Bone Thugs perfected the art of gritty, gothic, gangsta rap.
Today marks the launch of a new category of articles: Hip-Hop History. Dedicated to celebrating classic albums and iconic cultural moments, Hip-Hop History is here to prove that we're here for the music first and foremost, and that will never change. But most importantly, Hip-Hop History is for the people to unite in celebration of their favorite projects, and maybe discover something they've been sleeping on.
“Welcome to the dark side.”
The opening message of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s E. 1999 Eternal strikes a sinister, yet undeniably inviting tone. Paired with haunting, reversed cries, it’s easy to imagine a ritual transpiring after nightfall in the streets of Cleveland. One that carved an intriguing musical cloth, and helped pioneer a darker variant of gangster rap; not unlike the Geto Boys down in Houston, Bone’s G’d up aesthetic was peppered with enough horrorcore elements to spark a different sort of unease. Consider the hip-hop landscape at the time of its release. In 1995, the same year The Source Awards would stage its most notorious installment, many legendary acts were staking their claim across their respective cities.
Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, Suge Knight, and the DPG had planted the Death Row flag in West Coast soil, a point of contention to their East Coast counterparts. The Wu-Tang Clan had turned heads through their brilliant pairing of martial-arts mysticism, mathematics, and genuine street narratives. OutKast made it known that “The South Had Something To Say,” following the release of 1994’s Southernplaylisticcadillacmuzic. The Notorious B.I.G and Puff Daddy had asserted themselves as King, and King’s Hand, of New York.
And here were five emcees - Bizzy Bone, Layzie Bone, Krayzie Bone, Flesh-N-Bone, and Wish Bone - seeking to follow-up on an EP that inserted them comfortably into the mix. The proteges of NWA legend Eazy-E, Bone’s breakout single “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” set the stage for the quintet to assert themselves as contenders. Following an EP by the name of Creepin’ On Ah Come Up, the harmonious Thugs came through with their first full-length project. Sadly, Eazy-E was no longer around to bear witness, having passed away prior to its release. His legacy was honored through the album’s title, and Bone Thugs did not disappoint in doing right by their late mentor. E. 1999 Eternal debuted at the top of the Billboard charts, driven by iconic singles like “1st Of The Month” and the album’s most famous drop, “Tha Crossroads.”
The latter helped secure the group their first Grammy Award, which they locked down two years removed from the album’s initial drop. Imagine a time in which Bone Thugs-N-Harmony absolutely dominated the charts? Compared to today, where “Old Town Road” stands on the verge of shattering any-and-all records, it’s hard to fathom an era in which Bone Thugs reigned supreme. Yet such was the reality, and a testament to the group’s brilliant versatility. Though melodic in nature, Bone remained, and unfalteringly so, thuggish ruggish. For every heart-on-sleeve reflection like “Crossroads” came an equally haunting selection in keeping with the album’s introductory tone. Highlight “Land Of Tha Heartless” stands among Bone’s hardest tracks ever, with Bizzy Bone absolutely spazzing over gothic G-Funk. Titular track “East 1999” brought the bounce to the cemetery, a showcase for the “Cleveland hustlers” to showcase their effortless flows. Flows that would prove among the game’s most influential, especially where certain triplet-favoring trifectas are concerned.
Now, on the same day the project turns twenty-four, it’s incredible to revisit E. 1999 with a fresh pair of ears. Despite being the product of a bygone era, DJ U-Neek’s production remains crisp to this day, fleshing out Bone’s ruthless environment with an understated touch. From start to finish, Bone Thugs’ iconic project is a cohesive experience, brought to life with stellar performances from each contributing member. Though many will count them among the game’s legends, it’s not uncommon for Bone to be forgotten in the greater discourse, despite having crafted more classic material than many in their wake. Should you be feeling appreciative, spend an evening with a timeless body of work, one that helped pave the way for many dominant musical trends still seen today. Creative, technically proficient, and legitimately deadly with the melodies, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony have much to be proud of. Happy birthday to an essential part of the hip-hop musical canon.