Pickin’ boogers in heaven
The “Clown Prince of Hip Hop” is gone. Biz Markie has died at age 57, suffering from an undisclosed disease, probably related to his long time problems with diabetes. Another hero from the golden era of Rap is gone, another one dying at an age that seems more than just inappropriate.
Back in the late 80s and early 90s I was really into Hip Hop. I was lucky to be able to spend a lot of time in New York, picking up tons of vinyl at the wonderful St. Marks Sounds, and most of it would be Hip Hop. My sister lived on Albee Square – the one that is referenced on this album – and she was always recording Marley Marl’s rap shows on WBLS for me. I think I still have half a dozen audio cassettes, and I think I should give them a listen one fine day.
Hip Hop all but exploded with creativity in those days, and I loved it. I bought just about everything that came out. Boogie Down Productions, Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, Audio Two, True Mathematics, more or less the whole Def Jam catalogue, and Biz Markie of course. I wasn’t from New York, so I really didn’t care whether it was from this side of the bridge or that one, from Brooklyn or Queens. I bought it all.
Biz was funny, and luckily he was funny in a good and creative way. He clearly had more to offer than – for example – the Fat Boys who were sort of a novelty act, something that was based on marketing more than it was founded on exceptional talent.
Just read what the Beastie Boys wrote about the passing of Marcel Theo Hall, saying that Biz was “a completely unique musician” and that it is important to remember that he was “not just a rapper or a record maker, but a true entertainer.”
That’s actually a crucial thing to say as there was a little bit of controversy around Biz Markie’s albums based on the fact that a large part of his lyrics came from Big Daddy Kane and production credits mostly went to Marley Marl. A lot of people said that it’s not okay for a rapper to not write his own rhymes. A strange thing to bring up when the music world is full of singers who hardly ever sing something they wrote themselves.
Yes, Biz was an entertainer. His ability to work a crowd to the point when the whole audience was singing along is legendary. Again quoting the Beasties: “Once he was doing a DJ set opening up for us – just him, records, a mic and the audience singing along – and the power suddenly cut out. He didn’t miss a beat, human beatboxing and singing a capella without amplification. He couldn’t be stopped.”
His debut “Goin’ Off” has just about everything that Hip Hop in ’88 would have to offer – simple, raw and effective beats, samples picked as expertly as Markie’s boogers, some expert human beatboxing and tons of classic Hip Hop storytelling. Yes, there are some songs here that were fillers back in the days and seem very easy to skip today – “Albee Square Mall” for example, with a skimpy little chorus that will make you cringe.
But otherwise this album has a lot to offer, and Biz delivers Kane’s rhymes as if they were his own, with his typical flow that would be fluid and with great timing, a lot of swing and plenty of storytelling abilities. And as much as he was the so-called “clown prince of Hip Hop” – it wasn’t all about pickin’ boogers or other juvenile activities. He gets a little bit deeper on “Vapors”, a mildly cynical bit about the price of fame, he shows off his human beatboxing talents on his hit single “Make The Music With Your Mouth Biz” and does what lots of other acts did in those days – create some kind of dance, in this case “The Biz Dance”.
Sampling started to create problems for Hip Hop artists back then. Biz didn’t get into too much trouble for using sequences of the Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle” for his hit single “Nobody Beats The Biz” without mentioning this on the album (even though the song wouldn’t be half as memorable if he hadn’t used that sample). But trouble did come big time when Biz sampled the 70’s schmaltz artist Gilbert O’Sullivan for “Alone Again”. But that’s a story for another day.
In the years that followed there was some doubt whether Marley Marl really was the production mastermind behind the success of Biz Markie’s albums – Big Daddy Kane for example claimed to have had a significant role in production. Not really surprising as Marley Marl’s name is all over the credit list for production, mixing and publishing, not necessarily representing the whole story in a process that will have been much more collaborative.
What remains is an album that may not be as game changing as Eric B. and Rakim’s “Paid In Full” (let alone Public Enemy’s “Yo! Bum Rush The Show” or Boogie Down Production’s “By All Means Necessary”) – but the Biz clearly has his place right at the heart of the golden age of Hip Hop.
Biz is pickin’ boogers in heaven now. And as much as God my find that questionable – he’ll probably chuckle anyway.
Release for review:
BIZ MARKIE – GOIN’ OFF – COLD CHILLIN’ – 9 25675-1
Buy the album on Discogs: Click