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Reunited: Flesh-n-Bone talks Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, prison, and working with Eazy-E, 2Pac, and The Notorious B.I.G.

May 6, 2010 |  6:30 am
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On the final night of SXSW, a savage cold front swept into Austin causing the mercury to plummet to near freezing levels. Unprepared for the sudden shift, most attendees flocked to indoor venues, save for a few thousand stalwarts who swarmed the Fader Fort, an outdoor compound on the east side of town, where Bone Thugs-N-Harmony delivered a scorching denouement to the weekend.

Everyone from hip-hop heads with receding hairlines down since "Thuggish Ruggish Bone," to flannel-clad Real Estate fans, to the asymmetrical haircut set, mouthed almost every word of the veteran Cleveland quintet's raps. 

Of course, anyone who has ever heard the intensely melodic, rapid-fire cadences of Bone Thugs understands the difficulty of memorizing their tongue-twisting lyrics. So credit the crowd's fervor to the groups enduring influence, 16 years after their Ruthless Records debut EP, "Creepin' On Ah Come Up," introduced them to the world as Eazy-E's most talented post-N.W.A proteges. Despite the untimely passing of their mentor shortly thereafter, the group went onto become one of the '90s' most successful, going platinum many times over, nabbing a Grammy and collaborating with 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G., and Mariah Carey.

Turmoil struck in the wake of their platinum, "BTNHResurrection," when Flesh-n-Bone, the group's eldest member and steadying force, was sentenced to a dozen years in prison for assault with an AK-47 and being an ex-convict with a gun. Tensions quickly mounted between Bizzy Bone and the remaining members, and he departed to pursue a solo career. For the next six years, the group persisted as a trio, enjoying significant commercial success with 2007's gold-certified "Strength and Loyalty," which found them working with some of pop music biggest names, including The Game, will.i.am and Akon. 

Re-unification arrived in 2008, when the entire group arrived in a Bone Thugs tour bus to pick up Flesh-n-Bone on the day of his release. Going directly from prison to the studio, the quintet began a cycle of nonstop recording that culminated with yesterday's Warner Bros. release, "Uni-5: The World's Enemy."

The first album with all five members in a decade, the record finds the legendary outfit opting for the same balance of pop and street appeal, peppering their lyrics with ruminations on mortality, loyalty and spirituality. As always, the rapping is virtuosic and inimitable. Following a largely sold-out national tour, Pop & Hiss spoke to Flesh-n-Bone about the new album, his time in prison and the future of the group.

Did you expect such a large homecoming when you were released from prison?

It was something that we’d talked about, but I didn't know that it was going to go down, and certainly not with all of the Bones, my moms, my pops, and my in-laws. They were all right there on a 12 passenger tour bus and we went straight to the studio. It's been like that for the last year and nine months. We've been on the road and we're making progress with our music. Not to mention the hundreds of songs that we have in the archives. It's been nothing but constant work -- we're trying to keep focused on doing big business.

How is the dynamic different with the group these days?

The dynamic is a lot different. I'm divorced and re-married now with a new 8-month-old son. There was a lot of focus on us at the beginning. We were kids in our late teens and early 20s, and we saw the wealth, the fame, the status and the hype of the industry.  Everything was going thousands of miles an hour, and it took for me to go through what I had to go through for us to understand that what we’re dealing with is a bona fide business.

Of course, it's still fun, but we’re such mature adults now and we can appreciate the gift and the blessing of being able to do this. We realize that not everything is promised to us. For me to come out of prison and be able to return to this is something that I'm so grateful for. I was reckless at 25 years old, I was reckless at 18, I'm not that reckless anymore. I look at this as white collar, something that feeds generations. It's really serious today.   

During your time in jail, how cognizant of the group's fortunes were you, and were you constantly focused on what you were going to do when you got out?

The focus was definitely there. I was praying really hard for them to be able to keep it together, and for Bizzy to overcome any obstacles that he’d been going through. Thankfully, we’re all still well and alive today. For me to get torn away from the group, Layzie, Krayzie and Wish did an exceptional job to keep them rocking and rolling. There was never an instance when they weren't successful just because one or two members weren’t there -- what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

I wasn't able to keep tabs on them as closely as I would've liked, but I know everyone always had open arms for Bizzy and that the mic was always waiting for him. But now, he's back and at home. We promised the fans that Bizzy would be on this album and we made it happen.  There's been a lot of ups and down with us, but it's still Bone Thugs being Bone Thugs. We're always individuals and humble and recognizing and empathizing and sympathizing with our fans. 

Eazy-E was the first one to put Bone Thugs on. What was it about him that made you target him when you were trying to get a deal?

We always felt that special connection with Eric "Eazy-E" Wright. Even though we were speaking with other labels, our heart was always set on contacting Eazy. He was the underdog and he created his own category. He was the first one to bring the aggressive street mentality to the game, and he was an innovator who deserves to go down in hip hop history as one of the godfathers of rap. He was a genius in his own right -- in those two years with him, we learned so much. He taught us about the business and its etiquette, marketing and how to promote. The key was that you can't make money without the music. He was a creative genius and a very wise man. He spoke very elegantly.

Bone Thugs also was the only group to collaborate with The Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac, and Big Punisher. How did those songs come about?

With Biggie, we had and continue to have a great relationship with Puffy, so when they were in town they invited us over to the studio to work with him. I was actually supposed to have a verse on "Notorious Thugs" but it was too long as it was -- however, I was able to kick it there in the studio and enjoy Biggie and Puffy's company.

We met 2Pac through our close relationship with the Outlawz. 2Pac had met Bizzy first and immediately the two of them developed a bond and went to the studio to work together. It was Bizzy who set it all up. I was actually the one who met Big Pun. It came when I was in New York and getting ready to do a song with Fat Joe on my debut solo album, and he brought Pun along. He actually wrote the hook, but I didn't even know who Pun was until he spit his lyrics. A lot of people don't know that he actually got his industry debut on my solo album.

So now that the tour is over, what's next for Bone Thugs?

We’re going to get back home, get some rest, get back in the lab and continue that mission. We've working on a treatment for a script about the real life story story of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Los Angeles is the home base these days, and we're trying to get our feet wet in feature film projects, as well as a Bone Thugs book. Of course, the music is always in effect.  --Jeff Weiss Photo Via Travis Shinn


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