Bone Thugs-N-Harmony - Higher Harmonics
Reunited at long last and supporting fellow hip hop heavyweights Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony are back in the groove and from the sounds of it, are back to stay. 3D’s Cyclone found out from Layzie Bone what drove the compulsion to reform.
The Beatles never did it, and it's unlikely that ABBA will, but, against the odds, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony are regrouping.
In 2007 BTNH issued a triumphant comeback in Strength & Loyalty but, says Layzie Bone, it's all about their next project.
Many an American hip hop superstar blows out seemingly unimportant Australian interviews, but not BTNH. On their last tour Krayzie Bone emailed magazines directly to organise times - rare in the age of the entourage - and today Layzie takes his call on cue.
BTNH love Australia. This year they're touring with Snoop Dogg as well as Ice Cube. And, given that the three parties are connected through the late Eazy-E, BTNH should be in their element. “It's a big family reunion,” Layzie enthuses.
‘Stakes is high’ for BTNH, like most hip hoppers, with no one sure what the future holds as America is plunged into economic crisis. Coming from Ohio in the rust belt, BTNH know all about economic slumps, but Layzie is loath to share his political insights. “It's a lot that we as Americans are all dealing with. Right now I think we're all putting our heads together and formulating some plans and different things that can help better our situation. It's premature for me to even put my thoughts out there.”
Krayzie, Layzie, Wish and Bizzy formed their super posse in Cleveland in the early '90s. Flesh-N-Bone emerged as a defacto member. BTNH cultivated a sound of their own - ghetto doo-wop, a fresh twist on West Coast rap. Elevating their gothic hip hop was producer DJ U-Neek, another innovator.
BTNH had released an indie LP prior to hooking up with Eazy-E. They premiered on his Ruthless Records with 1994's EP Creepin' On Ah Come Up. But, not long after, they lost their mentor. BTNH's breakthrough, E 1999 Eternal, served as a tribute, with the mystical Tha Crossroads an international hit. BTNH won a Grammy for it.
BTNH had other triumphs. Look Into My Eyes appeared on the Batman & Robin soundtrack. They cut Breakdown with an increasingly rebellious Mariah Carey for Butterfly. “I think when Mariah flipped that, it was time for a change,” Layzie recalls. “She gave us a compliment on speeding up our flows. She [herself] felt like it was time to change it up a little bit - and she was right. That's part of being an innovator. You gotta take a chance every now and again. We're just grateful that she took a chance on us.”
Nevertheless, BTNH found it difficult dealing with Ruthless under the stewardship of Eazy-E's widow, Tomica Wright. They severed ties in 2002. Moreover, some within BTNH were unable to leave behind their struggles in Cleveland. The popular Bizzy, still traumatised by a childhood kidnapping, was ejected from BTNH for not pulling his weight amid rumours of substance abuse, Flesh assuming his place. Then in 2000 Flesh went down for threatening a neighbour with a gun.
BTNH presented Thug Stories on Koch as a trio. Even last year Krayzie was touchy on the subject of Bizzy, torn between youthful loyalties and professional frustration. Yet things have started to turn around. Picked up by Swizz Beatz' Full Surface, BTNH signed to Interscope, dropping Strength & Loyalty with input from Carey, will.i.am and The Game. It was a convincing return. The group reached No. 2 in the US charts. Akon featured on the single I Tried, also the title of a BTNH movie.
Buoyed by the success of Strength & Loyalty, the five 'Bones' have now reunited, their forthcoming LP named Uni5. “First of all, the Strength & Loyalty album was a grand slam - a home run. We had a lot of fun making that album. It made us real happy because we knew that it was leading up to the unification of BTNH, with Flesh just getting home from incarceration, and Bizzy Bone reunited with the group. So all five of us are working on a brand new album. The sales on Strength & Loyalty were beautiful - and BTNH is back to making great music. We understand that there's a lot of trying times out here right now, but that's the motivation for us to make the music, because we come from hard times from the beginning.”
Layzie maintains that BTNH have sorted out their past differences, the rapper, as chief conflict resolver, contacting Bizzy. “We all had to breathe out, let our guards down, and come to the round table to discuss the problems that had taken place. We had to take a lot of blame for our different contributions that caused BTNH to break up in the first place. But what we did was be grown up about the situation and reconcile and do what's best for the majority. We went through our little bit of diplomacy to make our unit work, so now we're unified.”
BTNH have approached Dr Dre for beats, although, knowing the G-funk don's slow work rate, that really may be optimistic. “We're gonna introduce another little flavour to hip hop. We got the five-man BTNH all the way back together for the first time in 10 years. We all go to a lotta places - we're gonna get a little political, we're gonna do songs that lift you up, we're gonna talk about what's really going on in the streets of America, and we're gonna have fun and party. We're gonna mix it all the way up. We're gonna make a whole package - a survival kit for 2009. It's something for everybody.”
Layzie is upbeat, too, when discussing contemporary hip hop. He won't hear of anyone calling it moribund. “It's very much alive,” Layzie insists. “Saying that hip hop is dead is a very negative statement. If you live in a negative world, then you're gonna get negative results... When you say 'harmony', you've gotta mean it musically and as far as living, because it's all a vibe. The vibe of living and positivity is the law of attraction - and you attract what you think so, if you're thinking negative, I guess some people will say that. But hip hop is alive. Music is alive. Rock n roll is alive. Country is alive. Latin music is alive. Reggae is alive. It's all alive - shit, we're living.”
WHO: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
WHAT: Supporting Snoop Dogg at Acer Arena
WHEN: Friday 31 October and Saturday 1 November