songs that soundtracked the AIDS crisis: bone thugs-n-harmony’s “tha crossroads”

in the vast universe of hip-hop’s fifty-year history, certain songs stand out for their musical brilliance and place within pop culture and their profound impact on how we eulogize the lives of the loved ones we lost. among these iconic tracks include pete rock & CL smooth’s “they reminisce over you (t.r.o.y.),” geto boys “six feet deep,” puff daddy’s “i’ll be missing you,” coolio’s “gangsta’s paradise,” cuban link’s “flowers for the dead,” and bone thugs-n-harmony’s deeply moving 1996 chart-topper, “tha crossroads.”

emerging in the early 1990s, the trail-blazing cleveland, ohio group achieved multi-platinum status several times under the guidance of mentor and west coast gangsta rap pioneer eazy-e. the group’s distinctive style was an exquisite fusion of rapid-fire flows, gripping storytelling, and melodic doo-wop vocal harmonizing that set them apart from the prevailing sounds of their era. their 1995 magnum opus, “E. 1999 eternal,” cemented their standing in hip-hop, and solidified their legacy. 

“E. 1999 eternal” arrived in july 1995 to critical and commercial acclaim. while the lead single, “first of the month,” became the group’s first top 20 hit on billboard’s 100, it was the yet-to-be-released track, “crossroad,” an elegy for a friend lost to gun violence, that quickly generated buzz. when the song was released as the album’s third single in 1996, it had been reworked as a tribute to eazy-e and rechristened “tha crossroads.”

eric “eazy-e” wright co-founded ruthless records and the west coast hip-hop group NWA in 1987.  the group’s 1988 album “straight out of compton,” which included the still relevant “fuck the police,” propelled gangsta rap to the forefront of commercial viability and is widely regarded as one of the most influential albums in hip-hop history. eazy and ruthless records continued to impact hip-hop landscape with the signing and global success of bone thugs-n-harmony.

on march 20, 1995, four months before bone’s “E 1999 eternal” was released, eazy-e stunned the hip-hop world when he announced that he was dying from AIDS complications. in a statement issued through his lawyer, eazy courageously stated, “i’ve got thousands and thousands of young fans that have to learn what’s real when it comes to AIDS. like the others before me, i would like to turn my problem into something good that will reach out to all my homeboys and their kin, because i want to save their asses before it’s too late.”” eric “eazy-e” wright died six days later on March 26 at the age of 30.

released in april 1996, a year after eazy-e’s untimely death, “tha crossroads,” debuted at #2 on billboard’s hot 100 before topping the chart for an astonishing 8 weeks. the emotional and spiritual tribute to their friend wally, uncle charles, eazy-e, and other family members, resonated with listens who themselves had experienced loss due to AIDS and gun violence. “tha crossroads” was anchored by a music video that provided a powerful visual to song’s chorus, “see you at the crossroads, so you won’t be lonely,” and offered hope, reminded that those lost to AIDS and gun violence would find solace in the afterlife.

the legacy of “tha crossroads” highlights hip-hop’s extensive history of amplifying social issues, including HIV/AIDS. in october 1995, urbanAID 4 lifebeat hosted hip-hop’s first AIDS benefit concert at new york city’s madison square garden. the now legendary roster of performers included run DMC,  the notorious big, wu-tang clan, salt ‘n pepa, mary j. blige, brandy, and to name just a few. the concert also featured video testimonies from people living with HIV and a video message from bone thugs-n-harmony.

“see you at the crossroads, so you won’t lonely.”

“tha crossroads” is a heartbreaking hymn that envelopes you. it is a song about remembrance without making those lost too saintly to reach, touch, feel, and mourn. the song is about personal grief. it is about communal grief. it is testament that hip-hop has the power to inspire transformation and compassion. “tha crossroads” is a song that serves as a comfort for the grieving and dead – a reminder that a reunion will be at the crossroads. 

“’cause i know ima meet you at the crossroads.”


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