Review Summary: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony tongue-tie their way back into the public eye with Strength & Loyalty, an expectedly solid release that's by no means exceptional.
Very few rap ensembles can pair relatively hostile and otherwise gangster themes with a smooth, laidback sound. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony most definitely can. They get away with things they really shouldn't get away with. Songs like Tha Crossroads
have the group singing and harmonizing evoking a very sad, sombre mood. Singing, let alone harmonizing, is not gangster, and yet they're let off the hook. Maybe it's because they pull it off with such apparent ease, or and this is merely hypothetical, they're allowed to dabble in a smoother side of things because if you were to call them on it, you'd probably become the subject of one of their more explicitly gangster tracks.
"Strength & Loyalty" is the group's latest release and features the line-up of Krayzie Bone, Layzie Bone and Wish Bone. Flesh-N-Bone is in jail for jamming an AK47 in someone's face. Bizzy Bone is gone because, well, he's completely fuck
does a great job at getting things off to a solid start with its grimy, distinguished and otherwise unique beat; I, personally, have not known Bone Thugs to have such a bombastic backdrop, perhaps in fear of overshadowing their smooth, tongue-twisting flow. But Flowmotion
is not distracting, not even in the slightest; it's one of the best tracks on Strength & Loyalty
succeeds thanks to its blend of something different and something you're used to. It also dispels nearly all cynicism rightfully surrounding the group, cynicism based partially on Bizzy Bone (who quit) and Flesh-N-Bone (who's in jail) not appearing on this album. Cynics were sceptical, at least partially, because the group, be it with their solo releases or their "underground" ones, have been less than impressive in recent years. Don't worry though; Bumps in the Trunk
has the suck covered, giving the sceptics some ammo. The track, which features Swizz Beatz in a characteristically uncharacteristic cameo, builds off a sterile beat and one of the most abrasively subdued hooks ever. I never thought I'd say this, but it actually reminds me of the Red Hot Chilli Pepper's Hump De Bump
only somehow worse.
The first two tracks more or less set the album's effect in stone. Some tracks are great, some not so much. Continuing the back and forth nature of the album's quality, Wind Blow
is up next and rivals Flowmotion
for the strongest on the album. Wind Blows
goes beyond simply sampling Fleetwood Mac's The Chain
by, in many cases, having the group simply rap atop the original, letting the original's chorus do its job. Oddly enough, the next song is also pretty solid, if only for the fact that it somehow makes me enjoy Akon. Actually, Akon's other appearance at the end of the record isn't all that painful either.
It's obvious why Akon is on I Tried
, the first single. With the absence of Bizzy, someone had to fill the void, and Akon's voice is just weird enough to do it. He's also one of many guest appearances to be found on the album. Along with Akon and the abovementioned Swizz Beatz, "Strength & Loyalty" features almost too many guest appearances. Lil' L.O.V.E.
has Mariah Carey dishing out a bland, uninteresting verse with Bow Wow getting lots in the fray of more talented artists. And, just in case you're wondering, the track (which is otherwise tolerable) ends with Mariah's godforsaken whistle notes. Mariah, if I wanted to hear whistle notes, well…I'd sooner kill myself than willingly listen to whistle notes. I guess her name looks good on paper though.
Besides Akon, other strong cameos come from the Game, who adds some much needed west coast flavour on Streets
, which conveniently enough touches on Bone Thugs' ever-present street cred. Streets
also features the mandatory will.i.am appearance, and of course, will make the listener question just what is so special about him that mandates his appearance on literally every fuck
ing urban release in the last two years. Well, at least the Game's appearance is solid.
Fellow tongue-twister Twista (see what I did there?) appears on C-Town
and seems right at home with the trio; if they're looking to replace Flesh-N-Bone, Twista's the guy to do it. Then again, if replaced, Flesh-N-Bone would find himself right back in jail as he'd inevitably murder Twista for taking his place.
On the whole, "Strength & Loyalty" does a solid job at reminding people why the group is still around. While the album lacks classics on par with Thug Luv
and Tha Crossroads
, it's not without perks. It features the classic Bone Thugs' flow, some typical beats you'd expect and some unconventional ones you wouldn't, and Gun Blast
plays the "track with gunshots" role quite well.
Strength & Loyalty is expectedly solid, but by no means exceptional, but if you skip a few tracks (especially Bumps in the Trunk
) you'll find yourself enjoying this. Oh, and do yourself a favour and try to ignore the pseudo-Bizkit shout-out on Candy Paint
. "Keep Rollin'"? Are you seeeeeeeerious?