Bone Thugs-N-Harmony: Strength & Loyalty

With the majority of the 80’s rappers having moved on long ago, the 90’s rappers are beginning to show their age in this young man’s game. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony are the latest vets attempting their big comeback (with the help of Swizz Beatz), but as these things typically go, Strength & Loyalty (Full Surface/Interscope) is an amusing trip down memory lane at best and an unfortunate case for retirement at worst.Essentially, the problems with Strength & Loyalty boil down to the crew’s inability to grow as artists since the glory days. The result is a list of songs that could have been hit singles ten years ago but have been done to death by now. The lead single “I Tried” (with Akon) is a prime example; other than Akon replacing the vocally similar outcast Bizzy Bone, the song could’ve just as easily been “Days of Our Lives” or a less theatrical “Crossroads.” Speaking of Bizzy Bone, his presence is sorely missed. As a trio, more weight is placed on the shoulders of Wish Bone (the historic weak link) and his increased mic time only emphasizes a long running problem.Enlisting newer producers was an obvious first step to a fresh sound, but the group and the producers rarely meld well. Swizz Beatz tries to meet them halfway, but the dysfunctional marriage of their styles ranges from boring (“Flow Motion”) to disastrous (“Candy Paint”). “Streets“ with and fellow Eazy-E disciple The Game has the soul missing from Swizz’s tracks, though more due to an impossible-to-ruin sample of Bobby Womack’s classic “Across 110th Street.” Jermaine Dupri, Bow Wow and Mariah Carey contribute to “Lil’ Love,” a pathetic rehash of past hits from any combination of the above. “C-Town” with Twista is probably the only saving grace for the album as, just this once, Swizz finds the sweet-spot in between his technique and theirs to create something noteworthy.If released in 2000, this same LP may have been passable, but today, the sound is just too dated to stand up. Yes, Strength & Loyalty is the best of their last few albums, but that’s mostly because their last few albums haven’t been very good. The string of weak albums hasn’t completely ruined their legacy, so maybe it’s time to attempt a graceful exit. The market leaves everyone behind eventually; the only shame is in not knowing when your time is up.