The term “legend” is often used today when describing many emcees solely based on their tenure in the Rap game. It may not even be for their capabilities outside of the art form in terms of their business ventures, political activism, or amount of records sold in their career. In a dog-eat-dog competition, and ever-fickle Hip Hop music audience, it is a tough gambit to remain even as a stalwart in the Rap game.
When it comes to creating international smash hit records, accumulating platinum plaque after plaque, helping build and facilitate a Rap crew’s brand to become household names worldwide, and stamping the once-obscure city of Cleveland, Ohio on the Hip Hop landscape with his collective Bone thugs-n-harmony, it is fair to consider Steven Howse (b/k/a Layzie Bone) as a legend amongst Rap’s elite.
In his first interview since announcing in the late summer 2013 that he would be focusing on his solo career away from his Bone Thugs bandmates, the “L-Burna” spoke in-depth about many topics any Bone junkie would relish. Layzie discussed his musical influences coming from Cleveland, the importance of social media and technology in the music business for today’s Rap artist’s business tactics, his unknown bandmate’s deaths that spawned the multiple versions of his group magnum opus “Crossroads,” and his newest solo project Perfect Timing. Contrary to his namesake, Layzie Bone’s has much to say about the past 20 years regarding his ardent work ethic, measuring his success according to his Bone Thugs and personal families. Although the veteran emcee has long-standing tenure in the Rap game, he’s just getting started.
Why Layzie Bone Values Business Ethics & Midwest Soul Influences
DX: Who were your biggest influencers on your style, making you want to take Rap seriously for a career path?
Layzie Bone: Growing up with Hip Hop, being from the Midwest in Cleveland, we had the best of both worlds. We had Run DMC, LL Cool J, EPMD, Big Daddy Kane—we were heavily influenced by them. There was a mix of East and West for us. We came up on Eazy-E to Geto Boys, the Rap-A-Lot era, the Ruthless era, and the Def Jam era. A lot of that influenced me. At one time, I thought I was Eazy-E. Another time, I thought I was LL Cool J [laughs]. Also, we grew up with my mother's music. She was a singer. We call her Mama P. We came up off the Temptations, O’Jays and the Motown era. We were heavily influenced by singing—like when New Edition was doing their thing. My mother definitely put the music in us.
DX: Many of the earliest West Coast hardcore Hip Hop records were heavily influenced by the sound of those Ohio funk groove bands from the ‘60s and ‘70s. And Bone's earliest records were an extension to that hardcore G-funk sound. It’s like a “full circle” effect since you're a Cleveland-based group.
Layzie Bone: Yeah, it’s definitely a full-circle effect. Even for us creating our own lane, our own sound and things like that. It's a big pot of gumbo in the Ohio area. We got O’Jays and Gerald Levert, Roger Troutman and Zapp, Sugarfoot and the Ohio Players, Bootsy Collins from Cincinnati and all that. I feel like it's full-circle because the music migrated. That why people in the Midwest listen to so many different genres. When I first got to the West coast, they were listening to mostly West Coast Rap. When I got to the East Coast, the people there were listening to mostly East Coast type of raps. But now it's that you got a pot of gumbo that’s all put together. Now you got the whole world doing a piece of what we did, and now people are emulating from all that we did in our music.
DX: So what would you point out that you like the most and/or least about today’s generation of Rap artist’s music compared to the ‘90s era?
Layzie Bone: Well first of all, I consider what A$AP Ferg and [A$AP] Rocky and all the other heads that may have incorporated what we were doing into their style and gave us credit and all that—like Kendrick and everybody else—we really consider it an honor. Because we did something growing up as kids that gave the culture some flavor, and it’s a document to the culture. That’s kind of like a bridgestone to say that Bone thugs is here forever. We offered the game something that people can use and is still relevant 20 years after we put it on the streets. With the kids and the younger guys for what they are putting out, it really doesn’t matter the style of music. I’m looking at business and ethics and stuff like that. You know what I mean? I like that these guys are younger, and they’re taking advantage of their platforms with the social media and all that. And they really getting money! And that makes a difference in many places in which there might not have a light shined on that, but I don’t bash nobody. Even when I was growing up, you had your bubble-gum rappers with their bullshit and dancers, and you had revolutionary-type rappers with consciousness like KRS-One and D-Nice. Hip Hop always had different flavors. Nowadays it’s on a more commercial platform. It’s worldwide as opposed to Bone thugs-n-harmony and a DJ carrying in 15 crates of records to throw our own house parties. Kids these days have better access than we did. You can have 5,000 songs that you hold in one hand that’s less than two ounces.
DX: Yeah that’s crazy because I’m an ‘80s kid that had to do the same thing setting up turntables for my DJ friend’s gig, carrying multiple crates of wax in from their cars and jeeps.
Layzie Bone: I give everybody props as long as they’re handling their business. Which I see a lot of…young, black men over the years that are getting more guidance than we were first coming into the game. I look at their ethics and the business, and the integrity of what they’re doing, because you can sell any style of music. You got wack rappers that make millions, and you got great rappers that sell nothing. The only thing that distinguishes that to me is the business.
Layzie Bone Calls “Perfect Timing” Another Fancy Project In BTNH’s Legacy
DX: When you tweeted last summer to your fans that you were going solo for good, how does your next solo album, Perfect Timing add or differ from the Bone thugs legacy?
Layzie Bone: It only can add to it. And just to clear it up, I never said that I was going solo for good. I said I was getting away to do my own shit, because I had built Mo Thugs in the past and everyone from the group went their own way.
I had built Mo Thugs for Bone Thugs-n-harmony. That company was for the whole group. But as we blew up, everyone started getting their own aspirations, and I just felt like I was the fire in the melting pot with Bone the whole time. I never had a break at all. Flesh did 10 in jail, Krayzie Bone took his hiatus here and there, and Bizzy Bone was gone for a long time. And that whole time I was fighting to keep the whole thing alive. Wish Bone was kind of inactive as well. As far as keeping it together and all that, it was on me. So I grew tired and I grew weary, and said, “I’m gonna be on Harmony Howse Entertainment,” because after all this time, I felt that maybe I wasn’t being appreciated or maybe people didn’t know that before Bad Boy became a family, it was Mo Thugs Family. I was following in Eazy-E’s footsteps. So I just wanted to get away so I can gather myself, and get to know myself again because I was giving away a lot of my time.
But at the same time, it really feels that I just came into my artistry. I was always like a spokesman in the group. I didn’t really care, and I would drop a 16 so easily. That’s all I cared about doing, but now I feel like a full-blown artist. And hence, that’s why my new album is called Perfect Timing. I had to learn to get to where I feel solid with it, like, “I’ma blow this motherfucker out the water with it.” I’m actually with Bone thugs-n-harmony right now touring. We’re brothers. We’ve always and will always have differences, which will probably always be made public. But certain things may get misconstrued. We’re brothers, best friends, and cousins since elementary school. But it’s Harmony Howse, Perfect Timing, and I’m so much wiser and articulate in how I do my thing. It’s just another fancy project to the Bone legacy.
DX: That being said, what is the main thing that you want your protégés on Harmony Howse to learn the most that they have not dealt with in the music industry?
Layzie Bone: Learn that it’s a show, but it’s business. They put it backwards and it should be called “business show.” That’s what I’m trying to teach them—to learn the marketing, the promotions, just love this craft and kick it from your heart.
DX: No doubt. Tell me the story of how the classic song from the Panther soundtrack “The Points” came together and what you and the rest of Bone added to it? You had the first verse for your group.
Layzie Bone: Man, you know how long ago that was [laughs]?
How Fallen Bone thugs-n-harmony Members Inspired “Tha Crossroads”
DX: It was a great concept record, and with the current ‘90s nostalgia in Hip Hop, I had to ask this question. What was the story in which you all, and namely Bone, got on the same track?
Layzie Bone: I think it was that we were new guys in the business; I mean brand new. When we dropped our verse on that song, we hadn’t even dropped our first album yet. I think that came about on Relativity Records, and it was our first label Ruthless Records they were dealing with. Us being so new, and it was a big deal because they had so many dope artists on that song, we were just blessed enough for them to say, “Hey, put these new guys on. They sound crazy. They’re gonna be somebody.” That was the politics of the game putting us there.
DX: When you hear or perform the song “Tha Crossroads,” does it ever get old to you?
Layzie Bone: No, it don’t ever get old. It’s just like putting on Michael Jackson “Thriller” or “Beat It.” It’s a classic, and classics never get old. It the simple fact that in time everyone is gonna always experience death or loss in their life, and it’s gonna be played at a funeral. Plus it sounds good, and it’s a heal-the-heart song. It can never get old.
DX: How did that song come together?
Layzie Bone: That was because we lost one of our Bone members, Wally, and that song took on a couple of versions. We lost Boo, and some other crew members, and we made the song. Then after that, we remixed it once Eazy-E died. It was just like as we were being so blessed, we took a lot of losses too.
DX: So there were more than just the five group members that the world knows about.
Layzie Bone: Yeah there was a whole pack of us. Everybody wasn’t officially rappers in the group. But Wally was like the first security guard that I ever had, but he was really my best friend. We always was Mo Thugs, we always was Bone and we always was brothers. Like even when we was selling dope back in the day, we was brothers. We had our little operation and all that at 14, 15-years-old trying to be somebody.
DX: With 20 years in the game, what are you proud of the most that you’ve accomplished?
Layzie Bone: The thing that I’m the most proud of is my children: being able to provide for them with something other than selling drugs, being deceitful or things like that. Doing something that I love to do, that’s my accomplishment. All the accolades, I love that—from the Grammy, the American Music Award, all that. There’s love, and the acknowledgement feels good. But the acknowledgement don’t mean nothing if your family can’t look at you and feel that you’ve made a difference in their life.