The Three 6 Mafia/Bone Thugs-N-Harmony Verzuz Battle Was A Triumph Of The Human Spirit

The Three 6 Mafia/Bone Thugs-N-Harmony Verzuz Battle Was A Triumph Of The Human Spirit

The fight wasn’t really a fight. On Thursday night, Three 6 Mafia and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, two revered and influential rap groups with long histories, went up against one another in a live Verzuz battle, and things got chaotic quickly. About half an hour into the show, Bizzy Bone, the most erratic member of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, got fired up and started spouting off at Three 6: “You ugly motherfuckers ain’t finna be mocking me while I’m on motherfuckin’ stage!” When Juicy J barked back, Bizzy Bone threw a bottle, and a whole mob of people ran out onstage to puff their chests up at each other.

The music stopped, a few people pushed a few other people, and Three 6’s Gangsta Boo yelled about how Bizzy is a hater who must not be taking his pills. This was the first time a Verzuz battle had broken down into an actual physical confrontation. Even when Gucci Mane and Jeezy finally stood onstage together, snarling back and forth, they never actually got up in each other’s faces. But nobody got hurt in the Bone/Three 6 fracas, and I don’t think anyone was really in any danger of getting hurt. This was a genuinely unpredictable and chaotic moment, and it served to heighten everything that happened before and after, but it wasn’t dangerous. For these two groups, chaos is simply part of the legacy, so any true representation of their histories would have to have a little chaos, too.

For these two groups, it’s a minor miracle that they made it to that Verzuz stage in the first place. The odds were stacked against both of them. Every member of both crews has been through serious hardship. Members of both groups have been in and out of jail. Two Three 6 members, Lord Infamous and Koopsta Knicca, are no longer with us. Bizzy Bone’s whole life history is so riddled with trauma that any straight-faced recounting would come off as Dickensian exaggeration. And yet both groups have endured.

In their day, Bone became bona fide pop stars; for a stretch in the mid-’90s, they may have been the most popular rap group on earth. That never happened with Three 6, but Three 6’s sound has proven massively influential throughout the decades; I hear echoes of their sound in virtually every big rap album that comes out today. Juicy J, who once came off as DJ Paul’s knucklehead sidekick, is still an in-demand mainstream rap hedonist at 46, and kids are still discovering Juicy’s older brother Project Pat and his twisty, baffling flow via “Knife Talk.”

Once upon a time, Bone and Three 6 had legit beef. Operating independently, the two groups had developed vaguely similar sounds — flickering street-rap with horror-movie sonics and hallucinatory fast-rap cadences. When Bone emerged as Eazy-E proteges, the members of Three 6 thought Bone were biting them. Bone had been operating on the Cleveland underground for a few years, but this was pre-internet, and Three 6 didn’t know anything about that. At the same time, Bone didn’t know about what Three 6 were doing on the Memphis underground. These two cities, 700 miles apart, may as well have been separate universes. The feud probably reached its peak in 1995, when Three 6 released “Live By Yo Rep.” (Lord Infamous: “See we can’t tolerate no n***a that is Layzie/ Broke out the blender, and I made some Krayzie gravy.”)

The feud didn’t last long. Some label executive set up a conference call between the two groups, and they patched things up. By 1999, Krayzie Bone was guesting on Project Pat’s “Up There.” Pretty soon after that, Three 6 leaders DJ Paul and Juicy J were mostly feuding with various former Three 6 members, and the whole Bone issue was a distant memory. Still, for a spectacle like Verzuz, it helps to have history. It also helps to have some genuine animosity — like Bizzy Bone apparently being convinced that the members of Three 6 were Satanists.

After the battle, that quick little fight got all the attention. I get it. Two famous rap groups threw hands at each other onstage. That’s a story. For me, though, the real story was the way the entire show unfolded — all the interpersonal dynamics playing out in real time in front of the world. The Verzuz battle was originally supposed to go down last year, as an Instagram Live showdown between Krayzie Bone and DJ Paul. I’m so glad that didn’t happen. That would’ve been fun, but it would’ve robbed us of Crunchy Black’s dancing, of Layzie Bone attempting to play diplomat all night, of Gangsta Boo popping off, and of all the random guests we got onstage. Rather than two guys stunting on each other from the comfort of their own homes, we got a full panorama.

The arc of the evening was a miniature version of that old ’90s-era Bone/Three 6 feud: A bit of tension early on, a quick explosion, and a long and tentative mending of fences. After the broadcast cut to commercial and the various supporters were cleared from the stage, the show resumed without Bizzy Bone. Then, a little while later, a chastened Bizzy returned, apologized, and kept it moving. By the time it was over, everyone seemed to be truly enjoying each other. I loved seeing it. This past week, I keep rewatching bits of the battle over and over. I’ve been subjecting my children to “Tear Da Club Up ’97.” I’ve been carrying this thing with me.

This whole thing happened almost a week ago, so it’s yesterday’s news now, but I can’t let it go. With that in mind then, here are 18 great little moments from the Three 6 Mafia/Bone Thugs-N-Harmony Verzuz battle.

1. “Who Run It” (7:56)

I was not a neutral party in this thing. Three 6 Mafia are my favorite rap group of all time. (I’m not going to tell you that they’re better than OutKast or Run-DMC or whoever. I’m just going to tell you that they’re the ones that I love the most.) So going into the night, I was a little worried that Three 6 would go out like Dipset. Bone have huge hits, and they can layer their voices in all sorts of weird and intricate little ways, ways that nobody has ever managed to imitate successfully. Three 6’s tracks are more direct, but I’ve seen DJ Paul drunk as shit onstage, and they could’ve been a mess. But Paul showed up in fighting form, and so did the rest of his group.

The battle opened with Verzuz fixture Fat Joe flipping a coin to figure out who would go last. Bone won, so Three 6 started the whole thing off with “Who Run It,” the fiery 2000 posse cut that became a meme a few years ago. That’s one of their biggest punches, but they used it first, and they set the tone. They were clearly having a blast, too. After that, I breathed easier.

2. Bizzy Bone on “No Surrender” (11:50)

Bizzy Bone has had many, many problems over the years, and his status within the group always seems to be in flux. But wow, that man is talented. The same demons that make life so difficult for Bizzy are also what’s driven him over the years, and on a track like “No Surrender,” you can practically see the soul jumping out of his body. Bizzy came out rapping angry, and when he can contain that anger, it’s a powerful force.

3. Layzie Bone jawing at Juicy J (23:26)

“I’ma fix your braids for you.” That’s just funny. (Bone Thugs always had amazing hair.)

4. DJ Paul and Gangsta Boo ballroom-dancing to “Buddah Lovaz”

Also funny! And I’m guessing that’s what set Bizzy Bone off.

5. Three 6 Mafia following that fight by performing “Ass & Titties” like nothing happened

If you’re doing a strip-club song right after a fight, then that fight was definitely not all that serious. (A conciliatory Layzie Bone: “That’s one thing we do got in common, though. We do like ass and titties.”)

6. Lil Flip! (42:22)

One of the things I love best about Verzuz battles is the way that they bring back rap names that have been largely forgotten to history. In that early-’00s moment when Houston rap seemed poised for a takeover moment, Lil Flip was presented as his city’s greatest star. For at least a little while, he probably was. I have no idea what Flip has been doing for the past 17-ish years, but when he ran out to do his “Ridin Spinners” verse, people got just as cranked up as they were when Lil Wayne came out a little while later. (At least, people in my Twitter feed got cranked up. That LA crowd was dead. They should’ve done that battle anywhere else.)

Flip and Wayne have not been on equal footing since roughly 2003, but on Thursday night, the sheer surprise of seeing Flip was a transcendent moment. Flip stuck around, too. A little later, Chamillionaire came out to do “Ridin'” with Layzie Bone, and seeing Flip and Koopa onstage together was a great little bonus.

7. The Gangsta Boo solo showcase (45:45)

Gangsta Boo was such an underrated presence in rap for so long, and I think people are just starting to realize how important she was. So getting to see her get a chance to do “Where Dem Dollas At,” her biggest solo hit, was beautiful. (I’m bringing up more Three 6 moments than Bone moments here, so this is a pretty good place to call it: Three 6 won. I’m biased, and Bone put up a fight, but this was a Hypnotize Minds night.)

8. The Bizzy Bone return (49:25)

When Bizzy got his head together and returned to the stage, he didn’t jump on the mic right away. He went straight to Juicy J, dapped him up for a long moment, and spoke directly to him. Then he apologized to his own group as well as to Three 6. Clearly, Bizzy had a vested interest in keeping the night going; there was both money and esteem riding on this night. But I also think he meant that.

9. Lil Wayne is so happy to see Gangsta Boo (1:04:20)

Look at that reaction. Look at that face. He’s beaming.

10. Lil Jon’s entrance (1:05:11)

Lil Jon came out right after Lil Wayne, which is not an enviable spot. He didn’t care. You couldn’t tell Lil Jon that he wasn’t the biggest star in the building that night. That slow onstage strut was some wrestler shit. Lil Jon tosses his cup up in the air, and then, just as the beat drops, he runs to DJ Paul and hugs him, and then they both start jumping. I love that. DJ Paul pioneered the sound that made Lil Jon ultra-famous, and there must be some kind of crunk brotherhood at work. On Thursday, they were on opposite sides, but they were on the same side, too. The Lil Jon/Crunchy Black hug was a great little moment, too.

11. La Chat! (1:10:43)

Project Pat would’ve been enough. But on that second “Chickenhead” verse, when La Chat ran out on that stage, she owned it. Pat is a whole lot more famous than La Chat these days, but you couldn’t tell just from watching it. La Chat, Crunchy Black, and Duke Deuce also deserve some kind of credit for being the only people actually dancing onstage all night, too. (Jumping around doesn’t count.)

12. Shatasha Williams! (1:12:40)

See, this is what I’m talking about. “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” came out 27 years ago, and I have no idea what Shatasha Williams has been doing since, but that hook is still a thing of beauty. Someone should’ve handed her a working microphone, but that’s part of the deal with Verzuz battles, and with rap shows in general. I’m just happy that she was there.

13. The Pac verse (1:23:38)

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony are on an extremely short lists of artists who recorded with both Pac and Biggie when the two of them were alive, and they made sure to use that to their advantage. Getting to use a Pac verse in Los Angeles, even in front of that crowd, is practically a cheat code.

14. Layzie Bone jawing at Wiz Khalifa (1:33:20)

Juicy J has been part of Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang stable for a decade, and Wiz and Juice have a collaborative album coming out next year, so of course Wiz had to come out on the Three 6 side. (“Errday,” the song that Wiz performed with Juicy, is a mixtape deep cut, but it’s a good one.) Still, Wiz loves Bone, and he’s always repped for them. After Wiz came out with Three 6, Layzie reminded him of that: “Ay, you know you got a tattoo of us on you?”

15. MJG’s “Stay Fly” verse (1:40:11)

Getting to see all six rappers from “Stay Fly” reassembling on the stage was fun, though Young Buck made sure to wear out his welcome before the night was over. (How did he have one of the five working microphones the whole time?) I love every part of that song, but MJG killed everyone else on it. That was true in 2005, and it was true on Thursday, too. Ball and G should really get their own Verzuz battle, but I don’t know who they’d take on. The obvious thing would be 8Ball & MJG vs. UGK, and you can’t do that without Pimp C.

16. The total disbelief surrounding Terrence Howard’s appearance (1:45:11)

It’s cool that Terrence Howard showed up to rap “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp,” the song that won Three 6 their Oscar, and it’s even cooler that he really performed it. But the best part was just seeing people react. The Los Angeles audience was weak all night, but the crowd onstage, which grew bigger as the show went on, was great, and they truly lost it for Lucius Lyon. My favorite thing was Lil Jon just pointing at Howard and grinning huge.

17. Juicy J says, “Christmas time is coming up, man!” (1:57:07)

… and then Three 6 go straight into “Slob On My Nob,” a true holiday classic.

18. The “Slob On My Nob”/”Tha Crossroads” duality

The night ended the only way it could’ve ended. It transitioned straight from what might be the nastiest blowjob song ever recorded into an elegiac goodbye to loved ones that was a #1 hit for eight weeks. Right in between, Bizzy Bone and Gangsta Boo, who’d been screaming on each other earlier in the night, wrapped each other up in a big bear hug, as Wish Bone wondered if the light guy was taking a sandwich break. That, right there, feels like the complete human experience, playing out on our laptop screens one night in December.

FURIOUS FIVE

1. Mach-Hommy – “Traditional”
“Humans and tapes, they all flippable. Olivia Newton-John didn’t make more money off of physical.” That beat makes me feel like I’m floating in an ocean of warm apple cider.

2. 30 Deep Grimeyy & NWM Cee Murdaa – “I’m On Fire”
I don’t know how it’s OK to call yourself “NWM Cee Murdaa” when there’s already a C-Murder out there, but this guy raps hard enough to earn it.

3. Polo G – “Don’t Play” (Feat. Lil Baby)
What is this beat, and why does it sound like a xylophone in space? It’s beautiful.

4. J.U.S – “Waves” (Feat. Danny Brown)
Danny Brown jumped in the time machine for this. From the second he shows up, you know he’s about to get all deranged, and that’s exactly what happens.

5. BeatKing – “SDAB” (Feat. 2 Chainz & Juicy J)
I don’t know why, but the image of BeatKing as a roach is both truly disturbing and truly funny.

IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO

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