Rock The Bells 2012 – Still East 1999

Yes, that is the result of being in the sun for two days.

Originally published at The Well Versed

TWV’s biggest Bone fan relives a piece of childhood at this year’s Rock The Bells

Rock The Bells 2012 has come and gone – at least the Southern California leg of the tour. Thousands of fans braved the oppressive heat, ridiculously overpriced food and beverages ($9 beers?!? I paid $6 for lemonade, who am I to judge?) and hurt feet for two days of nonstop hip hop.

Nostalgia was the name of the game if you were a mid to late 20s hip hop fan (like myself). Salt N Pepa, Naughty By Nature, DJ Quik, Ice Cube, and the Hit Squad reunion were just a few names on the bill that instantly brought back memories of a childhood that consisted of listening to the radio at all hours of the night and sneaking albums with parental advisory stickers into the house (sorry mom).

The funny thing about nostalgia is that sometimes, the memories are far superior to the reality. When the 80s cartoons started being re-released on DVD, I scampered down to the Best Buy and plunked down some hard earned coin on the Thundercats’ seasons, only to find out that the show didn’t hold up too well over time.

When the lineup was announced, there was perhaps no bigger act people were looking forward to than Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. All five members of Bone at that. If you’ve followed the group, you know that getting them on stage together has been a feat of mammoth proportions. For a long time, when people talked about seeing the speedy rhymesayers from Cleveland in concert, the (logical) question that followed was, “who was there?” I’ve seen Bone twice in concert prior to this weekend, three-fifths of the group each time. Nostalgia it was – I was in elementary school when Creepin On Ah Come Up was released – but it was also disappointing.

Color me a skeptic, but I didn’t think all five members would make the performance. In the artist area, three of the five – Krayzie, Bizzy and Wish — rolled to their trailer first, seemingly confirming my skepticism. For the record, Bone was, and remains, my favorite group. I’ve owned all of the major label releases, the first three Mo Thugs compilations, the greatest hits collection that contained most of the songs I already owned and the Faces of Death album that preceded them taking on the “Thugs-N-Harmony” part of their name (if you’re not up on this, YouTube “Bone Enterprise.”).

I know I wasn’t the only one who sat with a mirror in hand and read the insert of the E. 1999 Eternal album.

Bone comes from the long lost era of artist development. Creepin On Ah Come Up had just eight songs, Eternal, the groups’ first major label album contained 17. In an age where today’s well known rapper will release several albums’ worth of material in a year’s time and hop on every guest appearance he/she can muster, remember that Bone rode a wave of 27 songs for YEARS. Ask most Bone fans what their favorite album or song is and they’ll likely list the Eternal or the Ruthless EP or some song from those two.

At about 6:30 p.m. Sunday, the group hit the stage with a live band and a DJ. Decked out in matching camouflage fatigue and orange colors, it looked like hip hop’s version of the Jackson’s Victory Tour. The show was without its flaws. A live band and a DJ playing the tracks –vocals included—was the textbook definition of doing three much. Words were forgotten, mics were too low at times, issues that seem to plague every hip hop concert from the beginning until the end of time.

Technical issues aside, for one hour, my journalist hat came off and my snap back fan hat was tightly fitted over my bald head. When the group was on, they were ON. The chemistry was on point, they played off each others’ energy and went hard for a little more than an hour. If you’re a Bone fan and are checking either of the two shows in Northern California and Jersey, trust you’re in for a treat. (My only other beef is that they didn’t do the entire Eternal album, which is what the bill stated).

The group tore through a string of their hits, tributes to fallen collaborators like 2Pac, Notorious BIG and of course, their mentor Eazy-E and exited the stage hugging like they’d collectively hit the game-winning shot in game seven of the NBA finals. It felt like the mid-90s again.

Which makes the entire thing both exciting and disheartening at the same time.

With a couple of classic releases under their belt, Bone’s legacy may sadly be as much about turmoil, blown opportunities and dreams of what could’ve been as it is the rapid fire, harmonic style they made prominent.  Keeping five dynamically different personalities together for the better part of two decades is a gargantuan feat and the fact that a reunion took place at all has as much to do with the family atmosphere that surrounds the group as it does that the public, will simply not tolerate lengthy solo careers from ANY member of the group.

If you look back at hip hop history, groups that break up typically have one (or more) stars that can hold their own. Q-Tip is still functioning without Tribe, all three members of Little Brother are putting out good music and establishing solo careers, Cee-Lo in his post Goodie Mob days (yes, I know they’re back together now), and Lil Wayne without the Hot Boys. Each member of Bone, sans Wish, has put out a solo release. Some have been good (Bizzy Bone’s Heaven’z Movie), others were hit and miss (Krayzie Bone’s double-disc Thug Mentality) and others have been forgettable. All largely failed to capture the magic the group has together.

For better or worse, Bone was almost too good for their time period. With every member creepin’ up on 40, rapping about selling drugs on a block they no longer live on in a city they no longer live in while dabbling in the occult (“Quija are you with me?”) can’t be as appealing as it was in the early 90s. Artists around for the long haul grow and mature. A remake of “Mo Murda” in 2012 isn’t going to have the same punch as it did in 95, but lengthy layoffs and so-so album releases haven’t allowed the group to drag long-time fans into their new states of consciousness.

Rock The Bells 2012 confirmed that the new music isn’t up to par with the old classics (the group did not a single song from Thug World Order, Strength & Loyalty or Uni-5) but the new songs fail to recapture the magic and novelty the group commanded in their early days. If the Brothers Bone can keep it together this time, old fans like myself who know the words to most of the big hits (and mumble the ones we don’t) can relive the glory days, as the group continues to tour.

I’ll probably be a Bone fan for life, no matter how good or bad the new stuff is. Rock The Bells allowed me to relive a memorable part of life. 1999 is still eternal.

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