Bone Thugs N Harmony
Strength & Loyalty
Like every Bone release since Art of War, I really didn't expect much from Strength & Loyalty off the Swizz-owned Interscope imprint Full Surface Records. All of the turmoil and internal struggles Krayzie, Layzie, Wish and the rest were having always seemed to be super evident in their music. As a result, just about everything they have done in the last decade has been scattered and without focus, lacking any sense of unity or direction. To my surprise, Strength & Loyalty is actually somewhat focused and thankfully, it seems the group really put their hearts into this album and the production and management teams were in full support.
Swizz, Neo, Will.I.Am. Jermaine Dupri, Akon, Toomp, The Individuals and Pretty Boy man the production of Strength & Loyalty. "C-Town," an ode to both Cleveland and the Chi, is a definite album standout. How can you not dig a Bone collaboration with former foe Twista?
I never thought I would say this, but I love two Akon songs, and both are on this album! The lead single "I Tried" serves as a nice prelude for the vibe of the entire album and "Never Forget Me" is all kinds of ill. Who knew Bone Thugs-N-Harmony would become seasoned, grown men in the game, but the maturity and wisdom on this record is impossible to ignore. "9mm" is another gem for anyone hoping for a trip back to the days Eazy E was in the picture. "Wind Blow" is the quintessential "Hate/Love" joint of the album. It's a little awkward sounding relative to the rest of the album, and "The Chain" may have been sampled a billion times since Fleetwood Mac released it 30 years ago - but I don't give a shit; it has such a smooth summertime feeling and Bone do it justice.
However, Strength & Loyalty definitely has its fair share of missteps. The problem may be, ironically enough, that they tried too hard. It seems that in order to compensate for an army of scattered songs and collabs in the past, they pushed to make an album that appealed to everyone. And with so many people with so many different tastes, the record comes off almost too mainstream and formulaic. Sped-up soul samples? Check. Gangsta shootings and hustling? Check. Preachy, gospel track with Yolanda Adams? Check. Game talking about his hood? Jeezy'esque southern beats? Check and Check - Ok, that should cover just about every commercial demographic, this has to be popular! [Nope.] Oh, and there's one song called "Lil Love" featuring Mariah Carey and Lil Bow Wow [see: Making a wrong turn and ending up in 2001... the shitty parts of 2001]
Once upon a time, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony took the Hip Hop world by storm thanks to the undisputed classic E. 1999 Eternal. The melodic harmonies, light speed flows and potent rhymes the five Cleveland, Ohio natives brought to the table was worlds beyond anything the music world had scene before. The Grammy-winning single "Crossroads" remains today as one of the most loved non-dance Hip Hop records [by those outside of Hip Hop].
Unfortunately though, somewhere down the road, the impact and praise for the quintet-turned-quartet-turned-trio began to slip. Call it label disputes, legal problems or internal conflicts, there is no arguing that in the average listeners mind, Bone Thugs have almost completely faded away into obscurity. Hopefully, their signing to industry juggernaut Interscope thanks really is a new beginning. Rarely will you see me thanking or praising ol' Swizzy, but if he's the man who can end that all that political bullshit, the dude gets daps from me. A surprisingly strong 'debut' release like the new Strength & Loyalty deserves its share of praise as well.