At twenty‑two, BIZZY BONE has five kids, nearly eleven million records sold and trouble in mind
December 10, 1998
By: Mark Binelli
PHOTOGRAPHS Mary Ellen Mark, STYLE Patti O'Brien
Wool pinstriped suit, $2,600, and wool shirt, $375, both by Giorgio Armani; watch by Rolex.
Three‑piece wool suit, $2,990, cotton shirt, $500, and silk tie, $130, all by Versace; alligator shoes, $600, by Mauri.
Cashmere coat with opossum collar, $3,670, wool double‑breasted suit, $1,840, cotton shirt, $220, and silk tie, $115, all by Gucci; alligator shoes, $650, by Mauri.
Even by bowling‑alley standards, Thompson's Capri Lanes is not especially fashionable. A missing L in the BOWL sign out front has been replaced with an upside‑down 7, and the skyline of this sleepy Columbus, Ohio, neighborhood is dominated by unsightly smokestacks from a nearby Budweiser plant. Inside, the place looks like it hasn't changed since the 1950s.
That is, until rapper Bizzy Bone makes the scene, a seven‑man entourage in tow. Tonight's crew includes a stand‑up comic; a producer; guys from his record label, 7th Sign; a massive bodyguard from Compton, California, named Larry Mark; and a tag along with a notebook. The heads of the all‑white, predominantly middle‑aged clientele swivel. "So," Bizzy asks his boys in the same high‑pitched drawl as his speed‑trial rhymes, "we gonna go best of three?" Soon the twenty‑two-year‑old has shed his Fubu boots for a shabby pair of bowling shoes, his diamond‑encrusted Rolex gleaming as he tightens the laces.
No one in the group is a particularly skilled bowler, but when it comes to picking up spares and shouting obnoxious comments, Bizzy's team dominates, Bizzy himself consistently breaking 100. After nailing anything better than a seven‑ten split, he takes to raising his arms and loudly demanding, "Touch me! I need some love!"
In the image‑obsessed world of hip‑hop, you've gotta admire a superstar who bowls in the presence of a reporter, who could live anywhere in the world but chooses his glamour‑starved hometown of Columbus, which he affectionately calls "the C‑O," and who is more intent on kicking back with his buds than feeding on his own myth.
Bizzy's youthful rise to stardom makes his rootedness all the more surprising. He was fourteen when he moved to Cleveland and hooked up with the other members of Bone Thugs‑N‑Harmony. At seventeen, Bizzy and his strapped confreres bought one‑way bus tickets to Los Angeles and landed a deal with Eazy‑E's Ruthless Records after auditioning over the phone. Since then the group has released three multi‑platinum albums, picked up a Grammy and tied the Beatles' record for fastest‑rising Number One single with its 1996 smash "Tha Crossroads."
Now Bizzy ‑ born Bryon McKane and a.k.a.'d B.B. Gambini in honor of his Italian mother ‑ has extended the Bone brand with his solo debut, Heaven'z Movie. Like his group's best work, the album is master‑crafted pop that's also subversively weird. Dark offerings like "Demons Surround Me" and "Thugz Cry" blend his mike skills with soulful vocals and a consistently haunted tone.
"Me and my sisters used to sing together ‑ slow stuff," Bizzy recalled earlier that evening. We're cruising the C‑O in his Lexus SUV. It's dusk, and Big Larry is behind the wheel. Bizzy rides shotgun, peering back through slitlike sunglasses and frizzed‑out, shoulder‑length hair. "I had the high‑pitched voice, so I sang the woman's part. Tear that motherfucker to pieces. Yeah, I would."
We hit a drive‑through liquor store for apple juice and Black and Mild cigarillos. The clerk recognizes Bizzy and comps him the goods for the promise of a couple of autographed CDs. Then Bizzy, defying his silent, mystery‑man rep, launches into the first of several rambling monologues.
There's the one about being stood up by Mya at his record-release party, where he was hoping for a romantic interlude. "I didn't even send out many invitations, neither, 'cause I just knew it was gonna happen!" he mock‑rants. "She blew my motherfucking bubble. Had me waitin' at the altar in my brand‑new tux."
Then there's the one about how, prior to the Ruthless deal, the members of Bone walked to Tone Loc's house for an audition. "We was flicked‑up looking," recalls Bizzy. "He didn't get back at us. Supposedly, Tone Loc got on the radio and said, 'They came to my, house bum‑y.' He trippin' off the truth! Why would he act like somebody cursed his mama?"
Many rappers exaggerate troubled pasts to gain street cred, but Bizzy clams up when asked about his years as a foster child, his crack‑addicted father or the torment that his light skin attracted. Details leak out but are quickly squashed with a mordant laugh or an awkward subject change. His song "Nobody Can Stop Me" offers more clues, with lines like "What if I said I was molested?" "I guess there's bullshit in everybody's life, huh?" he says, nervously unscrewing the plastic tip of a smoke. " I dwell on the past every now and then. I just ramble on to my big homey Larry 'Luau'. He just sit and listen." Asked what his friends and family say about the song, he replies, "Nothin'.
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“Cause it's so fuckin' real. What can you say about something like that? 'I feel where you're comin' from'?"
Bizzy's present tense is no more carefree. Last year, drinking alone in an L.A. hotel room, he suffered a panic attack and thought he was dying: "I was like, 'Elizabeth, I think I'm coming!' " Doctors told him he was an alcoholic; he quit cold turkey to record the album but has since "slipped back into a couple of sips." He has also returned to Columbus to raise his five children. The oldest is eight, the youngest ten months; their mother no longer lives with them. Bizzy makes sure the kids get to school, meets with their teachers and sits through "that damn Toy Story." "They got me fucked‑up out here, man," he moans. "Women can't accept them. Hell, what the fuck can I do? I feel like the babies' mama." Then, as if trying to convince himself, he continues: "I'm cool, though. I'm chillin' like Bob Dylan, baby. Like Bob Dylan and his son."
The next evening we meet for dinner at the Long Horn Steakhouse, a Texas‑themed chain that's all wood paneling and mounted dead things. Bizzy sports a corduroy Pelle Pelle outfit, his hair pulled back in a ponytail. "Y'all got your ass whipped in bowling last night!" he crows. Then he explains that he plans to buy a pair of gator-skin bowling shoes and start a team, and he bobs his head along to the Judds song playing on the loudspeaker, warning,"This shit'll grow on you."
But Bizzy's prime obsession remains his own music. He generally spends his days with his kids and hits the studio at night, often until three or four in the morning. Like one of his idols, Prince ‑ whose "When Doves Cry" supplies the hook for "Thugz Cry" -Bizzy says he has stockpiled more than 300 songs.
"Me, I'm just into making music that people hopefully will listen to later on in life," he says. "In 2025, a tape of mine pop up somewhere and they find one of the songs on there that's tight and somebody makes a remix of it." Bizzy smiles at the thought of this sort of immortality, takes a forkful of salad and then adds, "Hopefully, my publishing company won't be trippin'."
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