By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
Old-school, for people in their twenties to forties, is all about memories of growing up, from block parties and your uncle's Soul Train moves to Miami Vice-sytle silk shirts and Rev Run's Adidas Superstars. But old-school doesn't fit into a genre or on a shelf at the record store — at its essence, it's really just about the good old days and having fun.
This Sunday, the Shelborne will go back to the future with its Nothing But an Old-School Pool Party, featuring an impressive lineup of DJs, including King Britt, Spinna, and Irie, with the event hosted by rappers Common and Skillz. Those names might not recall Wild Style or Doctor J's Afro, but also getting busy poolside will be two of the heaviest party rockers on the planet, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Biz Markie (a successful DJ as well as rapper). And between them, they've stocked up enough gold ropes and four-finger rings to set off an alarm at a Fort Knox border crossing. New Times spoke with both of these legends, who respectively are still on their A game today. Check-check it out.
New Times:What were some memories of the first jams you went to?
Jazzy Jeff: The block parties were everything. Somebody pulled out a stack of speakers and kind-of rocked — that was incredible. Big system, people outside, and everybody having a good time. Hopefully we can bring that back to Miami.
Biz Markie: One of my fondest memories was seeing Master Don and the Def Committee outside of their building on 147th live. Seeing Master Don DJing, it was incredible. Also the first time I saw Jazzy Jeff DJing and DJ Cash Money, those are like my highlights.
When was the first time you realized you wanted to get involved in music?
Biz: I knew it since '78, when I first heard an L Brothers tape with Grand Wizard Theodore, and I just fell in love from there.
Jeff: DJing was a big thing growing up. A lot of it was based in Philly — I don't think anybody has jumped in and said how important that was. There were a million DJs around, and I just became the guy in the neighborhood who would DJ all the parties. It was crazy because back then everyone was doing it for the love of it; nobody thought we were going to make a career out of it. We all talk about it today, how 20 years later guys have put their kids through college and have made a life basically off of DJing.
I came up before scratching, where you played records and you kind of blended records. When the whole scratching thing came along, it was incredible to be around from the beginning. It was really a bunch of DJs that were learning all at the same time. You would be showing each other stuff; then when you got to the party, you would do something to show the people. That was a great time.
Biz, you had a successful career first as an MC. How did you get into DJing?
Biz: I started DJing in the early Nineties and developed my own style. I was always different in anything I did, because I go against the grain.
Your record collection is legendary. How's the game now?
Biz: I'll always be collecting vinyl. Same with toys, shoes, videos.... [With the Internet] there's a lot more a cappellas coming up, more MP3s than what I could find on vinyl.
Any crazy stories or digging adventures?
Biz: When I was shopping for the drums for "Nobody Beats the Biz," I found [the record] at a store on Utica [Avenue, in Brooklyn] that [Grandmaster] Flash and [Afrika] Bambaataa told me the name of, 'cause I scratched the name out. I slept in front of the store just so nobody could get that record. For a certain record, I wanted to buy out all the records so nobody else would get 'em.
Jeff, you started your career doing shows with The Fresh Prince. Now you've got Skillz on the mike with you. How did that come about?
Jeff: Skillz has been with me for about four, five years now; there's not too much that I do and he's not there. We hooked up in Miami during WMC.... Me bringing an MC is just me trying to bring back that element that people got out of. A lot of people got selfish, kind of looking at it like, I'm going to do it myself. We want to change the game up; let's make it a party. We've got a narrator that's going to tell you what to do. We're just trying to bring the excitement back.
Have you done any work recently with Will?
Jeff: Whenever Will does something musically, we hook up and end up doing a show. There's a possibility we may do some stuff this summer. A lot of it is just the scheduling.
Biz, there have been rumors of you getting into the wrestling world and having your own Marvel character. What have you been up to outside of music?
Biz: For Marvel, the money wasn't right and it never panned out. I have a TV show on Nickelodeon called Yo Gabba Gabba!, teaching the little kids how to beatbox. It's crazy fun. I also did Wild 'N Out for like a year with Nick Cannon; that's my family.
What about you, Jeff, any return to the television screen?
Jeff: I never say never. The reason why I didn't jump into it is because I didn't satisfy my music thing. Every time Will does something, he used to tell me to come to the set, but I would never go because I knew he was going to try to get me to jump in. But every time I watch the movies, I'm like, Damn, I could have played that part!
Both of you are on the road DJing heavily these days. Are you recording at all away from the home studio?
Jeff: When I travel around the world and DJ, I take my portable setup around with me. I pretty much record in every city I'm in, just to see [where] the vibe of where I'm at puts me.... It's cool, because a lot of times I'm so far away from the production side, so this way it allows me to take it with me. I've got a MOTU traveler interface, keyboard, my laptop, and Logic Pro.
What projects are you two working on?
Biz: DJing a lot, doing this Juice Crew movie called Vapors. It's about how me and Marley Marl brought everyone together — will be coming out soon. We're reuniting in Atlanta, doing spot dates, and then a full tour promoting the movie....
I'm [also] thinking about doing a new album, mixing the old stuff with new stuff. I've got some old stuff I've never put out.
Jeff: After the last album [Return of the Magnificent], I've been pretty much around the world — the entire UK, Europe, Asia, Australia. This year I'm trying to focus on being in the U.S. a bit more, from Miami to Vegas, and just playing to people where I'm from. Me and Rhymefest are working on a Jeff and Fess album. A lot of times I don't like to say I'm working on a project as much as I just like to work. If a project turns into it out of work, then I'm good; I don't like to put constraints on myself. I would love to make six albums this year with six different people.
What can someone who has never heard you DJ live expect?
Jeff: I play everything. I came up in the era when DJs weren't categorized. A DJ played funk, soul, hip-hop, rock, whatever made the people move. I'll go from Mobb Deep to Justin Timberlake, some breakbeats — I'll cover the whole gamut — look for some really dope rock stuff, crazy electro. Anything you can fuse together to keep the people moving, I'm all for.
Biz: I'm not close-minded; the way I do a party, I play everything. Certain parties take certain things. It's like I'm Mikey from Life cereal.
Any memories of past visits to Miami?
Jeff: I had a residency at Shine before it closed down for a second. The owner of Shine is a good friend of mine, so that was really cool.
Biz: I always bumped into Luke Skyywalker; we were cool from '84 on. He used to DJ at a rollerskating rink. We would go looking for records, and he was just a good friend. I'm still cool with him.
Click the play button above to listen to Bernard Hacker's interview with Biz Markie.