The Clown Prince of Rap (or that’s at least how he’s been labeled by the media) hovered his corpulent figure and idiomatic sense of humor above the South Beach surf and onto the glittering stage at Billboard Live this weekend to spin on the one and twos. We didn’t see him perform his signature goofy and amusing breed of hip hop, though, as he only appeared to twist turntables for a meager crowd of about 70 fans anticipating the onset of the main acts (we were disappointed to not see him making faces when performing “Just a Friend” or putting his words into action with “Pickin’ Boogers”).
Currently on tour with Jaheim and Truth Hurts, Biz Markie is working on his new album, Weekend Warrior, after keeping a rather low profile since the release of 1998’s On the Turntable on which he had guest MCs performing over his beats. The last time he doused us with his husky rhyming style on a solo LP was on 1993’s All Samples Cleared, which he put out to counter the sampling controversy that arose with his 1991 album, I Need a Haircut, where he used an unauthorized sample from Gilbert O’Sullivan’s hit “Alone Again.” When the latter sued Biz and won, the rules of using samples in rap songs radically changed, forcing hip hop artists to buy rights to samples before being able to include them in their songs.
After a long wait in SoBe’s Royal Palm Hotel, we finally got in touch with Biz to put together this interview.
Q: Biz, it seems like you’ve been in the musical shades lately. What have you been up to?
Biz: I’ve been just finishing my new album and DJing around the country. I’m not really in the shades actually. Whenever there was a big event, like a Superbowl or whatever, I was there, spinning.
Q: Tell us about the new album.
Biz: It’s coming out next spring. I can say that it’s gonna have a mixture of “now,” the more mature Biz, and of what I did on my first two albums when I was much younger. It’s still got that funk though and there’s a track called “Chinese Food” so you know what to expect.
Q: When did you start beatboxing and were you always the class clown?
Biz: I’ve been beatboxing since junior high. Everyone thought I was retarded when I was doing it back then, but yeah, I was always the class clown. I was even the class clown in all the other schools too!
Q: What made you want to get into hip hop and why do you have such a humorous approach to the form with songs like “Vapors” and “Pickin’ Boogers”?
Biz: The reason I rap the way I do is because that’s the way it comes to me naturally. In ’78, I heard a song by the EL Brothers and I had never heard anything like that before. It sounded so pure and made me wanna get into hip hop. From then on, I was hooked, I was a [rap] junkie.
Q: How do you think the O’Sullivan lawsuit affected your career?
Biz: It didn’t affect my career. It just brought sampling to the forefront. I was one of the first to get sued for sampling without paying and it made people start paying to use samples from copyrighted songs.
Q: How do you go about choosing samples when making a song? Do you have any samples you particularly like?
Biz: It comes to me in mysterious ways. I usually play a sample in the mixer and, if I like it, I’ll add a kick and a snare. I like slow samples best, but I don’t shout out samples. There’s a code of ethics involved.
Q: You’ve been making music since the mid-eighties. Why do you think hip hop has evolved from the early Marley Marl days of spitting simple rhymes and MCs battling just for the fun of it, to its current beefing and show-offing status?
Biz: It’s just that rappers got in touch with the business side of the game, they developed their business sense. They made hip hop more exciting and there’s always been beefing anyway, just like with Boogie Down Productions vs. The Juice Crew back in the day. I think 2Pac and Biggie should have just battled it out on the mic and then shook hands afterwards.
Q: What contemporary hip hop artists do you give most respect to these days?
Biz: I give respect to all artists, whether they’re Jay-Z, heads from Cash Money or Talib Kweli, because they’re all keeping hip hop alive. They make sure that it’s not just a fad.
Q: Tell us something strange about yourself that we don’t already know.
Biz: Well…I have the best memory you have ever seen. I don’t forget anything. I know so many damn records, it’s unbelievable!
Q: Give us a typical Biz Markie day when he’s not working.
Biz: I’m out looking for records or videotapes or just relaxing, making my game better. I gotta stay up in this DJ game ’cause someone might try to dethrone me at any time.
Q: Are you happy being labeled the Clown Prince of Rap or do you see yourself getting more serious one day?
Biz: I’m satisfied with it. I don’t mean to be funny on records, it just comes out that way. “Vapors” is a serious song, but people saw me doing jokes on the video, so they didn’t think it was serious. “Nobody Beats the Biz” is also a serious song.
Q: What have you been doing down here in Miami? Any heavy partying?
Biz: I come here a lot actually. I don’t really party or anything though. I usually go DJ, then go back home to my own. I wanna keep my riches and my money, and I don’t wanna get into any trouble (laughs).
Omar Sommereyns can be reached at SOASIS@aol.com