Later this month Bone Thugs-N-Harmony are set to release their long-awaited come back album, with all of the group’s original members reuniting for Art Of War III. Despite forming over twenty years ago, BTNH remain one of the most unique sounding acts in hip-hop today, as well as one of the most compelling. Their first album Faces Of Death, released in 1993, received little or no attention from the hip-hop world; in part a testament to the quality of releases that year, but also from a lack of promotion in a pre-Internet industry. Yet contained in that LP are the game changing sounds that would eventually catch the eye of Compton legend Eazy-E.
After signing them to his label Ruthless Records, together they created the classic single “For The Love Of Money” which featured on BTNH’s Thuggish Ruggish Bone E.P. Sadly, the video for the single would also become Eazy-E’s last appearance in a music video. The rappers death shocked the group just as they were embarking on forging a dynasty of their own. BTNH’s road to success was never straight forward, with just as many dark moments impacting on the group as there were moments of glory. Perhaps BNTH’s most iconic member, Bizzy Bone, encapsulates this paradox better than anybody. His troubled upbringing renders the likes of Eminem’s exaggerated family problems trivial. Bizzy Bone, real name Bryon McCane, was abducted as a child and subjected to bouts of sexual and physical abuse. After being placed in multiple foster homes Bryon used hip-hop as his escape, finding his spiritual counterparts (and later group members) as a teenager in Cleveland. Layzie Bone, Flesh-N-Bone, Bizzy Bone, Wish Bone and Krayzie Bone all share a bond which stretches back further than music.
What set the group apart was their ability to take those real life painful moments and incorporate them into their music. E.1999 Eternal, released in 1995, remains the group’s greatest achievement. It is however probably their darkest album, from their depiction of living in hell on the cover to their bizarre content and style of delivery. Most peculiar was the choice of style BTNH used to deliver their music. Instead of straight forward rapping, the members seemed to use their vocal chords to manifest their raps to sound as violent and rapid as guns firing. Constantly switching from melodic chorus’s and hypnotically quick chanting. At times it seemed to transcend hip-hop to create something entirely different of it’s own nature. E.1999 is often imitated but will never be matched for it’s authenticity and originality. The album will also be fondly remembered for it’s famous single “Tha Crossroads” (video, below) which strangely, sounds like nothing else on the album.
Yet, backed by that single, it helped the LP sell over ten million records; astonishing considering how hardcore much of the material was. It’s depiction of gang warfare is more brutal than any modern equivalent, with it’s word’s impacting on the listener to the point of leaving you feeling uneasy. Yet “Tha Crossroads” was pivotal in showing that there was more to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony than just gangster rap, the softer side of the group would become more prevalent as their career progressed. At the height of their fame, 2Pac was in full Makaveli mode and was a big admirer of the group. Together they recorded the single “Thug Luv” which was ultimately one of 2Pac’s last works; it was believed to have been in consideration for an album 2Pac was working on called One Nation.
But in another tragic turn of events, 2Pac died before he could produce the album and thus it ended up on Art Of War, the second Bone Thugs-N-Harmony LP. Yet by the time Art Of War was released, cracks were already starting to show in the group; Bizzy Bone and Flesh-N-Bone weren’t appearing in some of the music videos, whilst even their concerts were hit and miss in terms of which members showed up. It was the unfortunate result of in house bickering, legal problems and drug abuse.
The fact the album was released 2 years after E.1999 seemed to slow down the momentum they had built up too. Although it may have split opinion at the time, today it is held in much greater esteem by critics than it was in ’97. In what was a daring move, it was one of the first hip-hop albums to include two discs. Another noticeable artist to create a two disc LP was of course The Notorious B.I.G. with his album Life After Death, also released in 1997. Coming from Cleveland they managed to avoid the East and West conflicts of the time. Biggie, much like 2Pac, sought out the group for a feature, with Bone Thugs appearing on the track “Notorious Thugs”. The contrast in styles couldn’t have been greater, yet the collaboration remains a staple track in hip-hop years later. Bone Thugs made history by being the only artists to have worked with Biggie, 2Pac and Eazy-E, an achievement which nobody else will emulate for obvious reasons.
The year 2000 marked the end of an era for Bone Thugs. One of the groups member’s, Flesh-N-Bone, was sentenced to eleven years in jail for possession of a fire-arm, meaning a change in line up. The album BTNHRessurection was also released that year but much of the group’s output seemed to be on the decline. Although Flesh had released a solo album back in ’96 and Bizzy Bone followed that with solo projects of his own, from 2000 onwards much of the group seemed more focused on their own careers, rather than working as a collective. A lot of the solo albums were high in quality but the scattered nature of the projects left fans feeling a little disappointed. Bizzy left the group officially in 2002 after the release of Thug World Order, leaving only three remaining members. Bone Thugs made four albums in the 2000’s under this format of a trio; in ’07 Strength & Loyalty even spawned a successful radio single in “I Tried Feat. Akon”; a song which was a throw back in style to “Tha Crossroads”.
With the early release from prison in 2008 of Flesh, the group reunited for a well received 2010 album Uni5: The World’s Enemy. Yet, much like The Fugees reunion, it wasn’t long before old demons resurfaced to halt the resurgence of the group. Krayzie Bone and Wish Bone announced their intention to work as a duo leaving the rest of BTNH in limbo. Most of us had given up hope of seeing the group work together again until this year when they made an appearance at Rock The Bells and sensationally announced a farewell album called Art Of War III. In what has brought even more attention to the group, The Game remixed “1st Of Tha Month” from E.1999 as his latest single, and even recorded a version with the group themselves. For Bone Thugs it has been a long and sometimes troublesome journey, but at least we may be on the brink of one final glorious chapter.