Excuse Stanley Howse if he ever thought that “The Last O.G.,” Tracy Morgan’s sitcom vehicle, was a documentary. The show is about an ex-con who is released from jail after 15 years and discovers the world has morphed considerably.
Howse, aka Flesh-n-Bone, was riding a massive wave of success during the late 1990s since his hip-hop group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony happened to be at the top of its game.
Bone Thugs emerged from the Cleveland scene thanks to a pair of massive hits, “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” and “Tha Crossroads.” The latter, a tribute to the then-recently-deceased NWA rapper Easy-E, who signed Bone Thugs to Ruthless Records, won a Grammy Award in 1997. Bone Thugs had a loyal fan base and impressed with its melodic hip-hop.
“We had everything going our way,” Howse said while calling from Los Angeles ahead of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s date at Knitting Factory on Thursday with Young Neves and Zero. “Things couldn’t have been better for us.”
However, the act and Howse’s fortunes changed dramatically when he was sentenced to prison in 1998 on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and probation violation. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison but was released after a decade.
“What happened to me was very humbling,” Howse recalled. “It was devastating.”
On Sept. 22, 2000, Howse was sent to Pleasant Valley State Prison in California’s Fresno County. “I missed out on so much,” Howse said. “But I finally was released, and so much changed in the world.”
It was like “The Last O.G.” but not funny. “I love that show,” Howse said. “I get it. I lived it. I wish I didn’t lose all of that time, but I had no choice but to try to get back on my feet.”
Shortly after becoming a free man, Howse contacted his mates in Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Within two years, Flesh-n-Bone, along with his brother Layzie Bone and cousin Wish Bone, Krayzie Bone and Bizzy Bone, recorded “Uni5: The World’s Enemy,” which dropped in 2010.
“I don’t know what I would have done without those guys,” Howse said. “Fortunately, I had something to focus on. I didn’t have any distractions. I just called the guys, and good things happened. Who would have guessed that it would have worked out, but it did.”
Bone Thug’s “Art of War: WWlll” in 2013 and 2015’s “Still Creepin’ on Ah Come Up & Bone Brothers, Vol. 2” fared well critically and commercially.
“In some ways, it was like it was back in the day,” Howse said.
Howse can’t help but reminisce about the ’90s when the band impressed with its lightning-fast raps. “I’ll never forget that period,” Howse said. “I’m not just talking about what we experienced. It was such a great time for music. So much material from back then still stands up. There were so many great ones back then. Some aren’t with us anymore.”
Howse should know since Bone Thugs is the only group who worked with such late legends as 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G., the aforementioned Eazy-E and Big Pun.
“It was an honor to be part of their work,” Howse said. “I can only imagine what the music world would be like if they were all still alive. I’m just so glad we were around then. It was an exciting time for hip-hop. So much was going on with Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest. And we were part of that. So much went our way.”
It wasn’t just about commercial success. Bone Thugs crafted albums that were sonically adventurous. The act’s early work was compelling and uncompromising.
“We believed that we could do whatever we wanted,” Howse said. “We were never worried about what anybody else was doing. We didn’t worry about getting on the radio. We just focused on doing the best that we could do. We always knew that there is no one like us.”
The assessment is spot on. Bone Thugs at its best combines quick raps with beautiful vocal harmonies. Big hooks, endless swagger and a yen for old school R&B help set the group apart from the rest.
“There are certain qualities that we possess,” Howse said. “You know us when you hear us.”
Howse believes that Bone Thugs has quite a future. “We have so much more to accomplish,” Howse said. “We have so much creativity in us. I’m looking forward to creating more material. We’re feeling it right now. We’ll get to making new songs, but we’re focusing on this show and trying to make it as theatrical as possible. We’ll have new stuff out before you know it.”
Part of what makes Bone Thugs relevant is that the group, which has been performing while backed by a live band, constantly listens to new material. “The beats today are so dope,” Howse said. “That’s part of what inspires us. It’s a combination of that and the classic stuff. It’s a great time to do what we’re doing. This is a golden era for us.”
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