Possessing a unique blend of melodic vocals and tongue-twisting rhymes, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony took the hip-hop world by storm in 1994. Since then, the Cleveland collective has seen their singsongy style run into the ground by swagger jackers. So after a 4-year break, BTNH looks to reclaim their spot with their self-titled sixth album. However, with Flesh-N-Bone still incarcerated and Bizzy Bone completely out of the picture, the remaining three members sound like a shell of their former selves.
Things get off to a promising start on the sinister intro. Over a dark bass line, a rejuvenated Layzie Bone spits, “In 1994, we switched the game up/Spit the hardest with the rappin’ and the flow that always changed up.” That’s what makes this project so disappointing. Bone is a group known for their layered harmonization, but here they repeatedly deliver unimaginative choruses. Despite the detailed narrative of “Thug Stories,” the Platinum Brothers–produced song quickly loses steam as the paint-by-numbers hook comes in. The same fate befalls “Rich Man’s World,” where the lyrical darts are muted by a halfhearted chant (“Money, money, money/Must be funny/In a rich man’s world”).
Even more troubling is the fact that BTNH’s penchant for hood tales is sorely underrepresented on this 12-track disc. Instead, there are obligatory Kraft Singles like the R&B-fueled “Call Me” and the scorned woman’s theme song “She Got Crazy.” The failed attempts at broadening their audience reach the apex on the ironically titled “So Sad,” which pays tribute to “All you slimy, grimy women.”
It isn’t until the tail end of the album that Bone gets back on track. The fighting-temptation message of “Stand Not in Our Way” and the reflective “This Life” are more in line with past BTNH hits. But even the most die-hard fans will find themselves at a crossroads trying to get in tune with this disc.—JOZEN CUMMINGS