Here at RapReviews, we’re not against rap (obviously), we’re not against rappers (again, obviously), and we’re not against those thugs, well at least not THESE thugs. I wonder what Rev. Calvin Butts is doing now. I doubt he ever dreamed that his castigating words against gangsta rap would become one of the most famous song introductions in rap history. “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” helped to thrust the Cleveland natives into the national spotlight, and eventually their debut EP, “Creepin On Ah Come Up” hit multi-platinum status. Bone remained a fixture through the second half of 1994. However, in March of 1995, disaster would strike as their mentor, Eazy-E would die as a result of complications from AIDS. His death left many wondering about the future of the group, but just a short four months later, BTNH would release what many (including this reviewer) consider to be their magnum opus, “E. 1999 Eternal”.
The album’s first single (no pun intended) was “1st Of Tha Month”, which was a feel-good ode to the distribution of welfare checks. The song proved to be a massive hit for the crew and I can even recall the group being interviewed on Yo! MTV Raps by Fab 5 Freddy as he jokingly asked “Where’s Chicken Bone?” However, it was no joking matter when the album hit the street, well at least not my street. Hailing from the same city that the Thugs claimed as their own, we looked to them almost as folk heroes. Cleveland has always had its fair share of people that were accepted in other fields of entertainment, but there had never been any rap acts with the street edge of Bone Thugs. Prior to BTNH, the biggest rap act out of the city was probably MC Brains of “Oochie Coochie” fame. The public seemed to be enthralled with the idea of rapid fire lyrics with a dash of harmonization for flavor, and they ate it up, leaving nothing but bones behind. I apologize for the bad pun, but it was hard to resist.
The album itself had many of the same themes of the prior albums including violence and the occult, but with this release they took it to a higher level with weed appreciation songs and diving deeper into the occult side of things. Within the album credits is an extended backwards cryptic message and a fictional map with street names that reflect important elements of Bone’s career up to that point. For example, there’s Cleveland Blvd., North Eazy St., and even Wrightwoods Drive. Some portions of the album feature the backwards playing music, and there are a few webpages dedicated to decoding all of the elements of the album.
One reason for the great success of this album was the chemistry that Bone seemed to have with DJ U-Neek at the time. U-Neek produced the entire album with co-production from Kenny McCloud, Tony-C, and Bone at times. I’m not sure what kind of weed they were smoking (perhaps it was the hydro they mention), but it made for some excellent soundscapes. The mellowed nature of “Tha Introduction” and the much harder “East 1999” can be sequenced back-to-back without disrupting the flow of the album or losing anything in terms of quality. I believe that the way the sample selections were utilized had a hand in the success as well. “Eternal” samples music from the Sega Genesis fighting game, “Eternal Champions” while “1st Of Tha Month” samples Chapter 8’s “I Just Wanna Be Your Girl”. The basslines of Bootsy Collins’ “I’d Rather Be With You” and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Reasons” make subtle but effective appearances on “Mo Murda” and “Budsmokers Only” respectively. “Buddah Lovaz” puts the “Harmony” in BTNH with its sampling of the Isley Brothers’ “Choosey Lover”. Another sampled Isleys tune helped to set the platform for Bone’s biggest hit to date, and one of the biggest chart toppers in music history, “Tha Crossroads”.
To satisfy any purists, I have to mention that “Tha Crossroads” was not on the original issue of “E. 1999 Eternal” but was released as a remix to “Crossroad”. The response was overwhelmingly positive and the “Make Me Say It Again Girl” sampling version of the song dominated the Billboard charts for eight weeks and garnered a Grammy nomination for the group. For the benefit of anyone who’s lived under a rock for a decade or so, one of Wish’s verses can summarize the theme of the song, as he raps:
“Now Eazy’s long gone
Really wish he would come home
But when it’s time to die
Gotta go bye bye
All a thug could do is cry, cry
Why they kill my dog and man
I miss my uncle Charles y’all
and he shoudn’t be gone, in front of his home
What they did to Boo was wrong
Oh so wrong, oh so wrong
Gotta hold on gotta stay strong
When the day comes
Better believe Bone got a shoulder you can lean on (lean on)”
Tracks like “Land Of Tha Heartless” and “No Shorts, No Losses” both have a sound that is reminiscent of the “Creepin On Ah Come UP” EP, especially the latter with its heavy guitar bassline and synthesized sounds. The Ouija board is once again referenced on “Mr. Ouija 2” as the Thugs chant and load up artillery for what sounds like it could be the makings of World War III. This leads in to “Mo Murda” which actually contains portions of the Ouija chants and the aforementioned Bootsy sample. The album comes to a close with “Shotz To The Double Glock”, which features Poetic Hustlaz and Graveyard Shift.
BTNH capitalized on the success of “Eternal” by establishing the Mo Thugs imprint and scoring high-profile guest appearances with the likes of The Notorious B.I.G. on “Notorious Thugs”. The official follow-up to “Eternal” was 1997’s “Art Of War” double album. It featured “Look Into My Eyes” and also the 2Pac collaboration, “Thug Luv”, and did well on the charts. Subsequent releases haven’t always seen the same level of prosperity, and both internal and external turmoil threatened to tear the group apart. Flesh was sent to prison on assault charges and probation violation. Bizzy seemed to be losing the battle with alcohol and the demons from his troubled childhood. 2006’s “Thug Stories” and 2007’s “Strength & Loyalty” were both recorded under the Bone Thugs-N-Harmony name, but without Bizzy. As it stands now, Flesh is out of prison and Bizzy is back in the good graces of the group. The reunited and reinvigorated quintet is set to release “The World’s Enemy” this upcoming December, a feat that many thought would never happen. In any situation, the “Eternal” album has proven to be just that, eternal. Upon playing it for this review, it all still sounds as good as it did over fourteen years ago. It’s even more refreshing to see that the Thugs are still in the game amidst all of the obstacles that have fallen in their path along the way.