Comedian Chris Rock has certainly become comedy's stand-up flavor of the month, but what you might not know is that Bone Thugs-N-Harmony is at least peripherally responsible for his recent success. It is the mystic, Cleveland-based rap/hip-hop act, after all, to whom Rock pays homage in his hilariously pointed "Niggas vs. Black People" bit.
"Niggas love ignorance. Niggas are singing about ignorance," Rock says. "I heard a song the other day, 'It's the First of tha Month' -- niggas are singing welfare carols!"
Okay, so it's not exactly a Kennedy Center honor, but it is an homage. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's 1996 hit, which is actually titled "First of tha Month," might be a long way from canonizing urban poverty the way, say, Bill Withers's "Cold Bologna" did back in the 1970s, but it's certainly written and delivered in a way that sets it apart from most of today's "gimme the loot" rap pack. The family collective -- Bone Thugs consists of Layzie Bone, his cousin Wish Bone, his brother and behind-the-scenes collaborator Flesh-N-Bone and road dogs Krayzie Bone and Bizzy Bone -- has created a liquid brand of hip-hop harmonizing that's spawned more than a few imitators, including E-40, Big Mike and even Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, who attempted some Bone Thuggery on his No Way Out CD. So far, though, nobody has come close to one-upping the original's ability to make the morbid details of life and death on the streets somehow easy to digest.
Though they'd been creatively active since 1993, Bone Thugs kicked into gear officially in 1994, when their ominous rhymes and grooves grabbed the attention of the late Eric "Eazy-E" Wright. Then a member of N.W.A., Eazy-E cornered the group backstage at a concert in Cleveland and convinced the band to record with him in Los Angeles. Those West Coast sessions netted Bone Thugs' stunning 1994 debut EP Creepin' On Ah Come Up.
It's easy to understand what Eazy-E saw in his proteges, and vice versa. Both Eazy-E and Bone Thugs grew up selling drugs in Ohio slums, all the while dreaming of breaking out of their self-defeating cycle. For each, rap was the getaway car. Indeed, the sense of loss that pervades Bone Thugs' 1995 breakthrough, E. 1999 Eternal, which featured the number-one single "Tha Crossroads," is genuinely heartfelt, as Bone Thugs pay their respects to their late mentor throughout.
A year later, the group had become the nation's biggest selling rap group, a lofty status that resulted in getting their own record label, Mo Thugs. Now the imprint is nurturing its own impressive stable of new artists, whom Bone Thugs showcased on last year's Mo Thugs Family Scriptures. And with their latest outing, The Art of War -- a harmonically expansive, lyrically focused rapumentary on (you guessed it) ghetto reality -- a hit critically and commercially, Bone Thugs shouldn't be singing a welfare carol any time soon.
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Bone Thugs-N-Harmony perform with Mary J. Blige, Ginuwine, Aaliyah and Dru Hill at 7:30 p.m. Friday, September 26, at the Summit. Tickets are $26 and $36. For info, call 629-3700.
Lyle Lovett -- Though the roots country/ yodel-and-roll movement often takes on the properties of an aural emetic, there remain a few contemporary artists who manage to mine traditional country for a precious nugget of transcendence. Arguably, the godfather of these new traditionalists is Lyle Lovett, whose eerie blend of folk and swing sounds like it was filtered through a Chautauqua tent. From early CDs such as Pontiac, with its stark, wry country-noir song writing and tumbleweed-smothered vistas, right on through to the big band experimentation of Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, the dark hymns of Joshua Judges Ruth and last year's quirky The Road to Enseneda, Lovett has remained an artist perennially standing at the door to the future. And that door is always unlocked. At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, September 27, at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands. Tickets are $15 to $40. 629-3700. (Rick Koster)
Tenor Sax Greats -- While the $75 ticket price might seem exclusionary to some, it's hard to deny the historical implications of seeing Joe Henderson, George Coleman and Joe Lovano -- possibly the three most accomplished saxophone players in modern jazz -- together on the same stage. Talk about a battle of the resumes: Three-time Grammy winner Henderson has for two years running earned Downbeat magazine poll honors for best tenor saxophonist, best jazz release and best jazz artist, a feat not accomplished by anyone since Duke Ellington back in 1969. Coleman, meanwhile, has been employed by everyone from B.B. King to Slide Hampton, though he's perhaps best known for his early-'60s membership in an epochal jazz quintet that included Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and Roy Carter. And the Berklee-trained Lovano, son of tenor sax great Tony "Big T" Lovano, has played with Woody Herman and Mel Lewis while earning a slew of awards in Downbeat polls over the years. By the way, the ticket also covers a champagne reception before the show. At 6:30 p.m. Monday, September 29, at the University of Houston's Moores Opera House. Tickets are $75. 743-3313. (Hobart Rowland)