A look back at Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's "E. 1999 Eternal" 20 years later.
It starts with a haunting introduction. A demonic voice takes the mic, paving the way for a revolutionary new sound in rap.
Bizzy Bone’s verse kicks in. It’s melodic, but it’s most definitely a rap. It’s quite really unlike anything else out there at the time.
The year is 1995. Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac are a couple of the biggest names in rap, and these cats from Cleveland come along with a fresh, dark sound. Now Cleveland, Ohio has never been known for its contributions to hip hop music. It probably never will be. But if ever there was a case to take the city’s contribution to hip hop culture seriously, it would be because of E. 1999 Eternal.
The album, which came out twenty years ago today, embodied a mutated G-funk sound laced with the band’s unique flows, of which they rap with the utmost respect for harmony. The rappers, by the way, more specifically are Krayzie Bone, Layzie Bone, Bizzy Bone, Wish Bone, and Flesh-n-Bone. Krayzie is the only MC to appear on all tracks, but Layzie and Bizzy are on most of them as well.
1999 Eternal has all the makings for a classic hip hop album. It’s chalk full of classics without cheesy attempts at singles. The LP was unique in production and, and its influence has lasted into present day due to the Thugs’ forward-thinking flows. It was even one of the last projects that Eazy-E worked on before he passed away (“Crossroad” is dedicated to him). All of these factors helped to make the record one of the best selling hip hop albums of all time.
The sound on E. 1999 is one of a kind. DJ U-Neek, who made each beat on the album, lived up to the name with his production. It melted the modern sounds with G-funk with the syrup pace of Texas rap. Some of the high moments in terms of sampling come on “Mo Murda” when U-Neek sampled Bootsy Collins’, better known as the excentric bassist in George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic, track “I’d Rather Be With You. It was also pretty genius when the crew flipped The Isley Brothers’ legitimate love song “Choosey Lover” into the ultimate stoner song on “Buddah Lovaz.” There’s no doubt that these Cleveland cats loved their trees.
The album’s melodic, slow instrumentation has gone on to spawn less funky vibes that you see in A$AP Mob or Yung Lean’s kind of music. Cloud rap, or whatever you want to call it, definitely takes more than a couple nods from E. 1999. Just listen to the beats on “Crept and We Came,” “Mr. Bill Collector,” or “No Shorts, No Losses” for those vibes. Of course, those unmistakable G-funk synths haven’t really found themselves in modern rap culture too often, but the general smoked-out, leaned-back (pun intended) vibe is all over the place, from the obvious examples that A$AP Rocky and Ferg provide to the less obvious artists like Atlanta’s Migos and Father, the latter of which embodies a lot of that evil darkness that the Thugs thrived on.
“Down ’71 (The Getaway)” and “Die Die Die” employ straight-up murderous lyrics; stuff that was really, really dark and hard:
“Cause nigga the sawed-off ain't full of shit
Me lovin' to smoke tweed and me weed man
They givin' me what me need man when I light my blunt
Fold the niggas up in me hood so when we smoke smoke smoke
Get paid good so we gonna blaze good
So come to The Land where all the thugs be real
Them St. Claire niggas they ain't no joke
So catch a slug or chill nigga”
That comes from “Die Die Die.” This one’s from “Down ’71 (The Getaway)”:
‘Little Layzie blew his head off
Get him up, and get up
The bullets they start to get lit up
Number one best start duckin' wid ah gun already buckin'
Bust me lead on the double Glock 'n
Where the fiends roll up for rocks 'n
This perfect getaway
From the pigs when I peel and I hit the fences
Rippin' up the trench and
I'm bailing while they trailing
Better in hell than in the cell
And it ain't no telling where the coppers be dwelling
One had spotted me, picked up a piece and shot at me”
While the album contains content that rivals the likes of Three Six Mafia and Insane Clown Posse for the most violent material in rap music at the time, It’s around this time that ‘horrorcore’ is becoming more and more popular. 1995 is somewhat of a revolutionary year for the subgenre, with Three Six releasing their debut album and ICP releasing their third record, the gold certified Riddle Box. RZA and th Gravediggaz had just released their acclaimed 1994 record 6 Feet Deep, and we’re just a couple years before Slim Shady starts murdering people on the track, and going platinum while he’s at it.
Along with the slaughterhouse, murderous tendencies in their horrorcore-leaning material, the overwhelming influence from Bone Thugs comes in their rap deliver, their melodic blend of singing and rapping. Along with Nate Dogg, these dudes were blending the worlds of R&B and hip hop with each line they spit. You may have had a similar experience when listening to Bone Thugs-n-Harmony for the first time, where you had to ask yourself, “Are these guys singing or rapping?” Depending on the moment, you could probably make a case for either, but the fact that these guys were legitimately doing both was insanely progressive at the time.
The original version of “The Crossroads” is a great example of where A$AP got a lot of their steeze from. Check out Layzie Bone’s verse on the track for a solid foreshadowing of one of Ferg’s dopest flows. When Layzie spits:
“Come and take a good look deep into these thuggish-ruggish eyes, see the thugstas cry
And I'm askin' the good Lord "Why?" and sigh, he told me we live to die
Not another on the team with a dream that can deal with the struggles, like you Wally
I love you to death, but I wish I could have seen through your troubles
And it's hard to say good-bye to another...Bone
I'm feelin' all in the dumps, and all of a sudden, I'm so alone
Stay strong and hold on to a lifetime of memories
You're livin' off in my prayers
Gotta let the Man upstairs know that somebody cares
Just wait, and I'll be there”
It’s quite similar to Ferg’s flow on the collaboration track he did with SBTRKT. Both are pining for a lost loved one, and using harmony to convey their emotion while rapping. It’s worth noting that Ferg and Bone Thugs collaborated officially on the rapper’s debut full-length LP Trap Lord, over a beat that sees resemblance to Bone Thugs’ E. 1999 material with a modern twist.
Even artists like Drake and The Weeknd, who blur the lines between singing and rapping, have a little something to owe to the Bone Thugs style. You would never draw the direct connection between the two parties, but when you zoom out, the singing/rapping hybrid definitely traces its roots back to E. 1999 Eternal, where four Cleveland cats revolutionized the way we think of rap music.
The word “harmony” doesn’t usually sound tough, but when you hear it on the “Da Introduction,” you know what time it is. These dudes were able to use melody to their advantage, something that rappers had struggled with pre-’95. While drawing the blueprint for that type of style Bone Thugs-n-Harmony impacted rap forever with this classic rotation.