Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Eternal” Classic 15 Years Later
Earlier this week, I wrote about the 16th anniversary of the first Gravediggaz album, 6 Feet Deep, and how much I loved the record back in 1994, and still do in 2010. What I didn’t realize while waxing sentimental over 6 Feet Deep, though, was that another classic rap album’s anniversary was approaching, that of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's E. 1999 Eternal.
Back on August 15, 1995, the Cleveland, Ohio foursome’s official full-length debut, following their 1994 EP Creepin’ on ah Come Up, first impacted. While my personal tastes are more Gravediggaz than Bone Thugs, I can still proudly divulge that I purchased E. 1999 Eternal the day it hit stores, just as I did with Creepin’ on ah Come Up. Back then, I was a grade school hip-hop fiend who’d do odd jobs around the house just to earn enough dollars to pay visits to Sam Goody and (Nobody Beats) The Wiz every Tuesday. My parents used to get mad at the fact that all of my money earned went right into buying cassette tapes and CDs, but what did they know? I was an addict, and the fix had to be satiated on a weekly basis.
When the majority of folks think back on E. 1999 Eternal, “Tha Crossroads” starts playing in their respective mind’s background. Which makes sense—it was impossible to avoid that song back in ’95. For me, though, the preferred gateway into E. 1999 Eternal is “1st of Tha Month,” still my favorite Bone Thugs single to date. Though Bone members Bizzy, Layzie, Wish and Krayzie deserve all the acclaim they’ve received for the album, I’m quicker to give props to the producer of all 17 tracks, DJ U-Neek.
U-Neek’s beat on “1st of Tha Month” remains as emotive and sad today as it felt 15 years ago. The wah-wah synthesizers, that sound like they’re crying in desperation, pierce the heart, giving a slick contrast to the Bone guys’ optimism—living off of welfare checks may not be ideal, but, damn it, they’re making the best of things.
The notion of picking “1st of Tha Month” and “Tha Crossroads” as the album’s singles makes perfect sense once you run through the remainder of E. 1999 Eternal. Outside of those two cuts, the record is a sinister listen. U-Neek’s production leans toward alarming church organ melodies and shrill synths, clearly influenced by the music of Bone’s late mentor Eazy-E. The intentions of songs like “Die, Die, Die” and “Mo’ Murda” need no explanation, the latter being one of my choice cuts thanks largely in part to the satanic chant that underscores the hook.
Imagine the faces of the young suburban and upper-class kids who bought the album, off the strength of “Tha Crossroads,” and let the disc proceed without skips, allowing the “Me Killa” skit to play. N-bombs left and right; lines such as “had to put that slug up in your chest, shoulda wore that vest” presented in a barbershop quartet-like chorus.
The first song I revisited this week was “Down ’71 (The Getaway),” the album’s best inclusion (in my ears). It’s the track I used to play for friends who underestimated Bone Thugs after hearing “Tha Crossroads” a million times a day, which led to skeptical opinions in regards to the group’s overall product. There’s a strong parallel between “Down ’71 (The Getaway)” and Gravediggaz “Diary of a Madman” (I made no mystery of my affinity for that Gravediggaz gem in my earlier post); maybe that’s why I’m so pro-"Getaway." It’s the most cinematic song on E. 1999 Eternal, the closest the LP comes to a concept record, framed as a courtroom scene that culminates in a “death penalty” verdict. And it goes extremely hard.
Though I’m unmistakably an underground advocate and a lover of all things DJ Premier/The Rza/Pete Rock, I’ve respected Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s unique brand of rap music since day one, and E. 1999 Eternal deserves more applause than it has received over the last 15 years. Here’s an idea for an anniversary gift: find a copy of the album and give it a proper spin or two. If anything, skip right to “Down ’71 (The Getaway).” There’s plenty more than crossroads and fast raps to be heard. —Matt Barone