Sounds like … a wide variety of hip-hop cats and crews such as 50 Cent, G-Unit, Jay-Z, the Black Eyed Peas, Terror Squad, Run-D.M.C., and the Ying Yang Twins, among others.
At a glance … exceptionally produced, this is the most ambitious album T-Bone has ever made, but it might also be viewed as his most “boastful” or ” self-centered.”
Who is that dude on T-Bone‘s album cover? Could it be Ernesto “Che” Guevara? No, it’s T-Bone himself, doing his best impersonation of the late Fidel Castro aide. Now, before you start thinking he’s making a case for communism with his newest release, Bone-A-Fide, think again. Like Guevara, Boney Bone Corleone may be a revolutionary, but his mission is quite different. This self-proclaimed “lyrical assassin” wants to stir a revolution and destroy the strongholds secular hip-hop has secured in today’s media-saturated culture.
To do this, he enlisted the help of Louis “Buster” Brown (Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams), one half of famous production team Buster & Shavoni. T-Bone makes music for a mix of races—black, whites, Filipinos, Latinos—and Brown similarly steered this project in as many directions and traditions as possible. As the executive producer, he called on other renowned producers—the Avila Brothers, Darkchild’s Fred Jerkins, Warryn Campbell, Bosko—and together they helped T-Bone make his most musically ambitious project to date. Bone-A-Fide, as a whole, sounds great, and it has nothing to envy of other projects coming out of the mainstream market.
The most noticeable change in T-Bone’s style is how he trades his West Coast methodology for the East Coast sounds of G-Unit, Jay-Z, and the Terror Squad. As a pop-rapper, it’s certainly an inspired move for him, seeing how the West hasn’t produced anything as commercially viable in years, confined mostly to underground circles. The problem with this switch is that he tries to be too many things at once, and the short attention span can only get him so far with those who would prefer he stick to one persona. The emcee does prove quite versatile, channeling the Beastie Boys in one track (“12 Years Ago”), a tamer version of Lil’ Jon & the Eastside Boyz in another (“Shake Ya Body”), and the playful raps of Eminem after that (“Bounce”). By the end of the disc, one is not sure whether he’s resorting to flattery of these pop idols or simply imitating them. But it sounds good, and at least he—or his producers, rather—should get credit for that.
But that’s just the start. T-Bone tips his hat to nearly everything that has proved successful and popular in the pop-rap realm. Besides bringing on the crunk in “Shake Ya Body,” the guitars and introspection of “A Few Good Men” evokes early Black Eyed Peas. The biographical “I Have Been Looking Around” looks to two sources of inspiration, namely Kanye West (for its sped-up soul sample) and Jay-Z (for the flow and the way he talks about his past as Jay did on The Black Album). Gangsta rap is represented in “It’s OK,” a cut worthy of a 50 Cent or a G-Unit album, lazy flow and all. Elsewhere, T-Bone offers his best version of the Terror Squad’s 2004 hit “Lean Back” in the blazing “Follow T,” except T-Bone glorifies self as opposed to the hustling and pimping the New York crew does.
Wait, T-Bone glorifies whom? Yes, amidst all the exceptional production tactics and on-point beats, it’s impossible not to dismiss the countless instances in which T-Bone pats himself on the back for his considerable skills, accomplishments, and possessions. More so than previous albums, Bone-A-Fide is intent on letting us know T-Bone was nominated for a Grammy, that he had a feature role in the movie The Fighting Temptations, that he’s talented at the microphone, and that he drives a white Mercedes with “chrome spinning rims.” Check out these lyrics from the aforementioned “Follow T”: “From sold out arenas to the silver screen, I move crowds and drop hits that make the people scream… [I] stack cream… get chauffeured in stretched-out limousines… Bone is hard as it gets and I don’t fly first class. Why? I travel with chefs on private jets.”
Is it really necessary to let listeners know that T-Bone enjoys all these luxuries, or is this his own gospel-rap version of prosperity gospel. It’s the same lyrical technique preacher-turned-rapper Mase used last year, and it backfired on him because many rightly thought his newfound love for Jesus and his outspoken love for mammon were two mutually exclusive things. T-Bone does oppose the sexed-up, violent nature of hip-hop (“Let That Thang Go”), but he doesn’t do anything to decry its materialistic excesses.
Bone-A-Fide is an extremely well made album, and there’s no question that T-Bone loves Jesus. But it’s tough to see him reflected in the rapper’s music when many of his themes are centered on talk of “stacking chips and pushing whips” [i.e., making money and driving nice cars]. According to reports, T-Bone recently finished work on an MTV film in which he stars alongside R&B princess Ciara. The movie hasn’t released yet, but who knows for how many albums we’re going to be hearing about it. T-Bone is clearly a capable lyricist, but I wish he wouldn’t try so hard to prove it.