Words by Patrick M.
I love Bone’s E. 1999 Eternal. In fact, many people must love this album, after all it sold 10 million copies worldwide. Yet for an album that was this successful and released right in the middle of the pinnacle of rap music (summer of ’95), it certainly doesn’t get mentioned alongside its contemporaries as an example of why the music of the mid-90s was superior to present day music. In looking back on the album, I think its mostly because of circumstances surrounding its success, and how the incredible success it achieved ended up hurting the group in the long run.
This was the first group to break through nationally featuring a rapid fire sing-song style, which immediately distinguished Bone from everyone else. Whether or not this means Krayzie, Lazy, Wish, Bizzy (and sometimes Flesh) were great rappers is another question; speed isn’t everything otherwise Twista would be hands down the greatest MC ever. Bone were never lauded for the straight lyricism and while they can be witty and are consistent, their rhymes can be a little repetitious. They probably rhyme “shotgun” with “on the run…” about seventy five different ways on this album, just to give one example.
What makes the album great for me is the aura of fantasy gangsterism mixing the street life with the outrageous, through Bone’s unique rapping and the production quality. The production is on point, fusing west coast g-funk styles (after all Bone were protÃ©gÃ©s of Easy and Yella) and the horrorcore backdrops of the Gravediggaz. The lyrical themes show the same double influence of fantastical and gangster, spinning tales of murder and mayhem that are sometimes grounded in reality, and sometimes comically over the top. For example, “Down â€˜71” recalls 6 Feet Deep’s “Diary of the Madman,” complete with commentary from the courtroom (“don’t smoke no weed in a motha fucking courthouse.”) I want to reinforce this point; one of the key concerns of any rap album today is how “real” any MC if he is spitting about past dirty deeds. Back in the mid-90s, rapping on violence was still par for the course, but blurring the lines between fantasy and reality was done all the time without cause for uproar, and rappers and their fans knew how to have fun with the gangster image. Wu-Tang did this all the time, and Bone follows in that tradition. Songs like “Eternal,” and “Land of the Heartless,” are violent tales of life on the streets, yet they lie somewhere between truth and fiction.
Of course, no Bone album would be complete without a few songs glorifying smoking pot. “Buddah Lovahz,” “Budsmokers Only,” and the first single “1st of tha Month,” are all different odes to the sticky-icky. How Bone never parlayed these songs into a cameo in Half Baked is beyond me.
Of course, there is one song on this album that towers over everyone else – “Tha Crossroads,” which won a Grammy and was the top song in the country for eight weeks. Not the Rap Charts. The Pop Charts.
Now, the song is classic, but there is an important thing to note. It’s a remix. The orginal “Crossroad,” fits the dark, creepy tones of East 1999 perfectlyâ€¦the remix sounds totally out of place. When a group has a track that does as well as “Tha Crossroads,” did, the temptation to catch lightning in a bottle twice, as well as the pressure associated with stricter scrutiny has crushed many an artist. Bone certainly was guilty of both, following up with the just as soft, yet nowhere near as good “Dayz of Our Lives,” as their first post E. 1999 single. Ever since then they have been trying to recapture both the success of “Tha Crossroads,” and East 1999â€¦ but maybe it’s not possible to have one without the other. Thus their greatest success since has been as guests on other peoples’ albums, rather than any group work.
This album will always remain in my favorites list, but going back and listening makes me wonder if the crazy success they achieved limited their future rap careers. Americans are fickle, and the novelty of Bone’s rapping style had worn off by the late 90s. Hopefully, with a new album coming out and East 1999 in the distant past, the group can get a second life in the 21st century; the hip-hop scene needs all the diversity it can get.