Though the group has encountered a number of bumps along the way, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony has outlasted many of its hip-hop peers. In the course of a 20-year career, the group has won Grammys and countless other music awards, selling millions of albums. To mark its 20th anniversary, all five original members (Lazyie Bone, Krazyie Bone, Bizzy Bone, Wish Bone and Flesh-n-Bone) reconvened to play this summer's Rock the Bells Festival. While that tour didn't come to Cleveland, the group plays a special show at the Agora to commemorate its 20th anniversary. Rapper Flesh N Bone called us from his L.A. home to revisit some highlights from the past two decades.
It's all about the upbringing
The key [to developing our distinctive vocal style] was being taught to sing from an early age. Our parents were singers themselves, and all my aunties are phenomenal singers, and they played in bands. I was born in the studio setting. I was two or three years old. The microphones used to [almost] electrocute me because I would grab them by the base. I remember that from when I was a kid. You had to be careful. Singing was in the blood from the inception.
All of us sang in the choir during our junior high years. We were doing baritones and lows and highs and we were trained on the harmonies. From Marvin Gaye and Earth, Wind and Fire all the way down to the Jacksons. This was engraved in our DNA from the beginning, so when you rapped, it developed. We were taught that you should be able to sing as much as you can rap as an artist. That's what we are. We're trained to do that shit on that level.
On first meeting and forming in late '80s
Layzie is my brother and Wish is my cousin, and I was in junior high when I first met Krazyie and Bizzy. It's been a family thing when you look at it from that standpoint. We used to perform and do talent shows for the family in the late '80s. It was a roots thing. We played in the living room and at the parties and family reunions, and this is before we were the Band Aid Boys. This is when it all came to fruition as more of a group. I met Krayzie and started beat boxing with him in junior high and high school, and we formed the Band Aid Boys that became B.O.N.E. Enterpri$e. The summer before we went to California to meet Eazy-E, we became Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
Recording of Faces of Death in 1993 at Kermit Henderson's studio
For me, that was the beginning of the studio vibe. It was my first experience dealing with a real studio experience. I was a freshman in college at the time, but I was still involved in the writing. That whole thing was something Kermit had invented with the guys. Lazyie originally had a solo deal with Kermit, and and he got us in the studio. He had tape recorders and microphones hooked up in his bedroom. He gave us a local presence, because he was heavily involved with the local scene, and it all went through his record store. That scene bred Bone-Thugs- N-Harmony. Bone Enterprise became a local thing. We won all those talent shows and became a local sensation, which was cool, but it had to go farther and beyond that. At one point it plateaued, and we had to go beyond that, and that's why in the summer of 1993, we went to L.A. to associate with other regions. I came out and got to bumping elbows with industry folk and concluded the rest of the group should be here, so I got them and got [Ruthless Records owner] Eazy-E on the phone. We spoke to him and then met him in Cleveland after that initial phone call. You can see a video clip of Eazy-E presenting us with our first platinum plaque and [then-Cleveland mayor] Michael White gave us a key to the city on Bone Thugs-N-Harmony Day in 1994 at the Agora.
Recording 1994's Creepin' on ah Come Up
Eazy-E immediately put us in the studio after we met him. He was on tour doing some shit and he sent us back to L.A. to get started on that record before a deal was even signed.
Eazy-E's death in 1995
It was devastating. He came in and changed our lives and taught us what we were trying to learn about the industry. He was a great tutor and a great mentor. It was a situation where we had a great figure in our lives, and he was responsible for propelling our career.
We didn't know what it was going to be like losing him. We only did two albums with him because he wasn't around to see [1995's] E. 1999 Eternal, and we didn't think that record would come out, but it did.
The popularity of E. 1999 Eternal
Well, I think it connected with people because of the content. It was the record that produced some of our greatest singles. You have "1st of the tha Month" and "Crossroads." They broke worldwide records [of] the Beatles in terms of being the fastest-selling singles. It was the record that broke the barrier and took Bone Thugs-N-Harmony mainstream.
We have always been the family that fights like typical brothers. Other groups don't have the essence of being close partners, and they dwindle away. Twenty years later, we just packed out arenas, so we're here to stay. We keep fighting, but we know how to get together when it makes sense for our career and our brand and our fans. Motherfuckers keep saying all kinds of stupid shit about me, but I'm maintaining and contributing to my band. I am doing what I know how to do as a businessman. I'm a father and a husband and a brother. With that comes differences of opinion. To hell with those negative critics that badger and bash. I love them too, but they suck my you-know-what, because Bone Thugs is touched by God himself. We have a mission bigger than what anybody can say. You say music, and you might as well say Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Ask Wiz Khalifa. Go ask Drake. Go ask Lil' Wayne. Ask them who their favorite group is, buddy, and see what they say. I'm saying this not to talk shit and to toot my own horn. Look at my brothers from Cleveland, like Chip tha Ripper and Ray Cash, Jr. Look at Machine Gun Kelly. That's Bone Thugs-N-Harmony looking in the mirror. We are the industry.
Winning the first Grammy
It was groundbreaking. We was very happy. When it comes to musical awards, the top echelon is the Grammys. We have two up under our belts and several American Music Awards. The plaques and statues mean something. The Grammy places you where you want to be. It was a great experience. It's great to have on your resume.
Releasing Resurrection in 2000
I went to prison in 1999, which is when I got cracked. I'm on that record. To me,I'm glad it went double and triple platinum. I was handling my business and smashing on that record and having a creative impact. I was on at least 14 songs on that record. We were supposed to shoot the video for "Change the World," which was a highly influential song, and I couldn't be there. I did feel disappointed that I couldn't go on tour. All the dynamics changed when I got arrested, but it's come full circle, and we now rock those songs in our shows.
Rejoining the group in 2008
It was a magnificent feeling to see that they could welcome me the first day I got out of prison. My Bone guys were ready to pick up, and I was home, and they said, "This is what we're doing, trying to pull pieces of the puzzle together and turning the live show into a rock 'n' roll experience." It's been great to see things coming together. They picked me up from prison in a tour bus, and we went straight to the studio that day. Not a lot of people come from that situation, having friends and family and a career to come back to. I had that.
The comeback album
Strength and Loyalty was a record that Bizzy chose not to be a part of because of the differences he had with the group. I had no choice. That's the only and first record that we recorded as a trio. That album produced hits such as "I Try," featuring Akon, and was heavily produced by Swizz Beats. Shouts out to all them cats. People complain and talk shit about Bone Thugs being in shambles, but that album won an American Music Award. They won it on behalf of the team and brought it home when the group was in disarray.
On Krayzie Bone's recent return to the group
You can't run away from home. That nigga came back home because it made sense for him to do so. The money talk and the bullshit walk. I probably quit every other day, too, but the business is calling me.
Playing the Rock the Bells Festival
Ah man, it was great. The whole industry was in attendance. It was awesome. To me, it was a Woodstock for hip-hop. That's definitely what it was. For our first show and all the people out there, we had at least 60,000 people out there. We had three stages and the main stage. I feel sad for anyone performing at the same time we were. They cleared those other stages and it was packed to the brim. It was fuckin' crazy. It was defining for our career, because it's how we are going to push forward as Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
Whether the next album will be the group's last
Nah, we don't know what will be going on. We want to focus on dropping some singles, and if an album possibility comes up, you better believe we going to take it.