Bone Thugs-N-Harmony

Art of War: WWIII

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By 2013, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's discography was well down the path of diminishing returns with infighting, botched reunions, and members going to jail all contributing to their fall from grace, but every effort featured a track or two or more that had the faithful holding onto their hope. The messy but surprisingly inspired Art of War: WWIII takes the discussion in a new direction, as in what would a smaller, possibly Bizzy-led Bone sound like. Pre-release press had member Krayzie Bone declaring that he and Wish Bone weren't even on the album, and while he and Wish get some credits on some old tracks that are now refurbished (the old-school highlight "Approach 2 Danger" plus "It Will Be Alright" and "In Memory of Eazy"), this greyish market album doesn't even mention the usual Bone names, preferring to list the membership under their old nicknames like Straight Jacket and 5th Dog. Still, when "Murda on U" comes on hard with a sweet hook, reggae music, and Bizzy's old-school, killer callousness ("Blow your brain out, and in the same breath, say 'I love you man'") or "Bitch Iz a Bitch" finds the trio version of Bone partying over a N.W.A sample, the album comes alive and feels purposeful. The rest of the thrills come from steps outside the usual Bone comfort zone as "100-K" offers a hooky, entertaining, and intentionally overly Auto-Tuned stab at hick-hop, then Bizzy delivers a dubstep power ballad with "Deep End" and crams some 7th Sign symbolism in as if the bass drops were injecting him with psychedelics. The blinged-out, sweet '60s soul of "Bring It Back" sounds like nothing else in the Bone Thugs songbook, but a too-fat track list muddles up the excitement and the question remains if three-fifths of the group is enough for any fickle fan's return. Maybe not, but compared to all the other weird and/or wrong releases in the extended Bone discography, this is the most rewarding and far and away the most interesting.

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