Bone Thugs-N-Harmony made the sad sound merry on “Tha Crossroads”

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Grunge. Wu-Tang clan. Radiohead. “Wonderwall”. The music of the 90s was as exciting as it was diverse. But what does that say about the time – and why is it still important? In our show 60 songs that explain the 90s, Alarm Music writer and ’90s survivor Rob Harvilla sets out on a quest to answer these questions, one track at a time. Follow and listen for free exclusively on Spotify. Below is an excerpt from Episode 48, which explores Bone Thugs-N-Harmony‘s “Tha Crossroads” with the help by writer Israel Daramola.

This week we’re talking about Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Tha Crossroads” from their 1995 album. E. 1999 eternal. # 1 song in America for eight consecutive weeks. This song is pretty much all about mourning the dead; it’s about mourning the dead until you join them. It’s a song about how you’re not alone when you die, and you’re not alone when you mourn those who are already dead. Death is inevitable, and so is grief, but it means everyone shares it. Everyone bears the brunt of it. These guys are the best case scenario you could remember yourself for. All this to say that the most important part of this chorus is the line, So you won’t be alone.

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, in 1995, consists of five guys. Five rappers-slash-singers. We have Krayzie Bone, Layzie Bone, Bizzy Bone, Wish Bone and, coming in later and in a slightly less official capacity, Layzie Flesh-N-Bone’s brother. These stage names don’t necessarily match the personalities of the guys backstage. Bizzy Bone isn’t any busier than Layzie Bone, et cetera; as Wish Bone once said, “We all think of ourselves as the Michael Jackson of our band. No one is taller than anyone.

So, I need a vivid, exaggerated description of the office setup for a woman named Keisha Anderson. Wish Bone, doing an interview in 2017, so about 25 years later, still remembers his name. Calls him by name. Keisha Anderson. Keisha was the secretary of Ruthless Records in Los Angeles in the early 90s. Ruthless Records, of course, started by rapper Eric Wright, aka Eazy-E, formerly NWA gangsta rap icons; Eazy E started Ruthless with a former semi-infamous NWA manager Jerry Heller. They made a movie of it, if I remember correctly.

But I don’t remember Keisha Anderson appearing in the movie. Keisha is the wife, the secretary that the guys from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony called, every day, for weeks, trying to get a meeting with Eazy-E, in the hopes that he would give them a contract. recording with Ruthless Records. I need a full account of Keisha’s office situation. The furniture. His office, his cubicle or lack thereof, all the plants, the dust, his proximity to all the vending machines, we have Doritos in there or what, the peanut butter crackers, his proximity, I guess, to the desk. Eazy-E whatever. I want to see what Keisha sees, as she twirls her phone cord and rolls her eyes and confuses herself through those daily cold calls from those unknown Cleveland skulls who bought one-way bus tickets from Cleveland to California, just to call her on the phone from California to try to convince her to put them in touch with Eazy-E. This is one of my favorite origin stories in rap history because I find this story so chaotic and inane and therefore relatable. This is how I would have done it if I had done it.

So. We have longtime friends and family (Layzie and Flesh are actually Wish’s cousins) in their late teens, early twenties. In Cleveland, in the Glenville neighborhood, on the corner or corner of East 99th Street and St. Clair Avenue. First they are called the Band Aid Boys (which is not very hard), then BONE Enterprise (which is harder). Their first underground album was released in 1993, titled Faces of death. (It’s super hard. Faces of death is that famous late ’70s bootleg movie with footage of real people dying, supposedly. Lots of chatter about this movie in my college. Is there a monkey brain involved too? Keep this shit away from me. I have enough problems.) Let’s meet the guys on a song called “Flow Motion”.

As you may have noticed, BONE Enterprise loves speed and melody. Mainly speed at this point. It was of course Layzie Bone. Let’s see if Wish Bone raps slower.

Nope. The most of Faces of death is musically cloudier than that and qualifies, I guess, as “horrorcore”. It’s dark, it’s threatening, it’s violent – there is drug-trafficking type violence and hellish, supernatural, Faces of death-the film-type violence. A brief feud later erupts between Bone and Three 6 Mafia, in Memphis, who get annoyed when they suspect that Bone is biting their style, the pentagrams, Satan’s speech masking backwards, which DJ Paul of Three 6 Mafia calls it “tongue twisting on slow rhythms,” Halloween malevolence and so on. But after a brawl or two in a parking lot that resolve pretty quickly – that’s of course before the internet – the regional rap scenes develop with relatively little knowledge of each other, it’s understandable, it’s harmless, and the world will have Three Collaborations 6 – Bone Thugs later. And really, on this record, BONE is desperate to make contact with the outside world. They are desperate to to rejoin the outside world. A phrase that you may hear a few times on Faces of death, but it’s beyond me, someone will say bus tickets. “I got bus tickets, damn it, rent the 12 gauge.” These guys want to go out. These guys want bus tickets. Either way, here’s Bizzie Bone. I tried to find a relatively quiet part.

So these guys decide they want to work with Eazy-E, with Ruthless Records. Bone are all big fans of NWA, of course, and Ruthless Records is somewhat adrift after the breakup of NWA. Eazy-E feuds with Suge Knight and Death Row Records, gets clown on Dr. Dre’s hit hit The Chronicle, Ice Cube is also a huge solo star, Eazy seeks her own success on this scale, and Ruthless signs Everybody. Just a deeply chaotic list of labels. They have the great Above the Law of course, but they also have a Jewish rap group called Blood of Abraham, they have a Mexican rapper named Kid Frost, they have two all-female rap groups, one called Hoez With Attitude, the one called Menajahtwa. Very intense alternative spelling of Menajahtwa. Will.i.am, a decidedly pre-famous Will.i.am is hiding somewhere in there. That kind of atmosphere. Ruthless throws a lot of stuff against the wall. And BONE Enterprise would also love to be thrown to the wall. And so Flesh-N-Bone saves his money working at Kentucky Fried Chicken, and he buys five one-way bus tickets, and they take the bus to California — over 2,000 miles, that bus trip.

And now the guys are starting to stay with a friend in Visalia, Calif., About 200 miles north of Ruthless’s headquarters in the San Fernando Valley, and Bone starts calling Ruthless’s office every day, trying to have Eazy-E on the phone. They get the secretary instead. They get Keisha Anderson instead. They call Keisha Anderson every day. To sit there in his cabin, or not, to eat his Doritos, or not, and to be exasperated but to be patient, too. She takes the calls. She spoils them to some extent. And after a few weeks, they finally get Eazy-E on the phone, and depending on who’s telling the story, either Krayzie Bone is rapping on the phone or Krayzie. and Bizzie rap by phone, or Everybody rape on the phone. I don’t usually buy these I rapped for him on the phone, we sang to her on the phone, I played our hit song for them on the phone, I handed the phone to the radio-like that kind of origin story of the music business. It does not happen. Same Back to the future. Everything and everyone sounding like shit on the phone, man. Especially in 1993. But this story, or most of it, I buy it, I think. I’m willing to believe that whatever Eazy-E heard on the phone, he got it. He approached it. By the way, this is Krayzie Bone. To look for.

Did you understand all this? Do you think Eazy-E, hypothetically, has it all? He has enough. But the bottom line is that of course Bone wants to meet Eazy-E in person, but he can’t meet them in person because he’s very busy. For example, he has a show coming up… in Cleveland. And so the guys at BONE, still camped out in Visalia, Calif., Get the money for five one-way bus tickets to get home, back to Cleveland, and they go backstage at Eazy’s show in Cleveland, and it’s where they are signed. This is the relevant part for me. It’s a terrible level of planning and logistics that I respect, that I understand personally. Which I seek to imitate in my own life. Take a bus from Cleveland to California, talk to a guy in California on the phone from California, then take the bus back to Cleveland to meet the guy from California in person. Fantastic. No rating.

BONE signs to Ruthless. Eazy-E suggests the name Thugs-N-Harmony. BONE wants to keep the BONE in there sort of. Ergo, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. They get bus tickets back in California, but at least now it’s on Jerry Heller’s penny. They hit the studio. They record a handful of songs. Not enough for a full album yet, but Eazy-E won’t wait. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony released their debut album Ruthless Records, an eight song EP titled Creepin on ah Come Up, in 1994. Not even eight songs. Two separate intros, five songs and a slutty guitar solo. But you understand, immediately, Eazy-E’s sense of urgency.

To listen to the entire episode, click here, and make sure you follow on Spotify and check back every Wednesday for new episodes of the decade’s most important songs. This excerpt has been edited slightly for clarity and length.


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