"Bone-A-Fide," the new offering from T-Bone has hit the shelves in Christian music stores as well as mainstream record shacks.
T-Bone is one of the pioneers of Christian rap. He's been in the game for over ten years now. He's had his share of detractors and his share of supporters, each with their own view of his career.
Many of the differences of opinion about T-Bone really boil down to one's ability to reconcile the music and street lingo that come with rap music with the high-minded ideals that are the hallmarks of Christian music. Bone skids along each edge, and you're never quite certain where he's about to go. In one lyric, he's offering up praise to God, and in the other he's offering a not so subtle dis against music critics and other gospel rappers.
To understand Bone, you have to go back to the beginning. I should clarify first that I've always been a fan of T-Bone's work, so that may color this review a bit. His first efforts back in the 90's weren't his best, though. He had a lot of polishing to be done, was in desperate need of some good beats and hooks, and didn't really have much of a niche to inhabit in the Christian music world. The first time I remember seeing him at all was in Carman's laughably done travesty "R.I.O.T." which, while I admire the purpose, was blatantly an attempt to ape pop culture by a person who was (a.) too old, and (b.) far too un-hip to do so. T-Bone branched out on his own, though, and recorded the Hoodlum CDs. He very nearly made the mistake Carman made by trying to mimic the styles of the time. There was very little of T-Bone stylistically present on these discs. That's not to say he wasn't there in the lyrics, but you kinda got the feeling that you were listening to someone do their best impression of Snoop or some other West Coast rapper. The constant references to 2pac almost seemed like an attempt to be cool by attaching himself to their coattails. It almost masked the truth that T-Bone is a great rapper in and of himself and that he was just trying to give his influences props.
That all changed with 2001's "Da Last Street Preacha." The early 2000's were a difficult time for rap. Hip-hop had lost almost all of its leaders with the deaths of 2pac, Biggie, and Eazy E. It floundered for a bit, trying to identify the sound for the new millenium. Because of this, T-Bone didn't have a current trend to really identify himself with, and therefore, something amazing happened. T-Bone stopped relying on the image of others and developed his own. He let it all hang on and showed us what true "boneybone" style was. The CD was amazing and deserved its Grammy nomination. Bone has come a long way from indie Christian records and prison concerts--almost as far as he's come from his gangsta past.
The new CD, "Bone-A-Fide" outdoes them all. The beats are tight and the hooks are out of this world. Bone flows like water and proves once and for all that he's not just a good Christian rapper--he's actually one of the best rappers out there period.
It does take a walk into the mainstream, only this time it pushes it farther by including collaborations from secular gangsta rappers like Mack 10 and Chino XL. These are probably the first albums they've appeared on that don't carry parental advisory stickers. It's an unlikely marriage but it doesn't detract from the overall message of the album. It actually serves to enhance the message that the word of God and morality can reach what was previously considered unreachable. It shows that Bone's message is not just for the people in the pews, but rather for the people in the crack houses and strip clubs. T-Bone makes it clear that he's not selling out, even though he's attempting to reach a more mainstream audience.
Long story short, this CD is worth buying. Parents who are looking for a good, positive, curse-free rap record for their children should run, not walk, to the nearest shop and pick it up. People who are looking for a really good record by a positive, conscious rapper should get this as soon as possible.