I'm not a huge fan of rap and hip-hop these days. On the spectrum of Tyler, the Creator (see “Bitch Suck Dick”) to Soulja Boy (see “Kim Kardashian”) to Drake (see “Thank Me Now”), there's just not a lot that catches my ear. But certain artists I discovered as a teen continue to make their way onto my playlists: DJ Screw, Public Enemy, N.W.A., Three 6 Mafia and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. The latter’s first release, as B.O.N.E. Enterpri$e, was Faces of Death in ’93. It’s a rough but intriguing album, jam-packed with explicit lyrics and featuring the act’s erstwhile Jamaican patois moch. The album caught the attention of Eazy-E, who signed the crew to Ruthless Records.
Eazy-E produced Bone’s first EP, “Creepin on ah Come Up,” in 1994 and even made a cameo. Capitalizing on the growing popularity of gangsta rap, the EP crossed over into the mainstream. The lyrical focus combined violent, ultra-capitalistic bravado with horror and supernatural references. My fave track was “Mr. Ouija,” wherein exquisite vocal harmonies served as a medium for asking a spirit board about the future. The answer: “Bloody murda mo, bloody murda mo.” Teenage fascinations with the occult (The Craft screened a zillion times at my house) and marijuana lured me into Bone's body of work.
When patron / gangsta rap godfather Eazy-E died of AIDS-related complications a year after the EP dropped, Bone Thugs were in the studio recording their first full-length for Ruthless. The album, E. 1999 Eternal, ventured deeper into spiritual territory. Their tribute to Eazy-E, “Tha Crossroads,” won a Grammy and remains iconic. Producer DJ U-Neek steeped the recording in ridiculously crunk G-funk and synth. I was 17 years old when it was released 17 years ago. Maybe it's my middling age showing, but the album still sounds completely fresh and relevant.
I really wanted to interview Bizzy Bone, Flesh-n-Bone, Krayzie Bone, Layzie Bone and Wish Bone—especially Bizzy, whose body language and state of mind in recent interviews raises a lot of questions. He has talked candidly about his traumatic childhood and founded an organization of “light workers” whose mission is to eradicate child abuse. I put more effort into interview-seeking than is typical. Between voicemails, emails, Facebook messages, and, yes, even tweets, I went the distance, to no avail. I wonder if they think the alt.press is too bougie. Or maybe they’re just confident in the franchise's cultural capital and name recognition when it comes to selling out shows.
In recent years, reports of fractures within the group and issues with Ruthless Records have swirled around the Internet. But all five members of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony have come together for a Rock the Bells concert series to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the group. The tour hits Burque on Thursday, Dec. 13, and five Cleveland fellows will accomplish a feat that scientists claim isn't yet possible. Sunshine Theater will transform into a time machine set to 1995, as the group performs E. 1999 Eternal in its entirety. The all-ages show promises to attract Generations X, Y and Z, head-bobbing and singing along to “1st of tha Month.” So, get up, get up, get up and get it: time travel, no flux capacitor required.