Gettin' Bizzy (and Layzie) With Bone Thugs-n-Harmony

Cleveland's hip-hop heroes talk rap, rhymes and ecstasy

No one does it like the cats from Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. Spittin' tough tales of ghetto life -- straight outta Cleveland, no less -- the rap group turned hip-hop on its ear when it first hit the scene back in '95, rhymin' smooth and sweet with a one-of-a-kind, instantly memorable flow that laces rap with elements of singing. Their unique style has won the Thugs a large, fiercely loyal cadre of fans, who've kept them consistently successful throughout their five-year career -- they've scored hit after hit both as a group (their latest effort, BTNHResurrection, was certified platinum a mere two weeks after its release) and with various solo joints released by their members. We recently had the pleasure of rappin' with Thugs Bizzy Bone and Layzie Bone about the group's past and present, and their thoughts regarding its future…


You guys haven't released that many albums throughout your career -- there was a good three years between your last two projects. Why haven't you opted to do more CDs?
Layzie Bone: It's [about] longevity, man. We ain't trying to come out here and just flood the market with too much Bone sh*t. We just give them a super dose of some sh*t that lasts them for a year, year and a half.

Bizzy Bone: When you've got a good album, you've got four to five singles on that album. [You've got to]let them run, and give them their proper time. [Take] "Crossroads" -- that single kicked ass. We'd have been jackasses to put out another album while that single was kicking ass. "First of the Month," "Thuggish Ruggish Bone," "For the Love of Money" -- our singles have had long runs.

Layzie Bone: And we were building our own companies on the side, too, and releasing solo albums. [Spin-off group] Mo' Thugs released an album. So we were busy. We've been hitting it at different angles, doin' sh*t that people weren't expecting. They may not have considered it a Bone Thugs-n-Harmony effort, but it was all a Bone Thugs-n-Harmony effort, because we had it planned from the beginning.

Do you hope to get to the point where individually you're each bigger than Bone Thugs, or will the group always be your main focus?
Bizzy Bone: [Individually, we could] never be bigger than Bone Thugs. That's the root of the tree. We can't really plan it out, because it's already been planned. We've just got to follow our hearts and think with our heads, and everything should come together. It's just following what the Lord asks us to do and what he sets before us, and letting things take care of themselves.

Layzie Bone: We've planned on being artists from back when we were really young, so we're gonna be artists at every angle we can hit them on.

Bizzy Bone: Damn right. Sometimes I've gotta paint a picture by myself.

Layzie Bone: And sometimes I've got to paint one by myself. Sometimes we've all got to paint a big picture together.

How do you decide which material goes towards solo projects and which gets held for Bone Thugs?
Layzie Bone: [For solo projects] we mainly use --

Bizzy Bone: What's left (laughs) -- whatever crumbs are on the table, whatever slipped through the cracks. Bone Thugs first -- Bone Thugs always comes first.

You guys are all from Cleveland. You hear about the East Coast rap scene, you hear about the West Coast rap scene and you hear about the rap scene down South, but you never really hear anything about Cleveland. What was it like growing up there, and how did that kind of background shape the kind of music that you make?
Bizzy Bone: Cleveland is just like Compton.

Layzie Bone: Bottom line, we didn't have sh*t -- just like the rest of the motherf**kers, you know what I mean? I think the whole difference is we're from the middle. We got the best of all worlds. We don't listen to just East Coast or just West Coast or just the South, we listen to everything.

Bizzy Bone: Whatever sounds sweet.

How did you come up with your singsong flow?
Layzie Bone: We just like music. The Temptations, Marvin Gaye -- we came up in a generation where we all could sing and our parents were into this sh*t. And we're from the rap generation. When Run DMC and others started coming out, we were at that age where we wanted to rap and it wasn't cool to be a singer -- it really wasn't. Everyone was like, you've gotta be a rapper. So we were rapping and singing. Sh*t just came together.

Bizzy Bone: When you're putting together a song, you've gotta have a chorus line. It's hard to rap a chorus line and make it sound good. You've got to put some harmony into it. Instead of us constantly having to hire singers, we were like, f*ck it - we can sing a little bit. We got to singing, and that sh*t sounded good, and we decided to whip it together -- without any coaching. Motherf**kers would try to coach us -- no, you've got to go low, you've got to go higher. We were like, you need to shut the f*ck up and let us do what we do, and it just came about in some miraculous way. I think the Lord put it in us to do this.

Were you surprised at how well the first album did?
Bizzy Bone: Back then, we figured, sh*t, if we don't get off these motherf**kin' streets, one of us is going to get killed. When the album blew up, it was sort of crazy -- platinum and all types of sh*t was happening. It was a big surprise to me. What about you, Layzie? Was it a big surprise when our sh*t blew up?

Layzie Bone: I really wasn't thinking about that sh*t. See, when we got into the game, it was just before everybody started thinking in terms of, I gotta rap to get some money. We weren't on that sh*t. [When it got to the point when] they were telling us we were triple platinum, we didn't know what that meant, really. We knew we were selling records and somebody owed us some money. That sh*t didn't really affect me [financially] until '99, after our sh*t just kept going platinum.

Bizzy Bone: I got my Rolex, dammit! (laughs) When the money started rolling in, and we really started reaping the benefits of what was going on, it was like, damn, there's another plus to this besides just being rappers. I got to feed my kids, and we got our first cars and sh*t. Mine was a Jeep Cherokee -- I still remember the day I got it. I slapped down $15,000 for it.

Why did you choose to call the album BTNHResurrection? The title implies that something had died.
Bizzy Bone: Well, it's been three years since we put out a Bone album, besides the collection.

Layzie Bone: We're baaaaack.

Bizzy Bone: The whole style is back, the whole vibe. There were people out there trying to copy it, but there's nothing like the original. And we wanted to give the people that. We also wanted to experience it ourselves. Hell, I missed being on tracks with Bone Thugs -- I missed being able to feel what they're thinking, to feel their minds, you know? And throwing my rhymes in there so they can feel mine too. We were all like, let's do this one mo' again.

What goes into your songwriting process?
Bizzy Bone: Basically, I do all the writing for the whole group (laughs). No, we all do our own individual writing. We go in our respective corners and finish like, eight or nine lines. Then we're like, check this out -- how does this sound? And if I'm kind of slow on something, Layzie will let me hear what he's doing, and it gives me a kickstart, you know what I'm saying? It sort of works out like that. When we work together, there's nothing we can't accomplish. Everybody comes with his own thought process, and we put it all together and link it as one. We always seem to be on the same level, for some reason.

One of my favorite songs on the album is "Ecstasy," which talks about the drug and its effects. In the past that drug has been associated with rave culture more than hip-hop culture --
Bizzy Bone: It's hitting the 'hoods -- it's hitting the ni**as. And I can understand, because everybody's living in poverty right now, and they want to escape. If they're not in poverty physically, they are spiritually. They just want to get away from the world that they're living in, you know?

Layzie Bone: See, we write about life. If there's a topic out there in our 'hood that ain't been touched on, we're gonna touch on it. When I went home to Cleveland, I was like, damn -- everybody's doin' X now? We wrote a song about it -- not to say that's what we're about, but just to let people know there's something out there they need to be aware of.

Is it more difficult to write about what's going on in the streets now, given all your success?
Layzie Bone: Hell, no. We're out there with the people -- we touch hands, we kiss cheeks. We're with the motherf**kers right there in the 'hood -- we're still standing on the block for a minute before the police come, with the homies. They're letting us know what's going on in the 'hood, and we're letting them know what's going on in the world.

Bizzy Bone: You can take Bone off the streets, but you can't take the streets out of Bone. It's always going to be there with us, because that's the root, that's where we're from. We grew up like that, starving and sh*t like that, hustling to get by.

Where do you see yourselves in 10 years?
Layzie Bone: Richer than a motherf**ker, man. I'll probably be running for President (laughs).

Bizzy Bone: I'm going to be Secretary of State (laughs). I expect us to still be in the business, but deeper into it. We might still be putting out Bone albums, but I see us more in the corporate world. I can see a couple of us acting, being on TV -- the next level of the game, taking it to a higher realm. Jay-Z's sh*t jumped off when he was 30, so we've still got plenty of time. I'm the baby of the group, but I'm still gonna be singing with these old-ass sons of bitches (laughs).

Bizzy Bone: It's all about people feeding their children. Ten years from now, my oldest will be 19 years old. She'll be out the house. Woo hoo!. Then her momma and me are just gonna walk around the house butt naked all day (laughs). And we'll keep the windows open. The neighbors will see me and be like, that boy is blessed (laughs).

What do you want your legacy to be? And what do you think it's going to be?
Bizzy Bone: What do we want, and what do we think? Two questions? Layzie, you take one.

Layzie Bone: What we want is for everything we've done to stand out for its originality. [We want to be remembered] for our contributions to the game and the way we made rap evolve, because we did start some sh*t that elevated rap music to a whole 'nother level. To cross over into Mariah's world, to cross over into different areas of the game, doing songs with Green Day and putting our flip to it -- just give us our props. That's how I'd want us to be remembered.

Bizzy Bone: And I think it's going to happen just like that. If we all stay on the same page and we all just stay humble, I think that's what we're going to be known for -- lacing music with something new, with a whole 'nother way to come at it. People touched on it, but they didn't make it as solid as I believe Bone Thugs-n-Harmony did. Not to blow our own johnsons, but just to speak like I'm from the outside looking in, you know? I think it's going to happen just the way he wants it to happen -- I see all that coming for us. I see us moving forward just like any other good group who brought something to the game.

Layzie Bone: Like Run DMC, we took rap to a whole 'nother level. I just compare it to the first Atari versus the Dreamcast now. That's how we changed the game.

Bizzy Bone: Man, that's a hell of a jump. And you know, one day it's going to be someone else. There's going to be another set of young motherf**kers that come from, like, Wichita, Kansas, who just shock the world.

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