Biz Markie on His Biggest Hit: "Every Time I Listened to It, Chills Went Up My Spine"
As soon as those first seven words come on — "Oh, baby, you got what I need" — the 1989 hip-hop classic "Just a Friend" will stay lodged in your head for the rest of your waking hours. Written and recorded by the gravelly voiced Biz Markie during the golden age of hip-hop, the song has a timeless quality that sounds like drunken nights and unrequited love.
In anticipation of the rap legend's January 14 DJ set at Fort Lauderdale's Cash Only, New Times called the Biz as he got ready for a holiday weekend of watching a lot of football. He was still game to answer questions and even sing a few songs.
New Times: When did you first fall in love with music?
Biz Markie: My pops used to play saxophone and a whole bunch of instruments. First time I really fell in love with music was the Jackson 5.
What drew you to hip-hop?
The first I ever heard was the L Brothers in 1978. The L Brothers was Grand Wizard Theodore, Cordio, Mean Gene. That was one of the first rap groups. Then you had Grand Master Flash, the Furious Four, the Funky 4, but the first I ever heard was the L Brothers.
So you were there in New York watching the beginnings of rap?
I knew I was hearing something so special. I didn't see it; I was hearing it on cassette. I was young. I couldn't go to those parties.
But you were there when rap took off in the '80s.
I remember making a beatbox with Doug E. Fresh. It was so crazy making people believe in what I was doing. Back then I had to make it to get out of Long Island. If you could make it in New York, you could make it anywhere.
What was your routine for practicing beatboxing or rapping?
I would just go in my room, and I had a little tape recorder that I won at a spelling bee. I be trying to get different sounds [Biz starts beatboxing] like a cymbal or a drum bass. I would try to get it to sound as close to a record as I could.
Did you know when you wrote "Just a Friend" it would become such a classic?
I knew it was going to be a good record. I didn't know it was going to be this big. But I knew.
What made that song such an obvious hit?
God, I don't know. Every time I listened to it, chills went up my spine. When I hear it now, I be buggin' out saying, "Oh my goodness, I can't believe I had a hit."
I always loved your rendition of "Bennie and the Jets" with the Beastie Boys. Did you ever think of making an album of just covering other people's songs?
I'm thinking of doing that now. [He begins singing Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World"]. You know what I mean? I could do it to have fun. But I don't know if the so-called hip-hop artists or community are going to understand it. But I'll just do it to have fun.
Do you ever go to karaoke?
I've been there a couple times. I like to sing [starts singing]. Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain. We all got sorrow. Lean on me when you're not strong, and I'll be your friend; I'll help you carry on.
Is this the kind of entertainment we can expect from your DJ set?
It will be incredible. I promise you it will make everybody smile.
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