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Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, U-N-I-T-Y

Photography by Travis Shinn

As much as hip-hop fans relish beef, there is much to be said for burying the crew-splitting hatchet. Just ask the legions of Roc-A-Fella Stans who clamor for a Jay-Z and Dame Dash peace treaty or the ones who still haven’t accepted the reality of Cam’ron and Jim Jones’s Diplomats breakup. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony had their run too. They were on top of the world until internal strife and legal drama sent their empire crumbling down.

Stylistically, Bone established themselves as the chief purveyors of a melodic, machine-gun-fast sound that has influenced hip-hop, and pop music, in a big way. The group has sold more than 16 million records and in 1995 actually tied The Beatles for the fastest-rising pop single ever, with their smash hit “Tha Crossroads.” (They won a Grammy the following year for the same song.) But it’s been 10 years since BTNH have appeared as the full five-man crew their devoted fans have come to know and love. Now, the long-awaited Bone comeback will be in the form of their seventh album, Uni5: The World’s Enemy, a chest-pounding cheer for unity. “This [is a] dysfunctional functional family,” says Flesh of the group’s dynamic. “We was wild…Now we’re back.”

The BTNH bond dates back to the early 1990s. Layzie (Steven Howse), cousin Wish (Charles Scruggs) and friends Krayzie (Anthony Henderson) and Bizzy (Bryon McCane) linked up as teenagers in the Glenville section of Cleveland, Ohio. Driven by dreams of rap stardom, they formed a group called B.O.N.E. Enterpri$e and released their indie album Faces of Death in 1993. Seeking a larger platform to display their talents, the neophytes hopped on a bus to Los Angeles, hoping to showcase their skills for N.W.A front man Eazy-E. (Flesh a.k.a. Stanley Howse, Lazyie’s brother and crew friend, joined the group and took the ride as well.) They landed an impromptu audition for Eazy which led to a deal with the Compton rapper’s Sony-distributed Ruthless Records.

First, the rookies dropped Creepin’ on Ah Come Up, an eight-track EP that went three times platinum. Then in 1995, Bone released their official major-label debut album, E. 1999 Eternal, which was spearheaded by “Tha Crossroads” and eventually sold over six million copies. BTNH’s follow-up, the 1997 double disc The Art of War, continued to cement the group’s dominance, earning them even more platinum plaques and greater hip-hop respect. In the midst of all of their success, however, things began to unravel from within.

Trouble surfaced when Bizzy Bone started having financial disputes with Ruthless, right around the release of the group’s third disc, 2000’s BTNHResurrection. Refusing to fulfill promotional duties for the album, Bizzy sued parent label Sony, alleging that he wasn’t paid the million-dollar advance owed to him for his second solo album. He dropped the suit when Sony agreed to release him from his solo contract, allowing Biz to cut albums independently while still keeping his obligations to the group intact. Although no one else in Bone publicly lashed out in the manner that Bizzy had, Layzie does admit that the entire team was financially frustrated. “We started off with a 12-point deal,” he says. “Twelve percent of a hundred in a five-man group ain’t shit.” —Bobby Cruz

To read the rest of this in-depth Bone Thugs feature be sure to go cop the March 2010 issue of XXL, which is on stands now.

Click through the remaining pages for exclusive Bone Thugs photos from the magazine…

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