Several things set the veteran group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony apart from the rest of the pack in the crowded rap game. Their rapid-fire, staccato rapping is one element of their sound that has been often imitated. Their integration of sweet harmonies into the rapping was also a pioneering move when they emerged in 1994.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony will be at the Murat Egyptian Room on Tuesday, Jan. 28.
They"ve sold 15 million albums, had numerous Top 10 singles and have worked with some of the most legendary names in hip-hop history, from their mentor, the late Eazy-E of N.W.A. to their collaborations with Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. From the start, the quartet has also insisted on their songs containing a positive social message. That"s especially evident on their new disc, Thug World Order, which contains an anti-Gulf War II song, "What About Us," and "If I Fall," an inspirational song with a religious overtone. The group"s leader, Krayzie Bone, says the new songs are keeping with the Bone Thugs mission. "We try to put messages in all of our songs," he said in a recent phone chat from his California home. "We"re aware of everything that"s going on in the world and in our lives, so we report everything we see and hear. That"s what Bone Thugs is. We"re street reporters." The album also contains "Home," another inspirational song which includes a rare rock/rap partnership with the use of a Phil Collins vocal hook. Krayzie said the pairing came from a mutual admiration between Bone Thugs and Collins. "My parents listened to him, so I was familiar with his work," he said. "I was listening to a CD and heard that song ["Please Take Me Home"]. I thought, "Wow, we can really flip that song and remix it." So we did it and somehow Phil Collins got to hear it and liked it, so the whole thing jumped off. We shot the video with him and everything." The album has a shout-out to Cleveland, Bone"s much-maligned hometown. After hitting platinum success with their first album, Bone set up headquarters in Cleveland but eventually had to move. "We had to leave because there was no strong music scene in Cleveland," Krayzie said. "It wasn"t like New York or California, where you could just run into somebody and get a record deal. It"s like there was nothing going on in Cleveland, so we had to leave. We"re spread all over right now. We"ve got Layzie in Atlanta, I"m out here in Cali, Wish is in Cleveland, Bizzy is in California." The current Bone Thugs tour will include the ever-erratic Bizzy Bone, who was temporarily ousted during their last tour. "Bizzy is doing his thing," Krayzie explained, laughing. "We"re always going to hold Bone together no matter what"s going on. But since the beginning of time, Bizzy has been tripping. He"s there sometimes and sometimes he ain"t there. That"s been the whole pattern. It"s nothing new for us, but it"s real tiresome. Right now, we"re trying to be together and we"re trying to move forward, but right now his mind and his ideas ain"t the same as ours." But, he added, "We"ll never put him out of the group. He"s part of our family, too. Whatever he"s going through, we"re going to let him go through that experience." The initial meeting between Bone and Eazy-E has taken the status of legend in rap history. Krayzie tells it this way: "We was in L.A. and we had got wind that he had a show back in Cleveland. Somehow we got the number to his office and we kept putting in calls. Finally, he returned our call and he let us know he had a show in Cleveland. So we hustled up some money to get back to Cleveland so we could open the show for him. We had the hook-up in Cleveland. After the show, somehow we snuck backstage and Eazy-E heard us rapping in the hallway. "He came out and said, "Are y"all the ones I heard on the phone?" And we said yeah and he said, "Come on in here, let me holler at y"all." The next day we were on the bus back to L.A." Eazy, the head of Ruthless Records, signed the group and watched them climb up the charts. When he died of AIDS-related complications in 1995, it threw Bone into turmoil. "We was just getting into the game, and we didn"t know what was going on as far as the business, and then that happened," he said. "We didn"t know what was going to happen with us, but fortunately we were able to keep putting out albums." Of working with Shakur and Biggie, Krayzie is nonchalant. "It was like any artist. Working with Pac, he was more aggressive. All he needed to hear was the perfect beat, and then he went right in to lay his [raps] down. That was cool. Where Biggie, when we worked with Biggie, they treated us real cool. Puffy just hit us one day and said, "Man, Big want to do something with y"all for his album." And we were like, "Hell yeah, let"s do it."" He said, "Both of them was out the blue, you know. Pac just happened to come by the studio one day and said, "We need to hook up." So we just did it right there." Future plans for Bone include an album with Shakur"s former group, The Outlawz. "We"re working on that right now, in fact. It"s going to be called Thug Brothers. It"s going to be a straight Bone Thugs/Outlawz album with some features from Pac. That"s coming this summer or this fall." Meanwhile, you can catch Bone Thugs-N-Harmony at the Murat Egyptian Room on Tuesday, Jan. 28. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster outlets or by calling 239-5151.