Still Krayzie Bone After All These Years

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony rapper recorded more than 150 songs for #4 charting Thug Mentality 1999.

If there was any doubt Krayzie Bone is the primary musical force behind the

speed-rapping Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, which the band's label says he is, the work he

put into his first solo album should erase it.

Putting in 18-hour days at studios around the country, the rapper wrote and recorded

more than 150 songs for it. Thirty-eight of them ended up on Thug Mentality 1999,

a two-CD set that hit stores last week and debuted this week at #4 on the

Billboard 200 albums chart.

"My goal," Krayzie Bone said, "was to let everyone know, to prove to the audience and to

the fans, that I can make a decent album just by keeping it real."

The first single -- the album's title track (RealAudio excerpt) -- is a

tribute to street thugs, but in an interview last month, the 26-year-old rapper, singer and

producer born Anthony Henderson came across as a regular guy.

Krayzie Bone leaned back in a chair in the conference room at Relativity Records' New

York office, ate a chicken parmesan sandwich and smoked a cigarette. He wore jeans, a

lightweight green jacket and narrow braids.

He was with two other men -- a small entourage for a rap star. He spoke calmly and

confidently about the solo album, saying he set out to distinguish himself from his Bone

Thugs bandmates, Bizzy Bone, Layzie Bone and Wish Bone.

"I was just experimenting with different kinds of music," he said.

So far, Thug Mentality 1999 is getting a good reception. The album -- which

features collaborations with Mariah Carey, Big Pun and Fat Joe and E-40 and which

delves into reggae, soul, Hawaiian music, pop and gospel -- sold 137,357 copies last

week, to earn its #4 debut on the Billboard 200 albums chart. The single, a partly

sung, partly rapped tune that combines rapid-fire verses with a pop hook, is receiving

heavy radio airplay.

"This song is a very musical song; it's more music than it is beat," said Cedric Hollywood,

program director for WEDR-FM, a hip-hop station in Miami where it's getting 25 spins a

week.

Hollywood said the song bridges a gap between young fans of hard-core hip-hop and

older fans of R&B and old-school, 1980s-style rap.

Krayzie Bone, who grew up on Cleveland's rough East Side, said he wrote it as an

anthem for others who have endured similar hardships. With a piano banging out a

gospel part and a string arrangement hovering in the background, he gets straight to the

song's point: "T-H-U-G, we be/ That's thug mentality/ We thuggin'/ Thuggin, that's the

way I choose to live my life."

Then, after a series of street-tinged vignettes, Krayzie Bone launches into an extended

series of shout-outs to his "Cincinnati thugs," "Kansas City thugs," "Texas thugs," "New

Mexico thugs" and so on.

"When I started doing the song, I knew it was the first single," the rapper said. "I'm

showing everyone the mind of a thug. Anyone can be a thug, no matter where they live."

Krayzie Bone said he was less certain about the rest of the items on his musical plate.

He began writing material for a solo album while sessions for the most recent Bone

Thugs album, The Art of War (1997), drew to a close. By last summer, he had

more than 150 songs finished, having used studios in Los Angeles, New York, Houston

and Cleveland.

The wealth of songs prompted him to make Thug Mentality 1999, but he said the

process of choosing 38 songs for the two discs was gruelling. Among the songs that

made the cut were "Paper" (RealAudio excerpt), a morality tale

about money that sounds more like a 1986 love song than a modern hip-hop track -- it

uses a sunny drum beat and soft vocal harmonies.

"There's a message there," Krayzie Bone said. "It shows people will do anything for

money."

Kay-Gee of Naughty By Nature produced "Paper" as well as

href="http://media.addict.com/atn-bin/get-music/Krayzie_Bone/When_I_Die.ram">"When

I Die" (RealAudio excerpt), an uncharacteristically slow, dark song that gives

Big Pun and Fat Joe a platform for their New York-colored ruminations on death.

Krayzie is not the first member of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony to make a solo album. Bizzy

Bone (born Bryon McCane) has released two albums, including last year's Heaven'z

Movie.

The solo albums and the full band's string of #1 albums prove the group was onto

something when it developed its fast-paced rhyming style 10 years ago in Cleveland.

Krayzie Bone said the style was a result of the group's ambition to produce the tightest

raps possible. After Krayzie Bone, then 16 years old, debuted a fast rap for the other

members one afternoon, a Bone Thugs trademark was born.

"We still get upset sometimes," Krayzie Bone said of the criticism the style sometimes

receives. "When we first started out, people said, 'They rappin' too fast.' Now, you got the

whole industry trying to do what we do."