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Straight outta Cleveland

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony: true to your old school

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In the relatively new-formed nation of hip-hop and rap, it would be easy to equate being “old school” with being “old fashioned.” Back in the days of analog and yore, I saw the light and held it close to my soul when I first heard Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, and nothing has compared since. PE were and still are speaking of solutions, of revolutions of the mind, and directing your anger toward those making life worse, rather than bitch-slapping the first sucka you see. Fifteen years after that record, the domination of wealth-inspired dick-grabbin’ lame rhymes about countin’ the money, the cars, the gold, the bitches, etc., seems to be a priority and an influence for a nation of morons. So call me old school/old fashioned, but whatever happened to the full-on Black Panther mentality for even us light underdogs to raise a fist and yell along with?

The anger died out in the ‘90s, the blunts got fatter and it was “don’t worry, be happy” from there on out on the red-eye express. Nothing wrong with the cheeba, boss, but sometimes society needs a dose of harsh reality from those who have lived it. Often effete but always correct, Spike Lee is currently dogging the gold-chained, 40 oz. swiggin’ homies for their influence on kids. But hey, it’s not their fault if violence is just another fun game for upper-class suburbanites or poor white trash wannabes. That’s why NWA, Geto Boys, Ice Cube and Ice T represent the actuality of the situation. Their tales from the hood should influence any kid NOT to follow in their footsteps. Hell, I’m just searching around for rappers who give a damn—dope beats and bent samples help as well, although it’s wearing pretty thin for anything “ahead of its time.”

You need to give credit to rappers who care about what they do and keep on trudging through to give fans the music they like, even if the numbers aren’t quite as large as in the good ol’ days. So you gotta give Bone Thugs–n–Harmony total props for keeping the wheels rolling and even coming to our little town to play the Wilma. Yes, you read it right the first time. These guys still seem to care about their product, their environment, their hometown of Cleveland and their fans.

I asked a co-worker (who was listening to Wu-Tang at the moment) what he knew about BTH: “Oh dude, they’re the fastest rappers, ever.” BTH members Krayzie Bone, Wish Bone, Layzie Bone and Bizzy Bone also scored a Grammy with their breakthrough hit “Tha Crossroads,” were produced by Eazy-E, worked with both Tupac and Biggie Smalls, and have sold more than 15 million units worldwide. That’s a pretty intense résumé for a Midwestern rap outfit, which back in the ‘90s was almost unheard of, everything then being subsumed into the sick and stupid rivalry of East Coast vs. West Coast.

For BTH, success has rolled right on in, but not without woes in tow. They feuded bitterly with their record company Ruthless, lost their mentor Eazy-E to AIDS, and even found that living in their hometown was no piece of cake: “There was a time when we were back up in Cleveland in our Mo Thugs office,” Krayzie recalls. “This was something that Cleveland people weren’t used to, young, black dudes our age pulling up in the hood in new Mercedes-Benzes. We had houses and an office in a white neighborhood. Of course the police, by not knowing what business we’re in, they’re going to get on us. They had Mo Thugs Records up under investigation, but we were all about the music. That’s one of the reasons we had to bounce from Cleveland…We didn’t want to get back into that bullshit no more.” But they still got love for their hometown in a song titled “Cleveland Is The City,” from their latest release (after a four-year break) on Ruthless, Thug World Order. If you loved them back in the day, it should all still sound pretty fresh.

Gone but not forgotten are the times when a record company would pull records for inflammatory rhymes about cops. Gone are the days when controversy swirled around the blackness of a group’s Minister of Information. These seem to be the days of righteousness tempered with a little Olde English. So if you take it that way, you’ll likely become a fan all over again after witnessing Bone Thugs-n-Harmony at The Wilma. Place your bets, G.

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony perform at the Wilma Theatre, Saturday, May 31.

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