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‘The Rolling Stones of hip hop’: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony perform at the Bluebird Nightclub


People stand outside Jan. 30 at the Bluebird. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony performed Feb. 7 at the Bluebird. Sarah Zygmuntowski

After technical difficulty-related delays and more than an hour of opening acts, the crowd at the Bluebird Nightclub was getting impatient. At three separate times, they started chanting the name of the group they were really waiting for — “Bone Thugs! Bone Thugs! Bone Thugs!”— with each round of shouts gaining more traction.

Eventually, they received the answer to their demands. Wish Bone, Flesh-n-Bone and Krayzie Bone, three of the five original Bone Thugs-N-Harmony members, stepped onstage to the roaring applause of a jam-packed audience 11 p.m. Friday.

Midway into the performance, Flesh-n-Bone said that while other groups have hit songs, they have classics. Almost in demonstration of this point, the audience immediately recognized the opening piano notes in their song “I Tried."

Many who were in the audience have been fans of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony since they first started it out, such as Stacey Barker, who came from Brazil, Indiana, to watch the show.

“I grew up listening to them,” Barker said. “When I was a teenager they were hot shit to listen to.”

Since starting out in Cleveland in the early '90s, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony has sold over 50 million records and shared the stage with legendary rap artists Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.

Priscilla Reese, who’s been a fan since 1994, said their lyrics about coming from the streets remain authentic and relatable.

“We come from the same background, so being in the same room as them is just kind of neat,” Reese said.

Solo artists like Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper are currently dominating the rap scene, so it might have felt brand new to younger audience members to see rap music performed by a group. But Bone Thugs-N-Harmony has been changing the game since the '90s, said Marquan Thomas, who travels with them to sell merchandise before their concerts and has seen them perform over 100 times.

“They were one of the first to mix rap with R&B without auto tune,” Thomas said. “They rap incredibly fast and they’ve been doing it for 25 years. They’re like the Rolling Stones of Hip Hop."

Israel Castorena, a fan since 1996, said they rap speedily without sacrificing the emotional meaning of their songs, as opposed to using nonsense words for filler like other hip hop artists. While other groups of the 90s were rapping about guns and violence, Bone Thugs was rhyming about love and family, Castorena said.

“They were the first to use multiple syllables with a message,” Castorena said. “They bridged the gap to mainstream.”

Castorena said the work of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony inspired rappers who came after them who use a similarly brisk style.

Before performing one of their last songs “Tha Crossroads,” Wish Bone called for a moment of silence for Kobe Bryant and asked an obliging audience to hold their phone flashlights up.

The song is dedicated to their late mentor, rapper Eazy-E, whom the group referenced multiple times during their performance and hailed as the godfather of gangster rap. “Tha Crossroads,” for which Bone Thugs won the Grammy for Best Rap Performance in 1997, displayed what fans said they love about the music of Bone Thugs: rapid fire lyrics with a heartfelt message.

“See you at the crossroads, crossroads, so you won't be lonely,” Krayzie Bone sang. “And I'm gonna miss everybody. And I'm gonna miss everybody when I'm gone.”

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