Still, despite the abundance of glowering females and towel-waving roughnecks crowding the stage, someone was missing. It was Bizzy Bone, Bone Thugs' troubled MC, whose puffy coif makes him Cleveland's ultimate mushroomhead. As a bare-chested Layzie Bone bellowed, "Muthafuckas, we back!" to a screaming throng of sweaty fans, it was clear that by "we" he meant three-fifths of what once was one of rap's top draws.
With Wish Bone serving 11 years for threatening an associate with an AK-47, Bone was already down one member. Then the group's long-embattled relationship with Bizzy finally came to a head at the New York kickoff of the Grey Goose Vodka Tour a few weeks ago. Bizzy showed up for the gig shitfaced, then proceeded to stumble through the band's set with a flask in one hand, a mic in the other. Eventually, he stumbled offstage before Bone could even finish the show. Shortly thereafter, Bone gave Bizzy his walking papers.
"Basically, man, it was so many missed opportunities that we have had, and a lot of them had to do with Bizzy -- but not all of them, because we all have our own faults," says Layzie. "It came down to a breaking point when we had a show put on by Power 106 [an L.A. radio station]. Bizzy guaranteed that he would be there, they promoted it as a Bone Thugs-N-Harmony reunion, and he didn't show. That hurt us. We ended up moving from headliner all the way down to the second act, because they were afraid that people would riot because it wasn't a reunion show. That was the straw that broke the camel's back."
Of course, this wasn't the band's first problem with Bizzy. In 1996, Bone's performance at the MTV Music Awards was threatened by cops looking to bust Bizzy on assault charges. Four years later, he refused to promote the band's third full-length, BNTHResurrection, as a means of protesting what he deemed to be insufficient royalties from Bone's label, Ruthless Records. Despite debuting atop the Billboard charts and eventually going platinum, the disc wound up selling significantly less than its predecessors.
In January, the group reconvened in Miami and reportedly met for 15 hours to iron out their differences. Though things seemed to be headed in the right direction after that, Bizzy, who couldn't be tracked down for this article, was soon making waves with his erratic behavior.
In a May episode of America's Most Wanted, the 25-year-old rapper revealed that he had been kidnapped by the father of one of his sisters in the early '80s. He was taken to a reservation in Oklahoma, told that his mother was dead, and forced to lie about his identity. A picture of Bizzy was aired at the end of the TV movie Adam in 1983, which eventually led to his return. Still, the damage was done. "There was a lot of mental abuse," Bizzy told MTV News. "We were getting chased by the FBI and the police. I remember hiding in vans and under clothes."
More than a decade later, when Bizzy was just 17, Bone Thugs signed a record deal with Eric "Eazy-E" Wright, and millions in sales soon followed. But coming of age in the spotlight has taken a toll on Bizzy, a man with more issues than National Geographic. His departure now couldn't have come at a worse time. With the group's oft-delayed new disc, Thug World Order, scheduled to drop October 29, Bone desperately needs to restore the momentum of years past. Ironically, the group's recent woes may have provided a temporary promotional boost.
"All the drama about them breaking up and stuff like that, I think that's going to be in their favor," says Jack Swails of Uptown Records. "Everybody is anticipating this, and it's like they have something to prove now."
"There's a big buzz on the street," says Matthew Whitfield, who works at Downtown Records and Tapes. "I've got people coming in already, looking for the CD."
Still, Bone knows its success with Thug World Order depends on its troubled rhymer. "It's not to say that Bizzy is all the way gone, because we love him like a brother," says Layzie. "We're trying to figure out what exactly is the problem and why he does the things that he does. If they can be worked out, they're going to be worked out."
And if not, this Bone goes to the dogs.