Published Sep 13, 2015Twenty-two years. That's how long Bone Thugs-N-Harmony have been active, but until Saturday night in Toronto, the innovative rap group had never performed in Canada.
"This is the first time Bone Thugs-N-Harmony were allowed to enter your country," Layzie Bone proclaimed triumphantly from centre stage.
The Cleveland crew were knee-deep into a damn near sequential performance of their diamond debut LP on Ruthless Records, E. 1999 Eternal, and even though the album is two decades dusty, it felt worth the wait.
Reunion cash-grabs and anniversary album recitals have crept their way onto the hip-hop tour circuit the last few years, as all those brilliant records from the creatively rich '90s celebrate round-numbered birthdays. Often these exercises feel financially driven or, worse, desperate. The relationship between the MCs can be noticeably strained (A Tribe Called Quest, anyone?) or the set might get scrapped midway in favour of newer material.
Such was not the case with BTNH, whose reunifying smartly coincides with Straight Outta Compton's summer box office busting and a forthcoming E. 1999 Legends LP. Bones Krayzie, Layzie, Wish and Bizzy performed each album track in full, on point and with energy. (Selfishly, a hope to hear "Thuggish Ruggish Bone" from the Creepin on ah Come Up EP went unfulfilled.)
Because their groundbreaking style of intertwining, hyper-speed vocals requires teamwork, it's difficult to execute if one member phones it in. Slight drawback: fifth member Flesh-N-Bone, who has a criminal record, was not permitted across the border.
An older crowd, many of whom took advantage of the merch table, rammed up front and filled out the Danforth Hall's top balcony, where the weed smoke drifted, in the first of two Toronto dates. Stops in Montreal and Winnipeg are up next.
On record, Bone's best tracks roll out in hazy, sometimes sombre, laid-back manner — an ethereal vibe that was physically expressed by Krayzie Bone, who performed most of the set wearing sunglasses and riding a glowing Hovertrax, one of those motorized, handle-free Segway things. (Seriously. Dude looked like a thuggish, ruggish Gob from Arrested Development.)
On stage, the 40ish rhymers were relentlessly charismatic and vocally impressive. Bizzy, bouncing east-west in a white sweatsuit and wide smile, especially. Anthems "1st of the Month," "East 1999" and "Crossroads" were performed flawlessly, but the a cappella "Me Killa" and "Mr. Bill Collector" were just as sharp. Hey, remember when it wasn't cool for rappers to sing?
So when Layzie paused to ask the crowd, "I just need to know if you having as much fun as we having," it felt less like a prod for applause and more like a legitimate question.
Fittingly, Bone — the only group to have recorded with 2Pac, Biggie, Eazy-E and Big Pun — honoured Eternal's executive producer by playing Eazy's verse from "Boyz In Da Hood" before launching into "Foe Tha Love of $," their classic collaboration with the late rapper and the man who put them on. Then they left the stage as they entered, together.
We need more rap groups.