This Oral History of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony Shows Why Their Music Is Eternal.
Last year, Cleveland, Ohio Hip-Hop group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony celebrated the 20th anniversary of their iconic album, E. 1999 Eternal. In recognition of the milestone, the five-member crew undertook a massive tour, an opportunity for fans both young and old to reconnect with music that influenced a generation. Bizzy Bone, Flesh-n-Bone, Krayzie Bone, Layzie Bone, and Wish Bone are each contributors of distinct panache, and as a unit, they remained cohesively distinctive from many of their contemporaries. Protégés of Eazy E, the group has gone on to establish a legacy that is both storied and yet somehow underrated, and such a crux has made them one of the more intriguing Rap groups about which to read. Matteo Urella, a writer whose oral history of the group was published by Medium, explores that crux in fine detail, densely yet engagingly providing an illuminating step-by-step roadmap to Bone Thugs over the course of more than two decades.
Featuring quotes and anecdotes from group members and those closely involved with the group, “Machetes Dipped in Rum” brings to life pivotal moments in the group’s career, beginning with the early ’90s. As Layzie Bone describes, the group got its start “[w]hile we stood on the block and kicked it all night, and was out doing our thing as children.” Singing old, familiar songs eventually turned into the idea to harmonize together and by the time the group released its debut album Faces of Death in 1993, they were B.O.N.E. Enterpri$e (that moniker has proven tragically relevant today, as it stood for “To tha Cops : STOP! Beating On Niggaz Everyday!!! ”). Faces of Death, as Urella writes, houses “the very first B.O.N.E. rap heard by Compton, California legend Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright, who ultimately signed and mentored the group,” and a history-making relationship was born. “Flesh-N saved up enough funds from his work at Kentucky Fried Chicken to purchase five individual three-day Greyhound Bus tickets from Cleveland, Ohio to Los Angeles, California in hopes of securing a record deal — be it from Eazy-E and Ruthless Records or otherwise,” Urella explains. As Bizzy shares, “[w]e went down with a few pairs of drawers, a few shirts, pants, sisters crying and shit. I had to leave my baby’s momma at the shelter. Niggas just basically left everything and told the whole hood we was gonna make it. We gonna bring Eazy-E here and make a video. Niggas was videotaping and shit. It was prophetic as fuck.”
The prophecy was realized when Eazy-E flew to Cleveland after the fellas had returned home, where they auditioned. “After hearing a verse from Layzie, Wright decided to sign and mentor the group under his tutelage and the foundation of Ruthless Records,” writes Urella. Flesh-N opted to sit out the initial record deal, telling Urella “[t]he reason why I wasn’t signed to the original Ruthless contracts is because I was going through some stuff with smoking sherm, smoking dope,” adding that additional problems arose when it came down to finances. “Eazy-E came to me and told me that they don’t wanna pay me. The dilemma started right there. So I kept smoking sherm. He told me that my brothers didn’t wanna pay me. So I really went nuts after that.” While the internal setback was certainly a bone of contention, there was no stopping the motion of the burgeoning group and with a name change to Bone Thugs-n-Harmony (“Wright re-branded B.O.N.E. as ‘Thugs-n-Harmony’ due in part to the penchant of the group to harmonize”), it was time to get down to business. “[O]ne month after they signed a six-album publishing and recording contract with Ruthless Records, Bone released their major-label debut EP, the certified quadruple-platinum Creepin on ah Come Up,” Urella details. Layzie explains how important the EP was, saying “[t]hat album is where we designed our style, everything about ourselves and what we came into. That was the album when we were coming into ourselves as artists.”
In March 1995, the group would lose its mentor and the world an icon when Eazy passed away. At such a painfully crucial time, Bone had to focus on releasing their sophomore effort and with it came a juggernaut of an album. “E. 1999 Eternal — the twenty-third highest selling hip-hop album of all-time — arrived on the Hip-Hop and music scene as a near-entirely fresh perspective and projection: five young rappers who harmonized and sang despite often gruesome and violent lyrical content,” says Urella. He continues to rightfully laud the album, reminding Heads “[w]ith over five millions copies sold domestically and over ten million copies sold worldwide, E. 1999 Eternal received critical acclaim as well — three Grammy nominations and one Grammy win.” However, one single in particular “would shatter all expectations.” “Tha Crossroads” earned the group a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group at the 39th Annual Grammy Awards, and the song served as an “in memoriam” to not only Eazy, but other people members of the group had lost. As Wish shares, “Uncle Charles was my mother’s brother. He had retired, but he’d worked for Ford so he had a little bit of change. He was real fly.” In speaking of the song’s legacy, Layzie astutely observes “[i]t don’t ever get old. It’s a classic, and classics never get old. It’s the simple fact that in time everyone is gonna always experience death or loss in their life, and it’s gonna be played at a funeral. Plus it sounds good, and it’s a heal-the-heart song. It can never get old.”
Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s story does not end there, and just like “Tha Crossroads,” the group’s legacy will never get old. Urella’s oral history goes on to sprawl across the decades, leaving no accomplishment, setback, or memory unturned.