The Biz Never Sleeps

As you've surely heard by now, the Diabolical One, the Inhuman Orchestra, the Clown Price of Rap, Biz Markie passed away last month at the age of 57. Listen to Biz's peers reflect on their time with him and you can't help but get a sense of the joyfulness, orginality, genuineness and larger-than-life personality for which he was so well known. One of the greatest and most compelling performers in hip-hop's history, he didn't play a character — he was a character. His routines were the stuff of house party legend and world stage phenomena. His music was fun, funky, wild, loud, noisy, hilarious and heartfelt — it could be sweet or sinister or both simultaneously. Listening to Biz's raps in 2021, thinking about his playfully crude vocal interpolations of songs from just about every other genre under the sun, one can't help but see him as a kind of walking embodiment of hip-hop itself, as if his brain formed thoughts from experience the way DJs pulled beats from breaks. In this sense, "Make the Music with Your Mouth, Biz" was just as much a statement of purpose as it was a song about beat-boxing, rapping and singing, all of which he did masterfully in his own way. 

I say "walking embodiment" because my mind keeps returning to "Kung Fu" off Biz's third full-length album, the underrated I Need a Haircut (1991). In the song's third verse, he raps about journeying across Long Island to meet up with Midnight Express, a local crew that put him on as a youngster: "I was a walking son of a gun before the day I begun / I'ma tell you how it started from day one / Well me I lived in Patchogue, they lived in CI / I was ambitious and devoted til the day I die / I used to get off at Islip, take the S42 / Get off at Banana Street, go to the house of the crew / I would walk from CI to Bay Shore / Just to see if I really had the rhymes galore / I'd go to house parties here, go to house parties there / Walk to Wyandanch Day with my pants off my derriere / Like if I was David Carradine who played Kung Fu / Who would walk to China from Japan without his shoe / Humming beats, saying rhymes kept me going / From giving up or being crazy or just stop flowing / My teachers and parents said I should just stop / Just go to the Army, go to college, get a job with your pops / I can't take no more of this rendevous / And that's why I sing this song to you."

It may be one of the most Long Island rhymes ever committed to wax and not because he name drops no fewer than four local communities in his lyrics, but because he captures a kind of island-of-one/crew-as-lifeboat mentality that permeates every town, village and hamlet here. May that defiant spirit of self-determination be as much a part of Biz Markie's legacy as any of his funniest faces and biggest commercial successes. May he rest in peace.

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