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One of the most interesting rap releases of the year, "E. 1999 Eternal," the first full album by the Cleveland quartet Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, is a free-flowing fusion of sweet soul singing and hard gangsta rapping.

Released last week, the album is important for another reason. Its executive producer was Eazy-E (Eric Wright), the rapper who died of AIDS in March. It is the first release on his record label, Ruthless, since his death.Layzie Bones, a member of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, said by telephone from his home in Cleveland that Eazy-E was the first of the band's friends to die of AIDS.

"That was the first time that we ever ran across anything like that," Layzie Bones said. "The way he died just set us straight on a lot of things and got our gang tighter together. It makes you think about whether some things are really worth it, and what we've really got in the world."

Though Eazy-E doesn't appear in the album's lyrics, the band has recorded a single, "In Memory of E," which will be on the B-side of a forthcoming single.

Eazy-E was best known as a member of N.W.A, the influential gangsta-rap band from which the top-selling rappers Ice Cube and Dr. Dre also emerged. "N.W.A affected everybody my age that I knew," Layzie Bones said. "They came on hard, they put on attitude and they made everybody feel what the ghetto was like."

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony left Cleveland for Los Angeles in 1993 with the sole goal of finding a recording contract, preferably with Eazy-E. "We were calling his office every day trying to get plugged in," Layzie Bones said. "Basically we moved there just to get closer to him."

Though the band had to travel back to Cleveland to finally corral Eazy-E backstage at a concert, its persistence paid off. The group's first EP, "Creepin' On Ah Come," sold some 4 million copies.

Layzie Bones predicts even better things for the new album. "It's going to do eight million, I'm thinking," he said, speaking before the album had even been released. "It's something different that's going to turn around everybody."

Layzie Bones wasn't just boasting. "E. 1999 Eternal" entered the Billboard charts last week at No. 1.