Bone Thugs-N-Harmony: The Spiritualists

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April Love met Bone Thugs-N-Harmony out in LA in ’94 and started doing their hair shortly thereafter. Her first gig was a music video whose name she can’t remember, but based on the vague details she gives, it was probably “East 1999” from their first full-length E 1999 Eternal. The shoot went late, of course, and Bone Thugs had to get to New York for an awards show. With paper maché or some shit still in their hair, they convinced Love to come with them across the country in a private plane. The morning after the ceremony, Love woke up and all the management folks she had been dealing with were gone and had been replaced with a new crew for their tour that was about to start. When she tried to get a ticket back to California they told her she couldn’t leave them and gave her $1000 to go shopping for clothes. She ended up on the road for eight weeks. “Every time I wanted to go home they started throwing money at me,” she says. Since then Love has been in charge of braiding, fro-ing, combing out, blow drying and ponytailing the members of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s hair, even though private planes and endless cashflow are no longer their reality.

In the mid-’90s the Cleveland-born quartet of Krayzie Bone, Layzie Bone, Bizzy Bone and Wish Bone were one of the biggest and weirdest acts in hip-hop, if not in all of popular music. They were four skinny boys who made their corner of E 99 & St Clair sound like the gateway to hell and brought a horse drawn carriage on stage at the MTV Video Music Awards. Rap was just beginning to realize that all its stars might not come from the coasts and some shots had already been fired from Chicago and Flint, but no one expected that the Midwest would claim its place through the gloom of Cleveland. With their long hair and ill-fitting Indians gear, Bone Thugs looked like more countrified versions of Compton and East Oakland’s street reporters, yet in their lyrics they added an element of morbid spirituality that mixed the traditions of black Christianity with the occult. “Mr Ouija” from their 1994 debut EP Creepin on Ah Come Up is darkside doo-wop where the harmonized plea to their version of Mr Sandman is not for some lollipop dream, but to tell them how they’ll meet their maker. Then they blast the old “Name Game Song” full of holes: Murder-murder-mo-murder, mo-murder-murder-mo-murder, mo-murder-murder-mo-murder, mo-murder-murder-mo-murder, mo-murder, mo-murder, mo-murder….

A decade later, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony is down to the trio of Krayzie and the cousins Layzie and Wish. Flesh-N-Bone, the unofficial fifth member and Layzie’s brother, has been serving a ten year prison sentence for armed assault since 2000, with the possibility of parole in 2008. The troubled Bizzy has other issues he’s dealing with and is estranged from the group. This spring brings their seventh album Strength in Loyalty, the first release on producer Swizz Beatz’s Full Surface imprint, a new venture backed by Interscope.

Second chances for rappers don’t come often, especially not with the support of one of the music industry’s most successful labels. Former Goodie Mob member Cee-Lo recently caught another break with Gnarls Barkley, but he was aided by luck, Danger Mouse’s quirky understanding of the modern pop landscape and the fact that most of Gnarls’s fans hadn’t heard of him the first time around. As for Flavor Flav’s resurgence…it’s best not to think about it too much unless you want to bum yourself out.

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POSTED July 22, 2011 12:15PM IN FEATURES TAGS: , , , ,

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