It’s hard to throw a rap show in Portland because of the threat of violence. There is a small faction of Portlanders that come to shows with guns, try to intimidate everyone around them and grill peaceful concert-goers. Unfortunately, that small faction is the Portland Police.
Last Thursday at the Bone Thugs-N-Harmony show at the Roseland Theater, there were seven policemen in bullet-proof vests prowling the venue and standing in pack formation just at the edge of the harmless two-thirds full crowd of nonviolent Portlanders. The battle-ready cops were a reminder of the racism of the 90’s, when police were present at all Bone Thugs shows. Bone Thugs responded to the PPD with the ruckus, as they brought the full sweat and fury of their glory days to the Roseland fans.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony started off the night with their hit “East 1999,” a reference to their hometown of Cleveland. This song immediately excited the die-hard crowd. And by die-hard, I mean Bone Thugs tattoos (they’re not the only ones), jackets, shirts and hats. If we weren’t sporting Bone Thugs gear, some of us were at least wearing hats that repped Cleveland and other midwest towns like Detroit. This audience grew up with Bone Thugs songs. Their style and lyrical content speaks especially to the blue collar, 30-40 year old midwesterner with west coast tendencies—a demographic that Bone fits into themselves.
This month marks the 20th anniversary of Creepin on ah Come Up, the group’s first album under Easy-E’s record label Ruthless. Known for their tongue-twisting lyrical flows, the five Grammy award winning members of Bone Thugs—Krayzie Bone, Layzie Bone, Bizzy Bone, Flesh-N-Bone and Wish Bone—have been touring either as a group or individually for twenty years (except for Flesh who did 10 in jail). The Roseland Theater on Thursday only got to experience four of the members, as Layzie Bone is taking a hiatus to work on his solo project. But four was enough.
The show was a mix of west coast 90’s bangers interspliced with Bone Thugs hits. It was like a 90’s rap radio mix tape made by Bone Thugs. They sang along to the intros of Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube songs, then would flow into their own like “Budsmokers Only,” “1st of tha Month” and “Crossroads.” There were no lulls, and any time the music did stop, Wish Bone was on crowd hype: “Where my weed smokers at?” From the applause of the audience, it’s clear that Wish Bone has a lot of weed smokers in Portland.
The biggest audience response of the night came during “Notorious Thugz” (above) featuring Notorious B.I.G. Even though Biggy was not at the show, the crowd filled in for him, rapping his entire verse. Then the audience went especially wild for the next verse as the youngest member of the group (37 years old), Bizzy Bone rapped with his signature nasally, frantic voice. After the B.I.G. song, the group went into “Thug Love” featuring 2pac. However, before each of these violent songs, the group sang along to a short, lighter intro song by each of these artists. And right before dropping into “Thug Love,” they asked the audience to put peace signs in the air.
Bone Thugs knew these two songs would please the crowd, as they were big hits in the late 90s. However, now more mature and after the deaths of B.I.G. and 2pac, they have cushioned the songs, showing the audience they are noticeably less violent. For instance, they did not play their brazen N.W.A. cover “Fuck tha Police.” However, with a row of cops standing right behind me, breathing down my neck, staring at me, wanting me to make a move, it would have been nice to jump up and down for that song.
In between rapping, smoking weed (only a couple hits before security whispered to them to stop), and drinking Hennessy, Patrón, champagne, and Red Bull on-stage, Bone Thugs gave shout outs throughout the show. They gave props to Easy-E, Biggy and 2pac. They also gave props to the audience, three of which were in sailor uniforms for Portland’s Fleet Week. Wish Bone yelled “Where my military at?”, to which a lot of the audience cheered. There was a good number of military and ex-military in the house—again, adding to the blue collar demographic.
During the crowd favorite “Foe the Love of $” (see video below), Bone Thugs sang Easy-E’s verse with a call and response to the audience, with the crowd yelling the lyrics, “Aw Shit! Here come the motherfuckin’ cops!” At that moment, the performers and the crowd knew of the looming Police presence, but we didn’t care. Even though there is still racism in this city, there are those of us who will always organize, go to, and throw our hands up at hip hop shows—no matter how intimidating the force is to shut it down.