down the double-time, singsongy rhymes, but occasionally it is clear that they can’t help themselves. More of this might have been nice, though.
Over the fifteen tracks, “Bone Brothers” sometimes falls back into the form of most standard fare that is released. “No Rules” with Mo Thugs is quite formulaic, and much of this can be attributed to the lack of innovation from the production. The full reunion, “Everyday,” is similarly dull on the production tip, and though the group tries to overcome this, they can’t quite manage. These songs are far from difficult listening, but they are just dull enough to sink to the background when the disc is playing.
On the flip side, the best songs succeed because of some inspiring work behind the boards. “Complicated,” a collaboration with The Outlawz, features a ridiculously catchy beat made up of staggered violin strokes and bouncy drums. The same type of lyrics are there, but Self and Deenucka outdo the rest of their work on the album. “Real Life” with Krayzie Bone and Treach is a success because of the melodic hook, but the beat is just varied enough to allow the vocals to stand out over the rest. The beat for “Str8 Ridaz” brings the vocals to that higher level, as the treble gets alternately higher and deeper throughout the song. Most of these moments actually come at the end, as the album gathers steam around the midpoint. “Str8 Ridaz” actually comes at track fourteen, a refreshingly solid end to the record.
Overall, there is plenty to like here, but nothing on “Bone Brothers” will merit a rush to the store. It is simply a nice, tight album with a few great songs and a few mediocre ones. The lack of skits and excessive tracks adds to the replay value, because “Bone Brothers” is wall-to-wall music with no breaks. If Bone Thugs is your shit, and you know who you are, then go ahead and cop. For the most part, it is just solid, smoothed out gangsta rap with a little bit of heart to it. It’s been a decade, but the Bone Thugs are still making fine music, which is no small achievement.