LOS ANGELES -- Stanley Howse, better known as rapper Flesh-N-Bone, looks down, shakes his head and forms a "T" with his hands.
"Time out," he says, and points to the tape recorder.
It is March 23, exactly a week before the 24-year-old solo artist and member of hip-hop group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony has to turn himself in to serve a portion of a 120-day jail sentence for probation violations following an arrest last summer. He's sitting in a control room of Studio 56 in Hollywood, where he's recording his second solo album, the follow-up to 1996's T.H.U.G.S..
While he is reluctant to talk about his sentence (which begins today), Flesh says that his religious faith keeps him optimistic. "That's how God wants it to go, and I have to accept it," he says.
Despite his recent legal entanglements, Flesh smirks proudly when he
talks about his new record, tentatively called
Book of Thugs (due in June). But when the subject turns
back to his impending relocation from the studio to the slammer,
he looks panicked and overwhelmed and seems to shoot off a
million miles away.
Flesh, who has recorded with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony on all three of their
albums, was charged with assault and battery of a 63-year-old
neighbor and with possession of explosives, which subsequently were
found during a search of his house in Chatsworth, Calif.
His jailing marks the second time that the rapper has been
incarcerated as he prepared to release a solo album.
At press time, Flesh's lawyers were trying to file an appeal to
delay his incarceration for a week so he could finish recording
his upcoming album.
Flesh exudes a certain nervous energy, seeming cautious and guarded. Generally when he speaks, every other word is followed by an "um" or a "you know," often many of them. Dressed casually in dark clothing that contrasts sharply with his brand new, white high-top sneakers, he sits hunched over, moving restlessly in his chair and peering through the strands of braids that fall over his eyes.
"He's a little complex; there's a lot to him," says his manager, Gary Ballen, later that evening. "He's a hard worker, a family man -- loves his kids -- he's been in and out of trouble. He's kind-of risen like a phoenix out of a lot of big problems. He's very optimistic, but it's a pretty heavy thing for him to leave his wife and his kids and his career to go to jail."
Stating several times that he feels "blessed," Flesh often refers to his spirituality when he's speaking about his family, his music and his recent troubles.
Though his debut solo album, T.H.U.G.S.
Humbly United Gatherin' Souls), came across as an overtly spiritual
the rapper says that his upcoming LP is even more so.
Sonically, however, Flesh describes it as "mostly a party record," adding, "The way I kick it to 'em, it's off the hook."
Confident that this record will break him as a solo artist, Flesh says he's more proud of this work than any of his previous music. Ballen and the album's producer, Damon Elliott (who also co-produced T.H.U.G.S.), agree: "With this album, he's just gonna blow up," Ballen boasts.
"This is a very commercial album, very put together, ready to get an award," says Elliott, whose mother is soul superstar turned "Psychic Friends Network" spokesperson Dionne Warwick. Two tracks that Elliott played before Flesh showed up late to the studio were melodic rap beats with pop melodies -- the busting "If You Could See What I See," which features a guest appearance by Bone Thugs member Wish Bone, and the catchy ballad "If I Could Go Back," a tribute to the late rap pioneer Eazy E (a.k.a. Eric Wright), who died of AIDS in 1995.
"I came up with the hook: "If I could go back/ Way back / Sweep my nigga E up in my Cadillac," Elliott sings. "I was writing it with Flesh in mind, thinking about him driving his big-ass Caddy, with the $28,000 stereo system, picking up Eric. Flesh wasn't feeling it at first; he wasn't sure if he wanted to do something like that.
But then he went in there and sung this dope-ass part over it, so we're both singing."
Elliott, who recently drove Flesh out to the desert for the album's cover shoot, will finish mixing the album while Flesh serves his time in Los Angeles County Jail, a matter that neither meet with ambivalence. "We got it working sweet, you know what I'm sayin'," Flesh says. "I ain't goin' nowhere; he ain't goin' nowhere."
Noting that Flesh was in jail during the release of his first album in 1996, Elliott adds, "He's been in before when I finished the album, so I've basically proven myself. We think alike, man. We were buggin' off that today; it's amazing -- we are family." Elliott, who refers to Flesh by one of his nicknames, "Stack," says that jail won't completely halt their teamwork. "I'm like, 'Yo, Stack, you call my ass collect from jail, and I'll play you the shit over the phone. You can call me 100,000 times; I'm gonna have the phone right next to me.' "
Elliott predicts that Flesh will be released well before 120 days are up (Flesh was already given credit by the courts for 33 days served prior to his sentencing). The jail term will not affect promotion of the album, he adds. "Worst case, Flesh goes in at the end of March, and he's in all of April -- we just gonna be finished mixing this thing," Elliott says. "[Then] he's out; he's free; and he's got a new record."