Bone Thugs N’ Harmony - Strength & Loyalty

Posted May 14, 2007

You can never go back, and it’s been 13 years since Bone Thugs N’Harmony emerged from the...

Strength and Loyalty Album Review

You can never go back, and it’s been 13 years since Bone Thugs N’Harmony emerged from the streets of Cleveland to scorch the game with their rapid-fire lyrical release. Their latest album, Strength and Loyalty, is the Bone Thug’s effort to reclaim their heavyweight status (minus the incarcerated Flesh-n-Bone and the exiled Bizzy) after a decade of solid but relatively unsuccessful efforts.

Bone Thug’s album E. 1999 Eternal achieved instant classic status for its jaw breaking verbal delivery and intelligently hard edge; it’s the album all their other work is judged against. Allow me to elaborate: “The new Bone Thugs track is dope” means “that sounds like 1st of Tha Month,” and “that’s a wack Bone Thugs cut,” translates to “that’s not nearly as good as Tha Crossroads.” So with ’99 Eternal firmly in the rearview mirror, Strength and Loyalty emerges as a hard hitting but sometimes confusing album that proves the Bone Thugs ain’t no joke, but they’ll probably never be as good as they were in ’95.

Swizz Beatz (it’s me snitches!) produced much of the album, and though he struggles at times to match his rappers style (on Candy Paint he forgets they’re from Cleveland, not Houston), for the most part he delivers. His beats are sonically full but leave enough space for Krayzie, Layzie, and Wish to put down their trademark lyrical onslaught. Bump In the Trunk opens with a vocal harmony and then bursts into a full out rider for the Thugs to expertly flow over. It’s not a bangin’ sound system that’s bumpin in their trunk, it’s automatic weapons, and guns are a theme throughout the album. Gun Blast is exactly the type of track you want from the Bone Thugs, a repeating synth and stuttering drum echoes the violently melodic lyrics and demands to be played at full volume (though Swizz goes overboard with the gunshot sound effects).

Akon also shows up on two tracks, and they’re surprisingly some of the best on the album. Akon’s irresistibly melodic production lets the Bone Thugs speak on some deeper subjects than gun calibers, and the success of Strength and Loyalty’s lead single I Tried shows how successful that kind of intelligent vision can be. Never Forget Me is the other Akon track, and despite the cheesy synth hook underlying the track (think the Rocky theme song) the Bone Thugs dope verbal cadence turns it into something memorable. In some ways Akon proves a better production partner for the Bone Thugs than Swizz, except he can’t do thug as well as he does harmony.

There are a few songs on Strength and Loyalty that makes you wonder what the Bone Thugs were thinking. Order My Steps (dear lord) is as close to a straight out gospel song as you’re going to find on a major label hip-hop album, it even brings on gospel legend Yolanda Adams for some soulful vocals, yet the very next track is the brazenly violent Streets featuring The Game. I’m not a religious man, but I find it hard to believe the Lord endorses “wet pussy and the bomb ass chronic.

The album also starts off with the track Wind Blow, which has the Bone Thugs rhyming over Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 rock hit The Chain. I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s strange for a group that reps the streets so hard to rhyme over an essentially unchanged version of a song by the whitest band in history. Watch this video and tell me I’m wrong:

Ultimately, mistakes like Wind Blow and the catchy but painfully soft Lil’ Love are not nearly enough to bring down the Bone Thugs. Strength and Loyalty has enough ridin’ percussion and rapid fire rhymes to keep fans happy, even if it’s not as good as their old-school offerings. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go download Thuggish Ruggish Bone.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted May 14, 2007
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