Biz didn’t take himself too seriously, yet he was respected because he made multiple hit records
In 1986 and 87, when Biz Markie was first releasing records, hip-hop was deadly serious. The leaders of the culture were Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Rakim, Kool Moe Dee, KRS-One, MC Shan, Big Daddy Kane, Chuck D — guys who were as serious as a heart attack. They got on the mic to show you how tough or how smart or how powerful they were.
Their self-seriousness stemmed in part from how hip-hop was not being taken seriously by the mainstream — our culture was being looked down on and dismissed and denigrated by so many — and in part by how incredibly serious it was to the culture. MCs stood up and represented for us how important this form was.
Biz Markie in recording studio during #TBT Night Presented By BuzzFeed at Mastercard House on January 25, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Mastercard)
No one was making tons of money, it just seemed important to rhyme and scratch and beatbox, to extend this culture more and more. This was when hip-hop wasn’t something you did, it was something you were, and almost everyone in it wasn’t just rapping. They could also do graffiti or DJ or breakdance because they loved the entire culture. But hip-hop also needed a release valve. It was still a rising subculture then, not yet the dominant part of national and global culture it would become.
To become a truly complete culture, it needed a lighter side to go along with the seriousness. That’s where Biz Markie came in — he was the class clown. He made comedic records and said funny things. He didn’t take himself too seriously and he wasn’t trying to prove he was the best MC. Yet, he was widely respected because he made multiple hit records.
Biz proved you didn’t need to be a great MC to have a career. You could make fun, relatable records and get played at every party. Biz is one of the forefathers of MCs who don’t take themselves too seriously — from De La and Tribe to Kanye and Drake. As a salute to the unforgettable legend, theGrio’s Touré counts down the top 5 Biz Markie records.
5. “Pickin Boogers”
In this hysterical, juvenile, purposely gross song, Biz ain’t afraid to be ridiculous. Because it’s the first thing on his debut album Goin Off, you know this is quintessential Biz. This is what he wants you to think of him. The song walks us through several stories about unabashedly picking your nose, including this bit about something that supposedly happened while he and Big Daddy Kane were riding on the New York subway to a show.
“The man sittin’ next to me was so profane/ He’d stick his finger up his nose, then do a drain/ I was just about, but all of a sudden, homeboy just pulled out/ A big green slimy nah I’m not neven gonna say it/ But it weighed a good pound if you tried to weigh it/ He sat there for a while with it in his hand/ So I tried to play cool and like ignore the man/ So I laid my head back to catch a quick a nap/ All of a sudden he plucked it dead in my lap/ Now Kane sat there laughing like it was all a joke/ But a brother like BizMarkie had almost choked/ So I dug up my nose and pulled out about five/ And plucked every last one of them dead in his eye,” rapped Biz.
This song is a classic old school joint with an amazing jazzy horn riff that gives us Biz just trying to have fun on the mic. But, he’s also reminding us that he’s the man in a way that’s not overly braggadocious. People who have “caught the vapors” are those who have realized that you’re dope. Biz concludes talking about himself asking a rap crew if he could join them — “Can I be down, champ?/ They said no and treated me like a wet food stamp.”
Funny thing is, Biz was then part of what was the biggest, baddest crew in hip-hop, the Juice Crew, which included Big Daddy Kane, Roxanne Shante, Marley Marl, Kool G Rap, and Mr. Magic. They were the heart of Queens and an amazingly perfect crew. Kane was the superstar and a great MC, Shante was an amazing MC and a woman with an incredible voice, Marley Marl was then the top producer in the game (they made a lot of records in his apartment in the projects), G Rap was more street and thuggish and also a great MC, and Mr. Magic had a radio show. In an era when MCs didn’t have a lot of money and access to media was sparing, the Juice Crew had great MCs, a producer who owned all the necessary technology, and a way to get the music to people’s ears. They reigned supreme over everyone until KRS-One came along, but that’s another story.
3. “Just A Friend”
“Just A Friend” is Biz’s biggest commercial song and one that will live on forever. His singing is purposely terrible, yet amazing at the same time, and the message is so timeless. There’s always someone we want but can’t have. This song is critical to hip-hop history in several ways. It showed us how to talk about nuanced feelings about dating in an interesting way, it showed us how bad singing can work beautifully, and it got Biz the commercial exposure that really fueled his post-MCing career (he was a fixture on the amazing kids TV show Yo! Gabba Gabba where my kids came to know him).
But that commercial exposure put him on another level of fame that led to his next album being mired in a lawsuit over copyright infringement for his use of sampling. Biz wasn’t doing anything different than everyone else in the culture, but as it grew and grew, someone finally had to deal with the complaints of the original composers. This is really a recognition from the mainstream that hip-hop was making money. Biz and his team lost that suit which changed hip-hop — after that you either had to get your samples cleared (which was time-consuming and expensive) or you had get a band to interpolate the original composition a la Dr. Dre. That suit forced hip-hop to approach samples differently both creatively and business-wise.
2. “Nobody Beats the Biz”
“Nobody Beats the Biz” is one of Biz’s best because it’s just a calling card of fly rhymes about him and he’s flowing right in the pocket so beautifully. Typical of early hip-hop, he took an NYC cultural staple and flipped it — back then there were lots of TV ads saying “Nobody beats the Wiz,” a dominant local technology hardware store. He made that his own. And what is he telling us he’s into? “Making people laugh and have a lot of enjoyment/ I’m the best person for this type of employment.”
Right before that he names all the places he’s performed — moving from legendary early hip-hop clubs “Latin Quarter, Rooftop, Union Square” to “Madison Square Garden” because at that time performing at MSG was still a huge deal that no MC could take for granted. But then he comes back with this: “Pardon the way that I be talking ’bout the places I be rocking/ I love to perform for the people that be clocking/ Not sayin that you’re on mine or on it like a hornet/ But you pay for a good performance, doggone it, you want it.”
He makes a point to say I’m not bragging — not sayin that you’re on mine — I’m here to work hard and give you what you deserve, a great show! Which makes sense because the song launches with him describing himself by sampling from James Brown, the hardest-working man in showbiz.
“Nobody Beats” also has one of the best lines in hip-hop history “Reagan is the Prez but I voted for Shirley Chisholm.” Chisholm was a badass Brooklyn Congresswoman who ran for president in 1972. She was not on the ballot in 1984, but Biz takes a truly hip-hop approach to it all saying screw the president, I voted for the sister, which is a way of saying screw the system and I’m voting for everybody Black.
1. “Make the Music With Your Mouth Biz”
“Make the Music With Your Mouth Biz” is the first song on Biz’s first EP from 1986 and it captures the core of his appeal. This is who he felt he was. Biz was one the great early beatboxers and in this song he flows, he takes us into a bit of memoir, he beatboxes, and he even rhymes about how to beatbox — “It may look and sound easy doin’ the human beatbox/ But it’s real difficult, even knocked me out my socks/ It’s a movement combination with your lip tongue and throat/ Use your teeth and your nose for a mysterious high note.”
He talks about how he started beatboxing and how far it’s taken him — “I like doin sounds, that’s hard to achieve/ Makin two or three sounds at one time you can’t believe/ When I walk down the street, people crowd around me/ And say, “HOW YOU MAKE ALL THEM SOUNDS at one time, Biz Markie?”/ I tell ’em it takes a lot of practice, and lip control/ I’ve been doin it since, fifteen years old/ And everywhere I do it, the people say I’m good/ I even get big respect in my own neighborhood.”
That was the core of hip-hop when Biz was rising —getting respect in your ‘hood. And he definitely did as someone who could rhyme, beatbox, DJ, and make everyone laugh. He had charisma by the truckload and he’s a critical figure in hip-hop history. His best records capture the way hip-hop sounded in the mid-80s, but they still retain the power to rock a party. Biz, you will be missed.
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