It’s sometimes hard to believe that 15 years have passed since Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s 1995 masterpiece album E. 1999 Eternal. What may be even more shocking is what the group has endured within that decade and a half. Amidst label disputes and changing sounds, the group was plagued with various issues that kept them apart, including the almost decade-long incarceration of member Flesh-N-Bone. Therefore the long-awaited album when the whole group could come together as one again, picking up where Strength & Loyalty left off sonically, in Uni-5: The World’s Enemy.
Thankfully, Uni-5 is more of a Cypress Hill type of comeback than the Shyne variety, and even after all this time, the Bone Thugs members have maintained their signature sound. In fact, they still sound almost identical to when they first came out. The rapid speed of delivery and the harmonizing of their borderline R&B pseudo-singing is still intact to the point that listeners will be convinced that the quintet’s vocal cords haven’t aged a bit. What has changed, on the other hand, is their longtime producer DJ U-Neek’s production style. Although many of the songs still have that chill, let-me-smoke-to-this vibe, the majority of the tracks sound radio-ready for 2010’s musical market. “Wanna Be” boasts a catchy hook, with lyrics about people chasing fame, living the fast life, and lines such as “Take the money and the toys niggas still human beings, and all of that ain’t jack if you ain’t got the respect / ‘Cause a real superstar know how to double them checks,” that may be ready for a pitch to Hot 97. Towards the end of Uni-5, the heavily Pop-influenced “Gone” , featuring Ricco Barrino, sounds like it could even cross genres into the radar of the diehard Top 40 listeners. Straying from their usual instrumental style, uptempo high hats accentuate a melodic piano line while the group waxes poetic about leaving things behind to make positive growth happen in their lives.
On the downside, as time naturally ages people they tend to slow down, and so does Uni-5 after the first few tracks. Perhaps after all these years the members lost some of their energy, and at times the overall tone of the album starts to feel too relaxing, to the point that it would be easy for a listener to lose interest or get distracted. The acoustic guitar is somewhat akin to a lullaby on “Pay What They Owe” , which classifies the track as one that most likely won’t be remembered for too long after listening to the LP.
It could be argued that the production choice is what sets the 2010 Bone Thugs-N-Harmony apart from the mid ’90s version of the Thugs, since as far as an acapella is concerned, they sound just as they did when they left the forefront of the scene and began doing solo ventures or stints in the pen. Depending on one’s viewpoint, this could be a negative or a positive. If BTNH over a different type of backdrop (thus providing more variety to their catalog) is what a listener was after, then Uni-5 will be satisfying. If someone wants another taste of Creepin on ah Come Up, the group’s latest will only feel average in comparison.