Album review by Jordan Smith
With an album cover eerily reminiscent the late 2018 Instagram Live show where Bizzy Bone wildly wielded a shotgun during a tense, albeit strange exchange with the Migos and 21 savage, two years later Bizzy is in the news again, this time for the music. Towards the end of 2020, one of the last things music fans anticipated was a new project from Midwest rap pioneer, Bizzy Bone. What may be even more unanticipated is the high praise its received from peers that include frequent collaborator Fat Joe and fellow Midwest emcee, Eminem.
Upon listening to The Mantra, the reason peers seemingly took a liking to the project appears to be the fact that it was true to his traditional melodic, uptempo style. From the album art, to the sketches throughout the album, The Mantra makes an impression as a bold body of work that’s unapologetic in the impression it leaves you with. Although the project won’t be likely to win many awards, receiving such great feedback from fellow legends is definitely a worthwhile consolation prize. The 44 year-old member of the Grammy-award winning group happened to release the project on his birthday in December.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the album is how Bizzy manages to create what sounds like a record missing from the larger Bone Thugs-N-Harmony discography. Additionally, there’s a noticeable effort from Bizzy to interject that sound with a more modern one. While falling short at times, those efforts are also what helps contribute to some of the more memorable moments on the album. On the album’s third track, “Black Milk”, Bizzy Bone weaponizes a harmonious chorus to offer thoughts about the state of the world and current events in society providing for what is easily the best song on the album. Alternatively, songs that paint pictures of what appear as personal narratives like “Call the Popo” and “Bizzy Unplugged” are quick to grab attention, too.
While the overall melodic nature tends to steal the show, Bizzy’s lyrical prowess is also fully on display on The Mantra. That being said, an interesting approach taken by Bizzy was to skip out on any features, which leaves a lot to the imagination. When tracks like “Midwest - Django” and “Shotgun” approach, it’s hard not to consider the value the opportunity to go back and forth with another lyricist would add to the project. From a production standpoint, Blaise does a satisfactory job overseeing the album from start to finish. With that in mind, enough is lacking for inquiring minds to be left to wonder about the production value that a number of different potential producers could have added to the project. Simply put, for everything the album does correctly, its flaws could be easily masked if not for the fact that it seemed like Bizzy was intent on producing a self-made project from start to finish, given the fact that he is the lone executive producer on the project as well. In an era well after the heyday of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and even the peak of his individual solo career, The Mantra is proof that although he’s not generating the headlines for it anymore, Bizzy can rap at a high level. What it also proves is while there’s a prominent, influential individual style present within the album, that alone is hardly enough to construct a great, let alone classic body of work.
Long-time Bone Thugs-N-Harmony die-hards may be willing to take comfort in listening to the melodies provided, which may be reminiscent of the 90s, but its hard to say there’s a lot there for fans of mainstream modern hip-hop. In the grand scheme of things, it’s good to see that Bizzy is in a frame of mind that’s allowing him to create music with the level of involvement he’s had with this project. The hope is that he’ll be able to carry this momentum into more projects in the coming months that include more collaborative efforts. Whether with his fellow group members or with other frequent collaborators he’s connected with over the past, having to maintain less of a burden musically could only serve as a positive on projects to come.
Given the praise it’s received from his peers, it may not be out of the realm of possibility for those collaborations to include some big names. Even though the album leaves much to be desired, it’s fascinating to listen to the random moments where he references his Cleveland background, and other complicated aspects of his upbringing which he’s referenced in past interviews. Fans can listen to The Mantra on Spotify or Apple Music today.