For old-school rap fans, nobody beats the Biz.
Dubbed "the clown prince of hip-hop," Biz Markie was among the first wave of rappers to hit the mainstream when his 1989 monster single "Just a Friend" cracked the top 10. (Admit it, that off-key chorus is playing in your head right now.) Then in 1991 Biz inadvertently ushered in the end of hip-hop's sampling era when he lost a lawsuit over an authorized sample and saw his album pulled from shelves.
The incident impacted his career, and aside from regular guest spots on Beastie Boys records (and, oddly, the Rolling Stones' song "Anybody Seen My Baby?") Biz Markie left the limelight. But he's made a comeback in recent years, teaching kids to beatbox on greatest-kids-show-ever "Yo Gabba Gabba." He also DJs their live show tours and has appeared every where from "Spongebob" and "Adventure Time" to "Celebrity Fit Club" and Jimmy Fallon.
Coming to Toronto to close out the annual Unity Festival at Yonge-Dundas Square, Biz Markie spoke to us about the 25th anniversary of "Just a Friend," revealing what famed singer was supposed to do the hook, as well as discussing Drake, Flaming Lips and his new career as a children's entertainer.
Oh, and he totally ordered a burger in the middle of our phoner.
I gotta say I'm particularly excited about this interview because when I was in elementary school I had your first album "Going Off" on cassette. That was '88, and you were even doing stuff before that, so what was the hip-hop scene like back then?
The '80s were the greatest because they were so pure. You could experiment back then.
I remember I'd go with my friends to a record shop and we’d each buy a cassette in the rap section because there were only a handful. So I had you. I had Boogie Down Productions. I had MC Shan. Run-DMC, obviously. In hindsight now, all those artists are legends but at the time you guys were literally all that existed.
Yeah, but the thing with us back then was we were so hungry and wanted to get on that you heard the purest thing. I'm not saying that people don't want to get on now, but we were doing it for the art more than trying to get paid.
Right, but you also had one of the biggest breakthrough songs of that era with "Just A Friend." You were doing it for the art and then after '89 you actually did get paid, how did that change your life?
It didn't really change my life, I still was doing the same thing.
As a young kid I was obviously a big fan of your song "Picking Boogers." Not a lot of people were doing humorous hip-hop at the time. What made you decide to go into that direction?
I just wanted to be different, I didn't wanna sound like anybody else.
Are you a goofy guy in general?
Well I was always funny, I always was a comedian.
Same with Will Smith, I guess, when he came out after you.
Yeah, but it's like, me and Will came out kinda at the same time. It's just that Will did his way of rap and I did my way of rap. I was just experimenting with rhyme styles at the time, it's just that my subjects were different.
I read somewhere that you actually weren't going to sing the hook on "Just A Friend."
Yeah, I was tryin' to get my man (Juice Crew singer TJ) Swan but he said he was doing his album, and I tried to get Al B Sure and I tried to get Keith Sweat, I tried to get them to sing it but they were busy doing their stuff, so I said I'll do it.
Do you think it would've been as popular if Keith Sweat would've done it?
Can I get a
I kinda feel like it was you signing it that really kind of put it over the top and made it that big.
Hold on one sec. And a big fry. What were we sayin'?
Do you think it would've been as big of a hit if Keith Sweat sung it well as opposed to how you sung it?
I think it would've been still a hit.
I dunno, I feel like your singing was what made it memorable because it was different from everything else that was out there.
I think the video made it what it was.
Do you think Drake owns you some props for pioneering signing and rapping?
Naw, I'm just glad that Drake came outta Canada. Besides Michie Mee, he's the one who broke through Canada.
Well, there's Maestro.
Maestro was good too, but he wasn't no Drake or Michie Mee. He wasn't accepted in the U.S.
The other reason why I was excited to talk to you was because I have a four-year old who is obsessed with "Yo Gabba Gabba!" How did you get involved with the show?
They were fans of mine. Christian [Jacobs] and Scott [Schultz] wanted me to "Dancey Dance Time" but I was lazy and I didn't feel like doing "Dancey Dance" so I made up "Biz's Beat of the Day" on the spot. That was in the pilot, and the response was overwhelming and the rest is history.
What’s been your favourite thing about being a part of it? ?
Just that how happy the kids be.
Do you have kids yourself?
Naw, I don't have 'em. But I have nieces and nephews.
What's your favourite thing about working with kids?
Just the pure excitement and they are so unselfconscious. They're not doing stuff 'cause it’s cool, they're just doing something 'cause they like it. That's what I like about 'em.
I've always been so impressed with the type of artists that they bring on the show. When you’re bringing on acts like The Flaming Lips. Most people they wouldn't associate this weird Oklahoma band with a kid show, and yet it's such a perfect fit.
Yeah, Flaming Lips is my boys. They're my peoples. We did two tracks. Wayne [Coyne] is super-duper creative and he's just a fun guy.
What else do you have coming up?
I got a tour for the 25th anniversary of "Just A Friend."
What's your kind of opinion on the state of hip-hop today compared to when you started out?
There's not enough people being daring and different. There are a lot of followers in hip-hop.
Definitely. Part of the reason why I think Drake is so successful is because people they were so hungry for something new.
Yeah, but he's different. He's a lyrical genius and he’s got rhyme styles I like.
Yeah. Any other modern rappers that you are a big fan of?
A lot of them are good, you know. I mean, whoever make a hit, that's all. I'm a DJ now, so whoever makes the hit.