Thank you John Darnielle and the Last Plane to Jakarta blog for your appropriately breathless review of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony's new album Strength & Loyalty, which reminded me that I completely forgot to blog about when it came out Tuesday.
Like most hip-hop fans, I'm normally about one mediocre album—or weak single, exceptionally bogus cameo, corny video, ignorant TV appearance, etc.—away from disavowing even some of my most favoritest rappers. But I've always had a soft spot, bordering on the irrational, for Bone Thugs. A collabo with Mariah Carey or Bow Wow is enough to spike a record that I'd otherwise like; putting them both on one song would normally have me howling for blood. But I can't hate Bone Thugs for "Lil Love"—I even listen to it every couple of spins I give S & L. One of the best things about Bone Thugs is the way they embrace an idea that sounds like the worst thing ever. Sometimes it's like they're actively seeking out something terrible just so they can somehow flip it into absolutely unbelievably good music. Whether they're daredevils or just don't give a fuck, they can sample Phil Collins (and have him cameo in the video) or Fleetwood Mac and rise above their sample sources in a way that arguably superior rappers often can't.
But much as I respect Bone Thugs as musicians, I'd be a liar if I said that was the only reason I have such a weakness for them. A lot of it is—as evidenced by their sample sources—that they're the most sentimental, emo-ass motherfuckers in rap, possibly ever. For every standard-issue rap boast they lay down about being hard/strapped/gangsta there are at least two other expressions of regret, guilt, even downright despair. And the production always backs that up, with a Radiohead concert's worth of minor-key piano arpeggios, string samples, and general gloominess in each of their records. Even S & L's "Bump in the Trunk"—ostensibly a celebration of the blissful union of bumping and trunks—is a menacing, mournful jam, with a backing track by the Individuals that sounds like DJ Toomp with a depression problem. As a dude with some real heavy emo leanings—seriously, everybody's gotta stop sleeping on that last Brand New album—I can totally get down with that. If Bone Thugs ever sample Elliott Smith I will probably go into a coma from the amount of sad-dude joy it would make me feel.
Plus, you just can't deny how rad it is that they rap so fast.