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Bizzy Bone, Phone Home

A Grammy-winning multiplatinum rapper melts down live on KPFT

Remember Bone Thugs-N-Harmony? Back in '95, they were one of the freshest things to come along in mainstream rap for years. Eazy-E's Cleveland-bred protégés offered a whiff of Jamaican dancehall flair, strong melodies and even more powerful and rare harmonies to a rap scene dominated at the time by West Coast G-Funk and Tupac and Biggie and legions of their less talented clones.

"1st of tha Month" was Bone's first Top 20 single, which they followed with their smash No. 1 Grammy-winning hit, "Tha Crossroads," and "Look into My Eyes," which rode the Batman & Robin soundtrack to No. 4. All told, the group sold around ten million albums, but those days are long past. And for one member -- Bizzy Bone -- they apparently might as well never have happened.

I happened to catch Bizzy's recent appearance on KPFT's Damage Controlprogram in person, and the rapper gave his fans every reason to worry. It was a strange night all around -- there was a major town-house fire a block south of the station and there were literally dozens of fire trucks lining the streets. Meanwhile, another fire raged in Bizzy's head. His trademark Afro had been shaved to the dome, and he was wearing a full-length brown and gold dashiki or caftan or something; the dude looked like a hash-addled Moroccan. I asked somebody who it was. "That's Bizzy Bone, man, from Bone Thugs," the guy said. And I'm Pope Benedict XVI, I thought.

But sure enough, it was him. And the poor guy seems to have bought a one-way ticket out to where there are no trains home. A little backstory is in order: When he was four years old, Bizzy and his sisters were kidnapped by the father of one of the girls, who brainwashed them into believing that their mother was dead. (Bizzy was rescued via an episode of America's Most Wanted.) Since then, Bizzy's brother has been murdered, and three of his closest hip-hop mentors -- Tupac, Biggie Smalls and Eazy-E -- have died. Given all that, it's little wonder that he has had some losing battles with the bottle from time to time.

But that didn't seem to be what was plaguing him at Damage Control. This was a psychotic episode, folks. He attempted to freestyle the answer to every one of host Matt Sonzala's standard interview questions, and, like Sally Field's Sybil, he had several distinct voices: a snarl, a croon, a growl, a weird lilt. Bizzy's rantings sent ripples of fear, bewilderment and ridicule through the couple dozen underground rappers milling about the studio.

Anyway, here are some selections from Sonzala's interview, the entirety of which can be downloaded from Sonzala's blog at houstonsoreal.blogspot.com. (Do it, it's worth it.)

Sonzala introduced Bizzy, who invoked God, and added, "I've been down here jus' relaxin' and maxin' and I ain't seen nobody bring me no money yet." Sonzala asked what he meant. "When we look at money we ain't lookin' at that paper," he said. "Render to Caesar what's Caesar's, render to Gawd what's Gaaawwddd's."

"Yeah?" Sonzala asked. "Yeahyeahyeah mos' definitely it's a spiritual thing it's a spiritual movement mos' of my people down at the mall they know what's goin' on," Bizzy replied. "Most of my people there at the Scottish Inn they know what's goin' on. Most of my people over there at the hotel over there with my family you already know what's goin' on. You know how we rollin' -- ain't no time to be playin'! 'At's whassup! One true Gawd and representative! Please believe! Inthenameofourlordandsaviorjesuschrist -- howyoudoooiiinnn'?"

Sonzala then asked what brought Bizzy to these parts. "Well you know been movin' ain't got nowhere to live really," Bizzy replied. "So we lookin' for somewhere to live, we lookin' for somethin' to eat, sleepin' at the bus station everybody was laughin' at me I had calluses up under my feet everybody was laughin' at me but I'm up in this muthafucka."

General consternation followed Bizzy's dropping of an MF-bomb on the radio. "The station manager's here. That's great," said Sonzala. "My bad. Tell the station manager that I luu-uuv him," Bizzy liltingly advised.

Sonzala asked Bizzy if he was homeless or "a nomad." "That's a good word," Bizzy said. " 'No-mad.' I ain't mad, we jus' hangin'…We livin' and we praisin' Gawd every step of the way and some people may say that that gospel thing ain't really what they wanna see…but trust me, we still believe and we talkin' about the Creator you ain't talkin' about that you talkin' about some realness you understand what I mean. And realness? Ooooh it's so real, oh my goodness praise Gawwdd! Praise Gawwwddd. Praise Gaawwwwwdddd!"

Sonzala mentioned that Bizzy always had had a gospel vibe, but Bizzy turned the talk back to money. "Who owes you the money?" Sonzala asked. Bizzy would only say that it was someone on "the evil level."

"You know the evil level, it's lavish, they Bentley drivers, you understand?" he explained. "If you on that level and you on this world and the slobber goin' down your cheeks and the nectar goin' down your neck, it's got a lot to do with that bread but when you roll it around you feedin' your people down there on the streets. Understand what I'm sayin' -- where the nectar at. Now that's what I'm talkin' about holla baaaaackkk!"

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