1993. Before the rap game became a maze of money, Moet and complex metaphor (à la Jay-Z/Talib Kweli), there was Bone Thugs & Harmony.
20 years since their beginning, the iconic Grammy Award-winning group is still at the top of its game, embarking on a cross-country reunion tour presented by Rock the Bells that will stop at 4th & B on Oct. 27.
Drawing root from their recent summer performance at the Rock the Bells festival, the annual hip-hop showcase, the core of this tour is a celebration of family, for it is their undeniable chemistry that has won Bone Thugs & Harmony a gold medal in longevity, a feat not be taken lightly.
Rap is a boxing match dance of survival of the fittest. Who can endure the grit of the music business, who can remain relevant, who will write the manual all the Lil Wayne’s, Drake’s and Kanye’s will try and emulate?
While learning that dance to success remains a complex routine, whatever two-step shuffle ball change it takes, Bone Thugs & Harmony know it.
“When [Bone Thugs & Harmony] come together it’s one of those special situations, it’s fireworks and sparkles,” says Flesh, joining Bizzy on the phone for an exclusive interview with SoundDiego.
Reuniting the original Bone Thugs crew (Layzie Bone, Krayzie Bone, Wish Bone, Bizzy Bone and Flesh-N-Bone), the Rock the Bells tour they're set to embark on will keep it old school, focusing on their greatest hits, the best moments from their history. “I’m excited to go back to a moment, like we never went nowhere and time stopped,” says Bizzy.
For both Bizzy and Flesh, their rise to fame and subsequent success is nothing extraordinary. They just happened to be a group of Cleveland kids in the early ‘90s who became bound together by a shared dream to make sense of their story, a drive that would take them from the Cleveland streets to Los Angeles.
“We just met up in one cool time, in one cool place, and decided to take a chance on going to L.A. and making something of it,” says Bizzy, laughing. And from there? “The rest is history! We’re one of those stories, like ‘What do you know… [we] little knucklehead kids actually did it!”
Like anyone else, they worked non-stop, stalking down the industry heads of that era, starving for someone to listen to them. “Hey we all have our aspirations, hungers, and desires,” says Flesh. “But, there is a difference in an artist that tries to bring a certain reality to life.”
And that difference happened to make all the difference, separating them from all the rest who were trying to make it.
Creating an aural anthology of a cultural feeling, the group released its first album in 1993 and quickly began topping charts with tracks such as "Tha Crosroads," "Money, Money" and "Thug Luv," featuring rapper 2Pac.
Infamous for their ability to examine the world through raw, real talk, the lyrics of Bone Thugs crafted a message through songs, spinning simple words into melodies and providing a relevant soundtrack to a generation that was rapidly changing.
“Whether it’s songs about reminiscing on someone, or getting stuff off your chest, or kicking back having a good time, we have a way of talking to you where we get right to the point,” Bizzy explains.
In a society craving honesty, Bone Thugs & Harmony quickly became popular. In the face of their growing celebrity, however, the group would quickly learn a few truths of its own.
With fame came a great deal of disharmony as their careers grew quickly. Some dealt with substance abuse issues. Some dealt with jail time. All dealt with dealth as the '90s saw a huge shift with the passing of several rap icons. Mentor and friend Eazy-E, the West Coast producer who first gave the Midwest transplants a California chance and later produced some of their most iconic songs, passed away from AIDS with little warning.
Many in the group moved onto solo projects. Some involuntarily, such as Bizzy who was forced to leave the group 10 years ago when various issues resulted in a group-wide dispute.
But for all of the challenges, the collective energy that transported them from Cleveland’s streets to universal rap titans has once again trumped their differences.
“On the outside, [people] might look at us and think, ‘Oh, they trippin,’ but they don’t know the internal,” says Flesh. The petty drama behind them, the group members are committed to one another.
“No matter what, we understand how to inspire and encourage each other,” Flesh adds.
With a focus on keeping harmony among the Bone Thugs family, Bizzy explains, “We wanna make sure nobody goes crazy. We just wanna keep a smile on everyone’s face all the time.”
“Everybody is a genius in their own right,” says Flesh. “It takes a lot of compromising,” but ultimately, he explains the audience remains the group’s “common goal.”
Blurring together groups that might otherwise stand divided, with two decades behind them, Bone Thugs & Harmony certainly attract an eclectic demographic. “It’s an older crowd, it’s a younger crowd, it’s not like what you’d expect,” Bizzy says.
For regardless of genre, music will always hold an uncanny ability to bring people together, a philosophy which Flesh attributes to the search for inspiration. “People need inspirational feedback; [they] are thirsty to be motivated,” he says. “Art? That’s the stuff that outshines everything else. Without it you wouldn’t even get out of bed in the morning,” he adds.
For Bizzy, art is an evolutionary process. Quick to shy away from overanalyzing how hip-hop might have changed from witty wordplay to a heavily club-influenced scene, for Bizzy the future is all about movement.
“You can’t say let’s get back to this or let’s go back to that. No! That’s where you came from, so you have to let it grow and take on a life of its own,” he says.
Committed to keeping it fresh and not resurrecting the past, for Bizzy the tour marks a new beginning, built on years of experience.
“All these years! It’s a beautiful thing. We work work work work, and it turns you into getting really good!” he says. “It’s sort of like one of those Charlie Sheen things, we’re winning."
"Without getting messed up first,” he quickly adds, quoting the actor’s infamous tagline.
“We even look the same as we did 10 years ago!” Bizzy says, “But now we know what the hell we’re doing!"
“Everybody has the opportunity to succeed, but we were lucky enough to have Eazy-E who did a great service by pointing us in the path of accomplishment,” says Flesh. While talks of a new album have surfaced, manager Jamie Adler says the focus for the rest of the year remains staying on one thing at a time, and at present that is the tour.
“We’re just pursuing the same things as everybody else with a happy life,” says Bizzy. "Staying healthy. Getting rest. Eating veggies. No fast food,” he says.
With all new momentum, Flesh gives San Diego one warning, “Get ready. If you ain’t in the building SD? Get right.”