Bone Thugs-N-Harmony returns to the mainstream with the group’s latest release, Strength & Loyalty. Many are already hailing it as a comeback album in the wake of some rather disappointing releases from Bone Thugs. Though the release marks their seventh album as a group, there have been some noticeable changes in the lineup. Absent on Strength & Loyalty are members Bizzy Bone, who was booted for erratic behavior, and Flesh-N-Bone, who is in prison on weapons charges. Yet through all their struggles, Bone Thugs succeeds in showing they can still make a solid album. The lead single “I Tried,” featuring R&B crooner Akon, slows down the group’s trademark flow to match the song’s melancholy subject matter and production. Akon’s whining vocals supply the chorus as he becomes the spokesperson for disadvantaged people everywhere, with lyrics such as “I tried so hard / can’t seem to get away from misery / man I tried so hard / will always be a victim of these streets.”
The first track on Strength & Loyalty, “Flowmotion,” is an ode to everything that keeps Bone Thugs fans loyal. It features a rapid-fire flow that leaves listeners rapt with attention so they don’t miss a beat in Layzie Bone, Wish Bone and Krayzie Bone’s wordplay.
Another gem is “Wind Blow,” which features a sample of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” Not only does the song mix two totally different styles of music, it does so exceptionally well. Bone Thugs addresses all of the people who did not follow the group’s music from the beginning but only jumped on the bandwagon once the group became successful. Layzie Bone leads with “Bone Thugs gotta story similar to Mike Jones / you can ask my homies / I remember back in the days when they didn’t want me / now I blew up and they all on me.” Meanwhile, the sample claims, “If you don’t love me now, you will never love me again.” Strength & Loyalty is not without flaws, however. When the group relies too heavily on formula, it becomes all too obvious to the listener.
“Lil Love” partners Bone Thugs with Mariah Carey and Bow Wow for a disappointing attempt at a thug love song. It is the typical breakup-to-makeup ditty where Carey plays the neglected girlfriend while Bow Wow and the boys of Bone Thugs play the hustler boyfriends who sacrifice time with their lady to provide material things.
Another example of formulaic disappointment is “Bump in the Trunk.” The marriage of Swizz Beatz’s frenzied beat and fast-paced yet simplistic lyrics is an example of a track that has too much going on musically and fails to deliver lyrically. Lyrics such as “Feelin’ that rap / that rump and bump / in ya trunk,” don’t do much for the listener.
Though Bone Thugs-N-Harmony has been rapping for 20 years, Strength and Loyalty proves that the group is still a relevant force in hip-hop. The album is by no means a classic, but it is a refreshing return to form.