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BONE-A-FIDE (2005)
Bone-A-Fide - Click to view! It's a simple question, really. A question from a man who has seen it all and been through a lot but somehow come out the other side blessed. This is a man who left home in his mid-teens and ate out of trash cans just to survive. This man's name is unknown to me, but he goes by T-Bone, and his question is this: "Can I live?"

It's a question posed over and over on track five of his latest rap offering, Bone-A-Fide, and aimed at the haters who can't handle him being on top. The folks with fake smiles and nothing but love shown to his face, but nothing but envy when he's not around.

He tells you some of this story in the song's first two verses, then begins the third by telling you he's not going away.

"I'm in it for the long haul," he says. "Committed to the end like John Paul... If you can do it better, then by all means / Shoot for the stars but stop crushin' on my life's dreams / And let me fulfill my destiny and purpose / Why you tryina make me feel no good and worthless / This life is all a playa got to give, so back up and give me room to breathe / Can I live?"

The track is impeccable-poignant, meticulously crafted, and thought provoking—and in these ways not unlike most of the album's cuts. If 8 Mile was a semi-autobiographical look into the world of Eminem, much of Bone-A-Fide is the fully authorized story of the man they call Bony Soprano.

With an indictment like that, you'd expect the verses to be narcissistic and the emcee to be overly self-absorbed, but that's not the case. With a skill rare among Christian emcees, T-Bone has the ability to put you in his own shoes, and then lift you up to a better place than you'd been previously.

"Hard Streets," for example, tells of his own time in the gutter, but doesn't dwell there. The song is ultimately an inspirational one of hardships overcome, aimed at those in similar situations but also resonating with those of us whose "everyday struggle" can mean grinding through a day at work or the drudgery of academic life.

"I Been Looking Around" takes a similar tack, relating further details of the rapper's rags-to-bling rise, ultimately concluding that God was what he was searching for all along. The final verse is empathetic to other searchers but ultimately points them in God's direction.

There will be some, no doubt, who will turn up their nose at Bone-A-Fide due to what Bone would call "versatility" and others might call trying to be all things to all people. The album contains bangers that draw on the production styles of Dr. Dre, Kanye West, and Lil' Jon, even crafting an answer to Terror Squad's club track "Lean Back" that is only subtly different from the original.

Potential accusations of plagiarism aside, there will no doubt be some who will criticize the rapper for trying to find such a wide audience and never really finding a sound all his own. But those folks need to behold the emcee apart from the beats, regardless of how deliberately he chose them. Truth is, in a world of TobyMacs, John Reubens and L.A. Symphony members other than Sharlok, T-Bone is a cut above. You might not like everything he stands for, but skill is skill, and as the man himself asserts on track 11, he got stuff.

Bone-A-Fide has some low spots (stay far, far away from the old-school cut "12 Years Ago") but you really ought to give it a chance. If you like holy hip-hop at all, this needs to be in your collection. If that's asking too much, so be it. But be the bigger person and let him shine in peace. Let him breathe, let him drink it all in. Let him live.
- Ben Forrest
December 2005
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