Monday, January 23, 2012

This Whole Enterrpise Is BONE'd

The release of lost rap music and shelved hip-hop demos didn't start with Freestyle Records and the current limited scene. Thankfully, there have long been the few, dedicated individuals determined to see vaulted art see the light of day... or at least cash in on a sudden explosion of popularity by a previously unregarded group. The latter was probably the case in today's instance, but whatever the motives, the results are the same for us listeners - old, forgotten music finally sees the light of day.

In 1994, the difficultly named B.O.N.E. Thugs-N-Harmony exploded on the scene through Eazy-E and Ruthless Records. They just came out of seemingly nowhere to become one of those break-out popular sensations that suddenly became inescapable in the media. But, of course, they didn't actually come out of nowhere. They came out of Cleveland, where they'd been recording music and trying to find the attention they eventually achieved in spades. The instant success of their hit single "Thuggish Ruggish Bone" and debut EP Creepin' On ah Come Up convinced Eazy to immediately push them back into the studio to record and get a full-length album out in stores. But he wasn't the only person convinced of the wisdom in getting a B.O.N.E. album out in stores.

So the same year that brought us E. Eternal and the even huger single, "1st Of tha Month" also brought us a strange, independent album (Stoney Burke Records) called Faces of Death by BONE Enterprise. BONE Enterprise was B.O.N.E. Thugs-N-Harmony before they went to Compton and developed the sound that hooked so many fans - the unique blend of fast raps, hard g-funk tracks and some old school harmonizing thrown in. On Faces of Death, you still get some fast raps and some harmonizing, but it's not at all mixed with that Compton sound. Instead, the production is handled by... Cleveland guys you've never heard of, except Archie Blaine, who did a couple tracks. Hardcore BONE fans may know him because he stuck with the group and did a few things after they got popular. But otherwise, it's all pretty random and low budget.

For the most part, that means, yes, you get cheap, inferior stuff that fails to live up to the Ruthless Records material everybody was loving. Many fans were surely disappointed. But it also meant you got some interesting experiments and compelling bits you couldn't find on their more official releases. So we got some at least interesting failures (that's more than you can say for a lot of artists already), plus a couple genuinely dope moments.

We also get one less member. See how there's only four guys on the album cover? This album was recorded before Flesh was down, so the line-up was just Krayzie Bone (Leather Face), Layzie Bone (#1 Assassin), Bizzy Bone (Rest In Peace) and Wi$h Bone (Strate Jacket!). Yeah, they all had Gravediggaz-style nicks. Anyway, I think that may be why Flesh has the most contrived "Bone" name (Flesh-N-Bone, how awkward): because he wasn't originally part of the concept, so they had to shoe-horn him in later.

Perhaps the most interesting element here is the reggae vibe that gets incorporated into a number of the songs, both instrumentally and occasionally even in the vocals. Sometimes there's reggae style percussion, sometimes there are soft (as in mixed low) James Brown samples. The subject matter ranges from sex songs to a downright horrorcore track called "Hell Sent," which starts out using the Phantasm theme and winds up with them singing a silly yet familiar "Murder, Murder" hook - it's fun in a very campy sort of way:

"Sold my soul to the devil,
But I changed my mind; now I want it back.
But he won't cooperate, so now it's time to jack.
Called RIP and Strate Jacket,
Number One Assassin is fully strapped.
We bailed through hell in khakis, locs, and black skully caps.
So Satan called his posse full of demons and witches,
We met up at the Abyss ready to slaughter the bitches, yo.
ut wouldn't you know, Satan went out like a sucka;
So I left a message in blood: 'to be continued, motherfucka'!"

That might almost be too jokey to even be considered horrorcore, though other verses are a little more straight-forward. But the highlight of the album is surely "Flow Motion," which showcase their fast rap abilities over a fun, if very un-BONE-like track featuring reggae-style percussion and the loop from Candyman's "Melt In Your Mouth." In fact, supposedly, this is the track that got them signed to Ruthless. Disappointingly, however, it's a Clean, edited version. The rest of the album is dirty (at some points, very dirty); but this one track - the best one - is censored. :(

It looks like we can largely thank a rapper named K-Chill for this release. He's executive producer, a featured artist (you hear him briefly on "Everyday Thang") and he even did the graphic layout. The liner notes even make sure to point out that his other albums, Get Ya Funky Off and Chill Factor, are also available. K-Chill has stuck around in the game, and even worked with the guys after they signed with Ruthless. Here's his myspace.

There's no LP of this, only cassettes and CDs, but like the limited game of day, that often puts out black and limited colored vinyl pressings, this was available on cassette in standard clear plastic, and (pictured) limited red. A lot of this album is forgettable; but the highlights should work for BONE fans, and maybe even people who don't like BONE because of their Compton, gangsta rap influences. I mean, yeah, there's a song here that clearly owes a lot to NWA; but this definitely doesn't feature the slow g-funk of their famous stuff. It's more conventional, which for some people is probably a good thing. It's like BONE Lite.

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