Members of Bone Thugs N Harmony are clearly at Tha Crossroads. When you’ve been in the game as long as they have, you either continue to weed out your longstanding core of fans, or you adapt to the current soundscape.
Bone royalty Krayzie and Bizzy opted for the latter by teaming up as Bone Thugs for the appropriately titled New Waves. The album finds the Cleveland vets alternating between reflection and recreation over club-ready tunes.
Disclaimer: This ain’t your daddy’s Bone. Want ominous ivory tickles and creepy basslines? Too bad; you’re getting thumping bass and soaring robo-rhythms. Krayzie and Bizzy sound surprisingly comfortable over these updated sonics, but maybe it shouldn’t be so startling because their melodies have always been on point. “That Girl” is a catchy ode to a fallen relationship that will ring in your ears like post-concussion. Meanwhile, “Good Person” is universally relatable in its self-doubt. “It really makes me wonder how I don’t go under/Tryna stay alive and survive through this thunder storm/But what did I do, what did I do wrong?” Krayzie ponders. Krayzie’s and Bizzy’s rapid-fire flows are still intact, but they sometimes slow it down to fit the mood. This versatility belies growth and the duo’s ability to adapt like a phone charger. Speaking of phones, these two can’t help but cheese out on occasion. “I Wish Heaven Had a Cell Phone” attempts to be deep but can’t get past Mary Kay levels of superficiality. “Whatever Goes Up” is emotionally genuine, but rhymes like “So I went out and got me some/And when I got it, make sure that I got a lot of it/’Cause life you can only live it once,” are as rap-by-numbers as it gets.
Bone Thugs is transparently aiming to not only update themselves, but also to reach the frat boys and sorority girls at your average Kappa Sigma. The troubled sentiments of “Bad Dream,” which finds our heroes caught in a nightmarish relationship, is just the kind of theme that degree chasers can relate to. However, even though “Coming Home,” featuring Stephen Marley is an inspiring intro and the lead single, it lacks the oomph to get a keg party going. This begs the question; will Bone be able to tap into the hardcore partiers? It’s possible (see the unprecedented terrority of “Bottleservice”) but may prove difficult since they’re competing with rappers like Drake and Big Sean, whom these college kids consider their contemporaries.
Wisely, Bone Thugs don’t totally abandon their conceptual roots and include “Cocaine Love,” on which the verses serve as a metaphor for addiction the way 2Pac’s “Me and My Girlfriend” was about love affairs with guns. Bun B is characteristically blistering through his verse, spitting coldly “Now you recognize you lookin’ like a simp/And I sit back laughing ’cause I’m the bitch’s pimp.” Bone blood brothers Layzie Bone and Flesh-N-Bone also provide strong turns on “Ruthless,” but it’s Eric Bellinger’s emotive hook that will have you saying “I’m not crying, there’s something in my eye!” Bone Thugs goes overboard with odes to fallen friends on this album (see: “I Wish Heaven Had a Cell Phone,” and the admittedly strong “Change the Story”) but they hit the bullseye on this cut. Everything from the group’s endearing love for their late mentor Eazy-E to the wistful horns that close the track are both chin-up expressions and an allowance for sadness.
Maybe Bone Thugs didn’t switch up solely out of necessity, but because they’re older, wiser, willing to leave the bullshit in the past. And they succeeded. Even with its at-times cheesiness, New Waves is a fun, impactful statement of where the original machine-gun spitters are today.