An Ode to Bone Thugs-n-Harmony: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of Hip-Hop

Peter Kramer/Getty Images
Peter Kramer/Getty Images

Claiming that I don’t smoke marijuana is technically a lie. Because I have. But that lie is more true than the truth because I’ve only smoked (maybe) 15 times, and referring to myself as a “weed smoker” would be misleading. I’ve tried to enjoy it, but I’ve come to accept that it’s basically the same as Twitter for me—something I just can’t get into because I think I’m doing it wrong.


That said, just once in my life, I’d like to sample the grade of galaxial, gravitational time-dilating weed Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird very obviously were smoking when they conceptualized the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There will never be a successful idea more ridiculous (and genius) than centering a comic book, TV and movie franchise around ninja-fighting amniotes who act like a Russian’s impression of American teenagers and are named after iconic Renaissance-era artists and are led by a rat sensei.

Actually, that’s a lie. Because I, like millions of others in the mid-’90s, was a huge fan of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony—an insanely successful group based on an even more inexplicable, absurd and genius concept.

It’s a testament to Bone’s genius that it’s taken me 20 years to realize how batshit insane it was that they even existed and that they were as popular (and good) as they were. They were basically a barbershop quartet. But if that barbershop was a trap house. They also each had hair straight out of a Just For Me! ad. These niggas had lace fronts and yaki in 1994! And they were from Cleveland—the city that hip-hop forgot. (Seriously, go look at the Wikipedia page for “Rappers from Cleveland.” It looks like the saddest Love & Hip-Hop roster ever. Like Love & Hip-Hop: Kosovo on Bounce TV.)

And they rap/sang about murder, drug-dealing, sex, depression, welfare and ... Ouija boards. The chorus on “Mr. Ouija” (they had song called “Mr Ouija”!) was “murder, murder, mo’ murder, mo’ murder, murder, mo’ murder.” And they had a song featuring someone named “Shatasha.” Who we knew was named “Shatasha” because she told us “Shatasha” was in the house. And they were named Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. And each member incorporated “Bone” into their name—like some singing-ass, thugged-out Smurfs—which totally wasn’t weird as fuck at all!

But all of this somehow worked. Creepin on ah Come Up was a great album. And then they followed it with E. 1999 Eternal, which was also a great album and contained “Tha Crossroads”—one of the biggest and best rap songs ever. (And also the world’s introduction to “Uncle Charles, y’all.”) And then they followed that with The Art of War, which was not a good album at all. This was a bad album. This album was terrible. This album was a bong weight. And then they released more bad albums that still somehow went platinum. But who cares? That’s two great albums in a three-year span from a group that the laws of physics shouldn’t have allowed to exist!

They were the forebearers to Future and Travis Scott and Desiigner and every other singing-ass trapper in hip-hop now, and their music still stands today. The entire Creepin on ah Come Up is on my Spotify playlist. I listen to it whenever I’m driving through an affluent neighborhood and want to scare white people. No one has ever made scare-random-white-people music better than Bone!


Anyway, Bone is often neglected when people make lists of the best groups ever. As they should be, because they don’t belong on those lists. But they definitely belong on the list of concepts that had no fucking business working but still somehow did. And that’s a great list to be on!

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



When this is the second most famous rap act in Cleveland history, Bone Thugs and Harmony needs to be worshipped as Gods: