There have been times in recent years when a crucial element’s been missing from the world of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony.
We’re talking about the harmony, of course.
Leading up to the new “Strength & Loyalty” album, which came out May 8, the veteran Cleveland rap group has been beset by business and internal problems. It wound up changing record companies, signing on with producer Swizz Beatz’s Full Surface label, and dropping the highmaintenance Bizzy Bone (real name Bryan McCane) from the group’s roster.
As they note in the soulsearching single “I Tried,” “Nothin’ comes easy/You gotta try real, real hard.”
But with “Strength & Loyalty” debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, the remaining trio of Krayzie Bone, Layzie Bone and Wish Bone (Layzie’s brother Flesh-n-Bone is in jail) contend that they never had any doubt Bone Thugs-n-Harmony would maintain and, in their estimation, still command the attention of the hip-hop community.
“I saw the hype dying down, but I wasn’t worried about us being able to get back out there,” says the group’s Layzie Bone (Steven Howse, 31). “I was in the streets and still had that attitude. There wasn’t any doubt; it was just the matter of finding the right people to roll with.”
Krayzie Bone (Anthony Henderson, 33) adds that “the problems we had between us weren’t serious enough to be like, ‘Oh, man, it’s just over. We need to move on.’ It was never like that. Everybody just had their own things they were doing ’cause (the group) wasn’t moving at the time.
“It took us a little while to get back into it because we had a crazy reputation at one time. It was like we had to fix everything we did in the past.”
Founded in the early ’90s as B.O.N.E. Enterpri$e, the group came to the gangsta rap world with the requisite street credentials and signed to N.W.A. member Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records label after an in-person backstage audition in 1993 and helped to carry the label after Eazy’s death in 1995. Bone was an instant hit with tough, explicit singles such as “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” and “Foe tha Love of $.” Its 1994 album “Creepin’ on Ah Come Up” was certified fourtimes platinum, while 1995’s “E. 1999 Eternal” and the 1997 double-album “The Art of War” each debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Bone Thugs-n-Harmony also won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance By a Duo or Group for the 1996 track “Tha Crossroads” and collaborated with the late Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., among others.
But the wheels began to come off shortly after that. There were feuds with other rappers such as Twista, Three Six Mafia and Crucial Conflict, and public disagreements with Bizzy Bone, who began to miss performances and other appearances. Waning commercial fortunes and Fleshn-Bone’s (Stanley House, 32) 2000 conviction on gun charges — he’s serving 11 years in a California state prison and is eligible for parole next year — would have sounded the death knell for most groups.
But Bones Thugs-n-Harmony soldiered on.
“We’ve still got the attitude of when we were 12 years old, rapping, like, ‘Man, these (expletives) can’t (mess) with me,’ ” Layzie notes. “That carried us through.”
It’s also the reason why the new album is called “Strength & Loyalty.”
“That represents how long we’ve been together and all the trials and tribulations we’ve been through,” Layzie explains. “We feel like we had to be strong to overcome all the obstacles and stay loyal to each other. Strength and loyalty — it’s a real statement.”
The group certainly means business on “Strength & Loyalty.” With Swizz Beatz overseeing but “giving us our freedom to do what we wanted to do,” according to Krayzie, the trio worked with an all-star guest cast that includes The Game, Bow Wow, the Black Eyed Peas’ will. i.am (another Ruthless alumni), Mariah Carey and gospel singer Yolanda Adams. They celebrate their patched up relationship with Twista (with whom they plan to record a full album) on “C-Town,” while the chart-ruling Akon joins them for “I Tried.”
“That was an honor,” Akon says. “They brought so much to hip-hop and went through so much. Seeing the professionalism and seeing the hunger of how much they wanted to get back in the business was incentive to get me to just try to give them the best record that I could.”
Krayzie says that the group’s vision was simply “to make another classic album” — no easy feat, and one that took a couple of years to realize (even though the group did release the little-noticed “Thug Stories” in 2006).
“It was do or die, this album,” he says. “We had to make sure everything was right. We had to make sure we had the right songs, the right people we were working with. We had to make sure that what we were coming with was perfect.”
And now that it’s come, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony have no plans for departing any time soon. After a series of spot club and theater dates it’s playing this month to promote the album’s release, the group plans a more extensive, full-production tour later this year. More singles are in the offing, too, along with a semi-biographical film called “I Tried.”
“We’ve been through thick and thin, man,” Layzie notes, “but we’re still here. And we’re not going anywhere, I promise you that.”
Bones Thugs-n-Harmony performs 9 p.m. Thursday at St. Andrews Hall, 431 E. Congress St., Detroit. Tickets are $29.50. Call (313) 961-6358 or visit www.livenation.com.
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