Ruggish-N-Real

The air might be a little hazy, but Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's voice is clear

For Wish, it's simple. "Bizzy can be an asshole. But he's still part of the group, man.... He helped originate this shit," Wish explains. "We've always said we were gonna do solo records and come back to do Bone records. But being who we are, the eye is always on us, so any little thing is blown out of proportion and everyone's like 'They done broke up.' But we're a family. We've known each other since we were kids. And like five brothers do, goddamnit, we're gonna fucking fight."

The turmoil with Ruthless Records is much more cut-and-dried. "We outgrew Ruthless. It got to a point Bone Thugs got bigger than what Ruthless can provide. We owe them one more album and we're out," Wish proclaims. Aside from financial disputes over when and how much Bone Thugs get paid and what they perceive as a lack of promotional support, there are personal rifts between the group and the label's owner, Tomica Woods-Wright. Bone Thugs were signed and mentored by Wright's late husband, the label's founder and original gangsta Eazy-E. They say they don't believe she's running the show the way Eazy meant it to be, but won't go into specifics. Layzie just points out that "since Eazy was dead we've had problems. Ain't nobody gonna fill that nigga's shit. It could be anybody in the world besides him and that still would have been the difference."

Back in the day when Bone Thugs were just Cleveland street-corner prodigies looking for notice, they knew they had to work with Eazy-E. Bone Thugs took legitimacy very serious. Why they got on Eazy's ass by taking bus trips to L.A., even rapping for him on the phone as a way to get signed instead of reaching out to closer East Coast producers, has everything to do with the creed Eazy lived by: "The only thing is to be legit." Wish explains that "we knew Eazy was the realist motherfucker in the game, and there was a lot of bullshit in the game." Eazy-E, the gang-star of Niggaz With Attitude who bankrolled Ruthless with money from running rackets to put artists like Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and MC Ren on nationally distributed records, made an impression when he finally booked Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. "He sent for us to get to L.A. and when we signed he was sitting back on his chair rolling up like a hundred motherfucking joints; man, I will never be that high again," Wish recalls.

Yeah, Bone Thugs party. Which brings them to Miami often, where they party with the likes of Luther "Uncle Luke" Campbell, who Wish says shows his hospitality by putting "about a thousand" big butts all on them. Lately, they've been partying with Ecstasy too. They even have a track titled "Ecstasy," a drug reserved in the past for the predominantly white dance scene, but which is all over hip-hop these days. Wish still thinks the drug "is too high of a high for me. You do shit you wouldn't normally do. We don't promote it but we're still gonna talk about our experiences."

Their experiences, not their fantasies, are what fuel their music. Being rap stars, their fantasies come true -- the champagne, the money, the women -- but "we don't really rap about shit like that because most of the people really listening to us can't relate to all that," Wish says. "The dimensions of music and what we say is deeper than that. You can do so much more than rap about a Bentley or Rolex because people are really listening to you."

The new album is deeper than a magnum of champagne. Bone Thugs get political on the track "What About Us," speaking out on the war on terrorism and the lack of concern for the poverty in our own country. They don't come right out to diss other rappers for their light content, but at the mention of brand-name hip-hop à la Ja Rule, Wish responds, "I feel ya. We're spokesmen in this world. We wanna tell these kids they all don't have to be rappers or basketball players or football players."

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony are as honest and unapologetic as rappers should be. When their show is done, Layzie makes his way backstage, his fro bouncing like his George Jefferson stride. Bone Thugs know what it's like to move on up, but they don't forget where they moved up from. Nothing's really changed -- "the only difference is we can afford chronic and liquor," says Wish. "Before it was beer and cigarettes. We're still the same motherfuckers."

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