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 protgs 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 Control program 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!"
"The nectar. Yuh," Sonzala dryly replied. "Yeeaaahhhhhh," Bizzy hissed in his Satan voice. Sonzala asked about his group's glory days. "Yeah!" Bizzy shouted. "As-well. As-well. As-well. As-well. As-well. You look at blowin' up and you look at different things once you get to the physical realm of it and once you start lookin' at it like that that's why you stay in the streets that's why you stay in the 'hood that's why you stay around the people that ain't got nothin' 'cause they ain't got nothin' to say but LOOOOOOVVVVVVE." (A long, wheezing gasp followed.)
Bizzy again returned to the money he claims to be owed by cryptically mentioning "the situation." Sonzala asked him to elaborate. "Well the situation is man, it's a lot of things goin' on, you know we got a lot of things goin' on in the world -- God's whassup. What'd 'Pac say? 'I said you can run the red lights, but peep the street signs ' [Bizzy repeats 'Pac's line three times.] Please believe it."
Sonzala said it sounded like there was more than money on Bizzy's mind. "Well you know when you get to the 'I' and the 'me' and you talkin' about the paper as long as everybody representin' the one in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit Amen in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that's all that counts," Bizzy said. "I don't need your money. Keep your paper. I'll get the paper myself. I don't sit on my 'A.' I do what I do and anybody who wanna put something down get the little rappin': [Starts to rap] Comeinitwithadollywithamulletupinamuggettogetherprobablygonnakilliteachotherbelovehitthefellowtothe C'mon now; you already know we do these things." [Sonzala's mike picks up a guy laughing in the background.] "Holla back, calm yourself down. This is how we get down. Ya know whassup. Please believe dat."
Sonzala then asked again what Bizzy was doing in Houston. "We just movin' the way that we movin'," he said. "And whoever ain't movin' the way that we movin', hopefully they lives go good." Sonzala asked what his next stop will be. Wherever the Spirit guides him, said Bizzy. "Wherever we at is where we at. You might see me at the bus station you might see me at the shelter."
Why those places, Sonzala wanted to know. "That's where the real people at," Bizzy reasoned. "That's where you ain't gonna get judged; that's where people ain't gonna try to handle you to death and try to hurt you like that, 'cause they goin' through they own thing; they doing what they gotta do and they been through the things, and then you know what I call me my, and it's you, uh-huh!, yeah!, uh right! and that's what be goin' down, so they can't say nothin' but love and that's what it's supposed to be and if they say anything extra, you gotta show love because you understand the situation that they in; that's why them are the people that we need to be dealing with, hollaback."
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Sonzala turned the talk back to his current projects -- Bizzy rattled off a few titles that sound Christian -- stuff like The Gift and The Alpha and the Omega. Then Bizzy seemed to encourage his listeners not to buy them. "I don't expect to go out there and be on all that. It's all good that's the way I like it. Ain't no waltzin' in around here. I like it like that. I like it like that. I LIKE IT LIKE THAT!"
Sonzala asked if he truly meant to encourage people not to buy his records. Bizzy seemed to confirm it: "Well you already know that I come from the heart. If I stand up in here and try to manipulate and try to play The Gift, and try to ma-ssaaage it, I gotta come from the heart. If it don't come from the heart, I don't even wanna hear it. Man, bootleg it or somethin'. I ain't even tryin' to hear none o' dat, Matt. Keep it real or don't even come near me! Don't come around me! Don't buy nothin'! It don't even matter! That's how I get down! That's real! When I see you, you already know how I feel about you and I'm gonna see you regardless."
"See who?" Sonzala asked. "Ev-ry-body we're talk-ing to," replied Bizzy in his Satan voice. "You know 'cause we're not just talking to each other -- we're talking to a lot of people around the radiusssssss."
And the interview goes on, but you've probably gotten the picture by now.