Bone Thugs-N-Harmony members aren’t content with just being hip-hop legends.
The five-man outfit out of Cleveland burst onto the scene in 1993 when it was noticed, and signed, by N.W.A. rapper Eazy-E. The group’s first release on his Ruthless Records label, “E. 1999/Eternal,” went quintuple platinum. Since then, the rappers of Bone Thugs – Bizzy Bone, Flesh-N-Bone, Krayzie Bone, Layzie Bone and Wish Bone – all have worked on other projects, but also come back together to make new music over the years. And now, they’ve got their most ambitious project to date in the works.
“We’re actually standing the test of time in order to do what it takes to be legendary – not just legends,” Bizzy Bone said in a phone interview with The Bee this week. “We’re aiming for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We’ve always been ahead of our time and we don’t want to get caught.”
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony will headline the 15th annual Xclamation! Festival, X-Fest for short, on Aug. 23 in downtown Modesto. Bizzy said he expects four of the five original members to perform at the event – Layzie Bone currently is working on a solo project.
But all the men are coming back together for one more album – and when they say one, they mean one. Only a single copy of their forthcoming “E. 1999/Legends” – which pays tribute to their first Ruthless Records release in its name – will be printed. The album will then go to the highest bidder. The singular tactic was successfully employed by fellow hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan earlier this year.
“We sat down and we decided that the day-and-age of the CD and physical compact discs is going out of style,” Bizzy Bone said. “So we’ll do one more solid-gold CD type, give it to the world and just kind of say goodbye to the old ways. We’re all entering into the new technology.”
Since the announcement earlier this month, band members said they already have fielded a $1 million bid for the unfinished release. Bizzy Bone said they plan to keep bidding open until fall of next year, and meanwhile will work on selecting and perfecting tracks.
“It’s going to be very, very fun,” he said. “We have so much music and constantly stay in the studio and are working with so many different producers. It’s no slim pickings at all, it’s the best of the best. It will be difficult to not have 100 songs on it in the first place. We really want to bring some excitement to the people. The more time it takes to figure out who the highest bidder is, the more time we have to give them a phenomenal project.”
After the release, Bizzy Bone said the band plans to spend several years on the road together playing live shows. The act will feature classic hits such as “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” and “Tha Crossroads,” as well as newer works, corresponding high-tech visuals and more.
“They can expect an explosion of energy,” he said. “When we say our lyrics, you see it, feel it. Modesto, Bone Thugs – here we come.”
Despite its hard-sounding Bone Thugs name, the group that won the 1997 Grammy for best rap performance by a duo or group never has ignored the Harmony part. The rappers had a more melodic, R&B feel than some of their cohorts of the time.
“When we stepped into the game, we did a lot of singing, as well,” Bizzy Bone said. “We were like doo-wop artists, we brought a different talent to table. Eazy-E said, ‘You guys are going to change the face of hip-hop.’ He said everyone will be doing the choppy flow. I think that’s the magic behind us; we’re five talented fellas who are good musicians by ourselves, as well as a megagroup together.”
Still, he said the evolution and explosion of hip-hop in popular culture in the past 20 years has been amazing to watch. While it was once more of a niche market, the music is now one of the most predominant on the charts, and artists from across the genres – from Katy Perry to Tim McGraw – have collaborated with hip-hop performers.
“It’s reaching the globe, reaching Earth, becoming the rhythm of the world. Sort of like jazz did. Sort of like how classical music and Mozart did. It’s just a progression,” he said. “No one knew, we didn’t know, but we’re totally ecstatic.”
Bizzy Bone said the group has been able to stick together all these years because members have given one another the freedom to pursue their own projects. Most of the members have released their own albums in addition to their Bone Thugs projects.
But just because their next Bone Thugs album may be the last, don’t expect members or the band to be going anywhere.
“We’re all healthy, at the prime of careers and age,” Bizzy Bone said. “It’s not our last hurrah. We see this as a gust of fresh air. We will continue to flourish with music and books. We’re staying in the business and proving ourselves to be real artists. I see us as being a monumental group, starting phenomenally, finishing phenomenally. Being legendary.”