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Bone Thugs-n-Harmony honored in Cleveland as hip-hop turns 50

Krayzie Bone, left, and Wish Bone of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony seen at 2017 Alternative Press Music Awards at the KeyBank State Theatre on Monday, July 17, 2017, in Cleveland.
Amy Harris
Krayzie Bone, left, and Wish Bone of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony seen at 2017 Alternative Press Music Awards at the KeyBank State Theatre on Monday, July 17, 2017, in Cleveland.

“I don't think we've even had a rapper yet that has passed away from old age,” said Krayzie Bone, the co-founder of rap legends Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, reflecting on 50 years of hip-hop – a genre born just weeks after he entered the world in Cleveland as Anthony Henderson.

“It's still very, very young, and I feel like it hasn't fully matured yet,” he said.

Friday marks the 50th anniversary of what’s been recognized as the birth of hip-hop, when DJ Kool Herc first brought two turntables and a microphone to a house party in New York City.

Also on Friday, E. 99th Street in Cleveland will be renamed for Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. The location inspired the group’s chart-topping 1995 album, “E. 1999 Eternal.” Krayzie said he would never have guessed that the street he grew up on would one day be named Bone Thugs-N-Harmony Way.

“We went from having a rough life on this very same street that's now about to be named after us,” he said. “That is a mission accomplished that we weren't even trying to accomplish.”

That mission came into focus as Krayzie grew up listening to legendary Cleveland DJs like Lynn Tolliver and Ralph Poole, as well as his parents’ collection of Isley Brothers, Spinners and Temptations records. He veered toward hip-hop after getting a cassette of the 1985 album, “Radio.”

“My brother brought home the LL Cool J album, and I put it in the tape deck,” he said. “And I never took the tape out of here. That's actually what inspired me to start rapping, because I would write down his lyrics and that showed me the blueprint on how to write my own rhyme.”

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony came together while its members were in middle school, finding their voices as they rapped and harmonized. Yet it was a stint in prison that pushed Krayzie to pursue his calling.

“I remember writing a letter to the other members when I was in there,” he said. “I was like, ‘Bro, when I get out of here, we have to go. We have to go for our shot, or we ain't gonna never make it. I'm not coming back to this place.’ That's exactly what we did.”

Dogged persistence led to a meeting with the late rapper Eazy-E, who invited the group to record in Los Angeles. Krayzie said they didn’t have a desire to leave Cleveland as much as a recognition that the local music scene had its limits.

“We were running out of ground to walk on here,” he said.

This week, clad in full Cleveland Browns attire, he’s being celebrated with a forum Thursday, organized by the City Club of Cleveland, followed by a public event Friday at the Cleveland Public Library. The topics will be music, of course, but also his nonprofit, Spread the Love Foundation, started in 2019 to work with young people from disadvantaged areas who have an interest in the arts yet no idea how the business works.

“I'm trying to give them a bit of a head start that we didn't have. That's the education,” he said. “I think that's a big reason why the music industry is imbalanced: They catch us at our most vulnerable, desperate times. I want to give these young, aspiring artists the opportunity to really to be able to realize that this contract is a trap.”

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.