bone thugs-n-harmony

Hip-hop was blessed with a slew of outstanding debuts in 1994—Nas, The Notorious B.I.G. and OutKast all come to mind—but the year also saw the mainstream debut of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, who came seemingly out of nowhere to take hip-hop by storm. The Cleveland quintet caught the eye of Eazy-E in late 1993, and soon brought their harmony, gift for melodies and eccentric personalities to the world. Bizzy Bone, Flesh-N-Bone, Krayzie Bone, Layzie Bone and Wish Bone dropped their Ruthless Records debut Creepin' On Ah Come Up on June 21, 1994, and behind their breakout single "Thuggish Ruggish Bone" they rode a new wave of hip-hop all the way to platinum status.

"We was fresh off the streets, really living the life we were talking about, trying our best to get out," Layzie says now. "That 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."

But that first joy of success was to be short-lived; Eazy-E fell victim to AIDS mere months after Creepin’s release, and outside conflict over his estate began soon after. What followed for the group is well-known by now: Hiatuses, collaborations, controversies and, most importantly, a string of continued successes and a secure place as one of the greatest groups in hip-hop history. With Creepin' On Ah Come Up’s 20th anniversary tomorrow, XXL spoke to all five members of the group over four separate interviews about life before, during, and immediately after the release of their seminal EP, their mentor Eazy-E, the legacy of the group, and what they’re up to now. It's the thuggish, ruggish bone. —Jordan Lebeau

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On Life Before The EP

Bizzy: Ghetto as hell! [Laughs]

Flesh: Ghetto as fuck, man! We hustled a little bit, I was jobbed out and all that, tried to take some check money and flip it to some drug money. But we was out in the streets, we kicked ass every day, it was gang capital in our area. We grew up right there, and if anyone messed with them Bone Thug cats, man, we would lay it down. We was with the biggest, all across the board—we don’t need to get into stories and this and that—but we grew up gutter. Straight the fuck up, flat out.

Bizzy: But the story gets even better because when we moved out to LA, everywhere is nice in Los Angeles, no matter where you’re at, and everything is so beautiful, and Eazy took care of us like his little brothers. Whatever you needed, Eazy was there. We didn’t starve anymore. When Eazy passed, though, we had to wait for everyone to fight over his riches before we got any money at all. We weren’t really getting any real money; they held it back for one or two years. But things got better and got up and running, and we came up with something special. [Flesh] worked with Russell Simmons and started a relationship with Def Jam out in New York, and we just opened up the playing field to be around people we worked with.

Krayzie: Life before was crazy. I had just come home from prison. When I got out we knew we had to get out and do something or else we’d be in Cleveland the rest of our lives. It was do or die at that time, we couldn’t let the talent waste away. We were getting in all kinds of trouble, something was destined to happen to one of us, be it jail or the loss of one of our lives. We decided to go for broke, and it paid off eventually. We got up and went to get what we wanted. It was dope.

Wish: I’ll keep it 100, I’m a straight up hustler. I was in the streets real heavy. If I couldn’t get that white? I was kicking in doors and trying to stay above the ones that were really hurting. I come from a long line of people who knew how to get money, so I was getting up with my brothers and cousins on the music thing on the side, getting around the barrel. But up until that album—even after that album—I was still on my hustle. You know, shit happens.

Layzie: Hectic, man. We were living in a war zone, lot of dope being sold, niggas doing a lot of shooting, it was pandemonium. We were fresh out of school, we had no direction in life, so we were basically doing whatever. So music was like our savior; it was our sanctuary to get away from all the madness. Our friend Wally got killed a year before that, and that’s why we decided to go all the way out to LA to try and make it, because up until then it was hectic. Day to day, fast living, up all night trying to make some money as kids trying to find our way. Hectic, hectic, hectic. It’s been hectic ever since, too. Busy.


On Their Mentor Eazy-E

Bizzy: Fun, fun, and fun. That’s all I can say. Fun, fun, fun. Taken care of, having fun, clean, fed, no more worrying about rent or where you’re gonna sleep tonight, or having to stay with your girlfriend because it’s not cool over here or over there and all this other shit—all that shit was over. You gotta understand the strength of brothers under 18; like Flesh said, he was working from 13 all the way up.

Krayzie: Man, we were only with Eazy about a year, but during that time we got to know him well. You would know he had invested everything into us if you were around, because we could sense the tension from some of the acts that had been around before we had, they’d make little snide remarks. He put everything on us, and he had us working the whole time. He kept us away from all the beef with Death Row. He told us he had bigger intentions for us, he just wanted us to stay focused. We bonded with him as far as the business and him teaching us stuff; that’s what I remember most.

Wish: Eazy was a real dude, and for him to put everything aside and really focus on Bone really felt good. He was like a brother to us, dog. He used to be with us every day, because he was going through stuff in his personal life and in the industry, because it was around the time when the Ruthless/Death Row beef was going on. He was real humble, real cool, showed us a lot and taught us a lot. We were grateful we got the time we did get with him, because where would music be without Eazy-E? So to be that close to him and have him tell us that he wished N.W.A was close like us, to hear the real stories, it doesn’t get any better than that. I remember when he wrote his verse for “Foe Tha Love Of $,” he was so excited. He was like, “I got one, y’all! I got one!” and he went in there and laid it, and I just remember us loving it and cracking up. You had to be there to feel the love and energy from such a talented and smart, inspiring dude.

Layzie: I just remember Eazy being a real humble dude. Not too outspoken, just real humble. I remember him talking to the kids, I remember him letting me drive his car and shit like that. He wouldn’t let anybody else drive. I just remember him being a stand up guy, talking to him about the music business. I remember him being really hurt [that] people thought he was robbing them. Those are the memories I have. We didn’t have too much time with Eazy. He was about his business. He put us in the studio and got out of the way.

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On The Title Creepin' On Ah Come Up

Bizzy: It speaks for itself; it had a history. We built something together. We met [Manager Steve] Lobel very early, before Eazy passed, along with the team that we accumulated. We sat down and said that it made the most sense, so let’s see how it rolls off of people’s tongues, what they think about it and go with it. We wanted people to love it and like it.

Flesh: It was one of those things, man. It was one of those titles that really signified what was goin’ on with the fellas at the time; we was grimy hustlers from the block, we was always creeping on the come up. We felt like it let people know we were gonna keep smashing it, keep coming out the woodwork.

Krayzie: The whole concept was basically us feeling like we’d been under the radar for so long, we were just thinking we had to make it. The title was basically explaining what we were doing at the time. We were creeping on a come up, we had to get it, it was all we got. Once we got that outlet with E, it was the beginning of what we were doing, and that’s where the title came from.

Wish: We had a song by the same name, and a lot of the name stemmed from where we got our name, because it just happened spontaneously. We used to be B.O.N.E. Enterprises and we had a song called “Thugs-N-Harmony” and Eazy-E said that should be our name, so with all that and those songs, the title just made sense with us going through what we went through to get where we were going, not knowing it would go as far as it did, but it seemed to make sense.

Layzie: We were taking one-way bus tickets, taking risks and changes of all sorts to fulfill our dreams, man. Our dream was just to show the world that we were bad ass rappers at the time. We wanted to prove it to people in our city, peole we came up with and show that we were the best around. It was about taking a chance, getting away from things that could’ve gotten us killed. Trying to be somebody, not to end up like everybody else in the hood.

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On The Recording Process

Bizzy: It was crazy. A lot of studios got torn up during that album, we caused a lot of damage at hotels, Eazy had to get us a mansion in Chatsworth [in Los Angeles]. It was that kind of vibe. Good Bone music, street, real lovely. A couple studios got tore up, but great music came out of that; the musical part came so easy to us that our minds weren’t too focused on the recording. I don’t know how to explain it.

Flesh: We had a vibe that no crew could match. We were singing hymns, singing chants, vibing with each other, the atmosphere was just so different. And then Eazy’s energy when he was alive and in that studio with us was so powerful, it brings back...[Pauses] It just brings back memories, talking about how we recorded the album. The shit was amazing. And yes, we tore shit up, we tore up every hotel we went to. We’d be working on a song or coming up with some ideas one minute, then go get some drink and be having it out and tear up the hotel the next minute. I don’t know if people can even put in their minds the vibe that we brought to the table when it came to creativity.

Bizzy: It was authentic. And we were really the guys who did some crazy, crazy things to help mentor the future generation. They can still talk that same smack, they can still go crazy, they can still go crazy on tracks. We can really say we lived it and give advice to our peers, and that’s the high point of it. It was such a love and such a bond over music, and it comes from Creepin On Ah Come Up in a lot of ways and aspects. You gotta remember the next album, too, but it’s Creepin’s anniversary, so that’s that.

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On The Recording Process

Krayzie: It was a crazy process. It was new to us, but [when we met him in Cleveland] Eazy immediately asked us when we wanted to go back to Los Angeles, and we told him we were ready to move. It was a few days before he came back from LA, but when he got us out there he put us in a hotel and we just waited 'til he came back. When he came back he was like, "Let’s go," and we used to all ride like six deep in this Benz, the five of us and then him. We’re stuffed in this Benz and he’d ride us around to different studios every day to work with somebody different.

The first song we recorded was “Down Foe My Thang," and then after that we went to a studio in Torrance and he played this beat for us, and it was “Foe Tha Love Of $,” and we thought the track was crazy, we jumped on that one. He took us to this studio called The Black Hole and that was where we met DJ U-Neek, and that was the last studio he took us to—after we heard his sound, we knew he understood exactly what we were looking for. For most of the beats U-Neek did, we’d hum how we wanted it to sound, and then come back in the studio and it would sound just like we wanted it. From there we worked with him all the time. It was a time when things were changing, everybody handled it different, but it was a period of change and it was so exciting.

Wish: Yeah, that was way back in the day, but it was the first projects we did on Ruthless. What I remember is the excitement, knowing we had a situation that was real, being young and excited, smoking that good weed and the thoughts that come with that, pretty much having a ball. We had money in our pockets, we were having a ball.

Layzie: I remember it being really, really fast. We went in the studio one day, next week we had an album, and then Eazy-E was like, I wanna drop this EP with the first seven or eight songs y’all did, and those took about a week. Everything was a blur; it moved so fast. We had material, we were already armed and ready, so that’s what it was. One of my fondest memories is Eazy-E asking us to write his verse and [us] telling him he was Eazy-E and he had to write his own verse, and then he did. That’s my fondest memory.

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On Keeping The EP To 8 Songs

Wish: I really don’t know, because we recorded a gang of stuff, but it had more to do with the labels, because I know we had more to add. I guess they wanted to keep it short and sweet and not give away too much to see how it would be accepted, you know?

Krayzie: Man, Eazy was so excited when we got to LA and hit a studio, because every time we had rapped it was a capella. But when he heard us on tracks, he was like, "Y’all niggas is singin,' this shit sound crazy! Y’all singing but it’s gangsta shit!" And he wanted it out right then. He wanted to put the EP out and then work on the album. In a matter of two months from us coming to LA he had everything. He shot the album cover at the video for one of his songs while he was between shots. He brought out his camera, told us to stand over there and just got to taking shots. He did everything himself because he was in a rush to get it out.

Bizzy: Now that I’m in the industry and have been here for a while? Eazy needed to get the distribution together. He still had money and his ownership, but the best product you have is the kind that you can push quickly. So when he had us he was like, "We gotta get this out," and he had the marketing and promotion pick up on it, and then we’d hit ‘em with E. 1999 Eternal and go get that 20, 30, 40, 50 million dollars. But while the second album’s getting made, Eazy contracts something, and it was just something that happened.

Layzie: It was an EP, you know? It wasn’t an LP with twelve songs on it, it was that many songs because Eazy-E, for some reason...well, I know the reason now. He wanted to put that out before he put his album out, so he was rushing because his album was slated to be out while we were in the studio, but we did our songs so fast he got excited and wanted to put it out there. And that was the main reason it was an EP, because Eazy wanted it that way. Looking back, maybe he had a calling to get that music out there because, you know, he passed in '95. He was rushing it for unknown reasons at that time, but he put all thirty acts aside and put Bone Thugs out. It pissed a lot of people off because nobody understood it, but looking back, Eazy wanted that music out quickly.

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On The Single "Thuggish Ruggish Bone"

Layzie: I remember fighting for it to be the first single because it solidified our name, you feel me? I remember people were in Eazy’s ear saying we should put "Foe Tha Love Of $" out first and having doubts about "Thggish Ruggish Bone." So my fondest memory is standing up to Eazy and going to bat for the group, telling him we had to do that song first and go to Cleveland to shoot the video. He kinda didn’t hear it at first, but all of a sudden he agreed, and everything went the way it did. I remember Tasha and how we approached her, but fighting for it to be the first single was my grand slam.

Flesh: We told the whole hood before we left that we was coming back with Eazy and a film crew to shoot our first video, and we did exactly that. When we showed up with Eazy-E and all those dudes from Compton, we told ‘em what was gonna happen and it ended up happening. We had a lot of people at home who really supported us, but we had a lot who told us we were crazy and weren’t gonna do this or that, but we showed up and we did it. We pulled up in Cleveland, Ohio in 1994 on that tour bus and Eazy hopped off into our hood with that camera crew to shoot the video, and it was amazing.

Wish: I remember the video, niggas ain’t never seen no shit like that in our hood. White folks running around with walkie talkies and shit like that, with us being the center of attention in our hood. I remember Eazy picking out his afro and talking to some niggas from the hood, and he always kept weed in his socks in these liquorice papers. We didn’t have anything like that weed from California or Mexico or wherever at that time, we still had regular shit, so niggas was out there higher than a motherfucker and it was hot as hell. I remember Krayzie Bone’s brother and one of my niggas from here got high and got to fighting. It was a crazy day, but it was historic, and it wasn’t the last one we brought to the hood, either. To have a nigga like Eazy from Compton and Bone where so much shit had happened was incredible.

Krayzie: Man, the moment that sticks out to me is how we got the girl [Shatasha Williams] on the song. We were working on the song, and we were gonna do the chorus ourselves. We stepped outside the studio after we did our verses, we were outside smoking, and she was walking down the street and asked us if it was a recording studio. We said yeah, it was Eazy-E’s studio, and she was like, “Oh my gosh, well I can sing!” We were like, “Oh yeah?” and we told her to sing something for us. And it was crazy, so we asked her to sing the chorus. So we brought her in and Eazy was asking who she was and we told her she could sing and we wanted to see how she sounded singing the hook. So we had her sing the chorus and we were all looking at her with our mouths open, and Eazy knew that was it, and told them to record her right then. She just walked in off the street.

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On The EP's Success

Flesh: I think it accomplished beyond our wildest dreams and imaginations. It really propelled us out of the stratosphere to Mars, man. It really did. Our relationship with Eazy had such a special effect and put such a demand on us; he was such an addition to our family. Even though we didn’t know it wouldn’t last, for the time we were able to know Eazy it was special and it was really amazing. It was crucial to what we tried to do—we didn’t cut corners at all. Eazy-E had the record company shut everything else down and focus on us. He had about 10 or 12 other artists on the label and he put everyone on the back burner just to focus on us, man. That was huge. It spoke volumes to us, because he put all that energy into it. He always stepped up to the plate with time and money. The whole album was able to do way more than what we thought. We knew we had something special, but not to that extent.

Bizzy: Man, I’ma be honest, it dramatically changed our lives, and it did exactly what it was supposed to do by putting us in the position to be where we are now.

Flesh: Words can’t describe the difference between what we expected to happen and what actually ended up happening.

Krayzie: What’s crazy is we didn’t have goals. We didn’t understand that level of the business. We’d had a local album before, but that was something else. We weren’t thinking about what it was gonna do, we were just so happy that we had signed to Ruthless Records with Eazy-E, we just put it out and it really didn’t hit us until we started doing shows and the fans were reacting. When we were coming home, we’d still catch the bus, and people were riding past bumping our music like crazy. Everybody in the city played it, and then in other cities—it was all over the place. We’d never had that kind of notoriety, so we just enjoyed it.

Wish: We didn’t have any premature goals for any album or EP we did, we just loved music and loved doing it, so it all came from the heart. Nothing was predetermined, we just did what we knew how to do. We came from music all around: a lot of our family members were deep in the music business. Cleveland is a music city, so people were involved with the doo-wop and Motown, so that’s what we grew up listening to.

Layzie: Everything happens for a reason, you know what I mean? I feel like we went above and beyond what was expected of that EP. We didn’t expect anything, so for it to come out and do 80,000 in the first week and climb to Platinum as fast as it did, I think we broke boundaries with the EP. I think if we hadn’t come with a new style and a new sound, maybe it wouldn’t have gotten off the ground. But we put so many words, so much time and effort into our music, I think it just shone through that Bone Thugs was onto something different.


On The Impact Of Eazy-E's Death

Bizzy: Personally, we had to go back to the streets for a while until the smoke cleared and whoever was fighting over money got done, but it really didn’t put off what we were doing musically. We’re Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

Krayzie: It was crazy, because we’d only been with him for around a year. So when that happened it felt like a dream ended. We still hadn’t gotten over the fact we were signed to Eazy, let alone the process of the album, and then this guy that signed us passes away all of a sudden. It was like dreamland for a minute, and then it was like, “Damn, is it over just like that?” We didn’t realize the impact the album had made, to the point Eazy had made a request before he died for the people that took over not to get rid of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

Wish: As far as the album, it didn’t really effect anything. We had plenty of music. We had songs done when he told us we were going to LA, so it didn’t take anything but beats and recording. But me personally? I was fucked up. I didn’t want to go back to what I was doing. I was tired of robbing and stealing and selling dope, so I just didn’t want to go that route after such spontaneous success.

Layzie: I always felt like there was knowledge we didn’t get that we had to figure out on our own. As far as the EP, I feel like it was destiny, man. He pushed it out and got it out there before he found out he was sick and everything. It was a little piece of destiny. It was meant to be when it was.

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On The EP's And Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's Legacy

Flesh: First, the album’s legacy is the fact that Bone Thugs made a mark and put innovation on another plateau. If you talk about hip-hop in the day and age we came in it? It gave it a fresh voice and face and a fresh sound. That’s true innovation. We came with something new, something nobody had ever heard of, [with] the harmony and the vocal twists at the same time over the slow, melodic beats. Bone Thugs came in the game and created an avenue that the industry sought to emulate.

That leads to the legacy of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Bone Thugs is the most emulated and sought after group in history. We’ve worked with so many greats—Biggie and Eazy-E, Phil Collins and Sade, artists of that nature—and the list gradually grows. The list is long. So the legacy, to me, seems to be a legacy of forerunners. As long as guys get tattoos—guys like Wiz Khalifa getting tattoos of Bone Thugs on their body—we’ll always be relevant. We just need to maintain.

Bizzy: You know, the legacy was a lot about what we realized about ourselves, and everyone that remembers it and so on. It’s kept with the people that remember, and to me it’s that simple. As far as us, it’s a deep bond. We work on other things and we work with each other personally and spiritually, but our legacy to the people is the music and what they remember. But to us, it’s each other.

Krayzie: The album was the start of a new sound. When we dropped it, we changed the sound and the pace, because people couldn’t believe we were rapping like that and singing, and it was all street stuff. We changed the whole DNA, even to this day. It was the beginning of the change. As far as Bone Thugs, we’re those dudes that came in different, paved our own lane as innovators with what we did, didn’t sound like anybody, were always different, and we had a hell of an influence on music in general.

Wish: We carved out our own lane that can never be paved over or done again, thank God. Bone’s legacy is just the same thing, doing things that can’t be done again, from collaborations with Eazy-E and Biggie and Tupac, nobody will ever do that with the type of people who made that kind of mark in music.

Layzie: Creepin On Ah Come Up’s legacy is telling the world that there was another sound out there that people weren’t used to. Our delivery, how we harmonized with each other. Right now, our legacy is still growing. If it was over with today? Our legacy would be contributing a new style of rap that actually changed the game; it sped it up a little bit, put some spice and flavor into the game that wasn’t there. Pioneering a whole style.

Photo: Bone Thugs Facebook Page

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On What They're Up To Now

Flesh: I been gettin’ myself together, enjoying all this freedom [Ed. Note: Flesh spent nearly eight years in prison on an assault with a deadly weapon charge, and was released in 2008]. I’ve been home for quite some time, I’m enjoying that to the utmost, staying on top of my game, man. In the studio keeping it hot, trying to line up the next order of business for Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, man. It’s the 20th anniversary, trying to solidify that legacy. Trying to do something real official.

Bizzy: We alright man, staying healthy, going 175 percent on the day. Regrouping, trying to issue out the new sounds from the crew, trying to get the fans and the loyalists together for the next 10 years and the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, man.

Krayzie: I’m good, man. Working on a solo album [I'm] getting ready to release in a few months, just staying ready, man. And we’re working on something real special for the 20th anniversary, man. That’s all I wanna give away about that.

Wish: Relaxing, enjoying life. Happy to be here. I’m currently working with Krayzie and [manager] Steve Lobel on my first solo record. And me and Krayzie got our label, The Life Entertainment, and Life Apparel, and just doing a lot of touring overseas and stuff like that. Taking the blessing as it is and keeping it moving.

Layzie: I been in the cut lately, man. Developing my new company, Harmony Howse Entertainment, and developing this young talent. Working with my kids on the music, keeping it all family, man. My sons, daughters, wife, everything. Building the legacy of Mo Thugs. Also working on my solo album, Perfect Timing, getting ready to drop that pretty soon, and working with the fellas, you know?

Previously: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony Pay Homage To Tupac, Eazy-E, And Biggie
Wiz Khalifa Got A Huge Bone Thugs-N-Harmony Tattoo
20 Of Hip-Hop’s Most Essential Double Albums