This is the latest installment in our Unlikely Encounters series, where a local musician interviews a big-name artist. Check out the whole Unlikely Encounters series online at charlestoncitypaper.com/unlikely.
When I was a kid growing up in Columbia, S.C. in the ’80s, we lived out in BFE. Our closest friend was probably a mile down the road. My brother and I would hop on our bikes and cruise to his house to check out his fresh-new Big Daddy Kane/Biz Markie double cassette. A song came on. It was called “Pickin’ Boogers.” We laughed ’til we cried.
I once heard Columbia described as “a humorless town.” Well, Biz was our antidote to that drudgery. I jumped at the chance to interview this guy.
In a rapid succession of Q&A, we talked about everything from astrology to Oscar parties to greats from the golden age of hip-hop, including Kane, Roxanne Shante, Marley Marl, Big Daddy Kane, and Rakim.
Here’s what went down.
JACK BURG: Hey Biz, how you doin’?
BIZ MARKIE: Hey, hey. What’s up, Scott?
J: Not much. My name’s Jack, man, and it’s good to be talking to you. I have a question for you, what does your family call you? Do they call you Biz?
B: Yeah they call me Biz! They gave me the name.
J: How did that come about?
B: The way they gave me my name is because I was always gettin’ busy, gettin’ in trouble, and my nickname was Markie.
J: Cool man, that’s awesome. When did you first start making the music with your mouth?
B: Back in the eighth grade.
J: Eighth grade?
B: Yeah, they thought I was crazy in school.
J: What was the first job you ever had?
B: My first job, I worked at Arby’s. I got kicked out ’cause I got caught eatin’ food at nighttime.
J: I’ve worked in a bunch of restaurants, and to me that’s one of the great things about workin’ in a restaurant is getting to eat free food. They fired you for eatin’ food?
B: I was on camera.
J: That’s bunk.
B: I was on camera rockin’. Ha ha. [Biz has an amazing laugh]. I was on camera. They saw me just chomp chomp chomp! [Spelling out the word chomp is a poor substitute for Biz’s actual chomping sound]
J: Did you ever get a chance to meet Freddie Scott?
B: I think so because he lived in Long Island. I met him once. He lived in Amityville.
J: How did you meet Roxanne Shante, and do you still keep in touch with her?
B: Roxanne Shante is my little sister, so you know it’s a family thing — you know how it go. But she put me on. She’s like my little sister. I went to Queensbridge. I went over there to battle everybody and, you know, she wasn’t getting along with Marley [Marl]. And I met her and went on the road with her — and that’s how it started.
J: Do you still keep in touch with Kane?
B: Oh yeah! Kane’s my boy! That’s family. We don’t break family.
J: I like that. What do you know about Rakim declining to participate in a rap battle with Kane?
B: Nah, it was never a battle. And the funny thing is I was in a group with Rakim. I introduced Kane to Rakim.
J: So there was never a moment when Kane was supposed to battle Rakim and Rakim got scared?
B: Nah. Not that I know of.
J: OK. I read that on Kane’s Wikipedia a little while ago. Anyway. When you started out, did you tour a lot?
B: I don’t know what you call a tour, but when I got down with Shante, I toured a lot. But before that, I used to go to everybody’s projects where everybody lived at.
J: When you were out with Roxanne, who were some of the other acts that y’all toured with?
B: Um … LL. We went on tour opening for Madonna. A lot of groups. I can’t even say.
J: You do a lot of DJing and performing at Oscar parties and stuff like that.
B: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
J: Can you tell me one of the wildest things you’ve ever seen at one of those events you were performing at?
B: I think the Oscar joint — Oh no, I was on tour with Will Smith. I took Jazzy Jeff’s spot for a little while, and we were DJin’, and the Queen and everybody was in the audience and they were dancin’ off disco. That was in London. And another one was when I did an Oscar party — Seinfeld, Kramer, and a whole bunch of them guys was there at the Grammy party.
J: How did the “Bennie and the Jets” cover come around? How did that come into play? Whose idea was that?
B: The way that came is me and the Beastie Boys and the Boo-Yaa Tribe was all playing basketball at the Beastie Boys studio, and after we got done playing basketball one of their boys, [Money] Mark, got on the piano and they just started playing rock songs. And I was singing every rock song, and they were buggin’ out. I was singin’ like [sings], ‘Jeremiah was a Bullfrog’ and singin’ all them records, right? So people was buggin’ out, and they broke down ‘Bennie and the Jets,’ and I sang it.
J: The lyrics in that song are crazy. I never paid attention to them until recently, but they’re pretty wild.
B: Oh, hell yeah.
J: When you’re at home and you want to completely chill out and relax, what type of music do you put on? Or do you put on music at all?
B: Nah, I watch TV.
J: Yeah? What do you like to watch?
B: Whatever’s on TV at the time.
J: Is there any new music that has come out recently that gets you excited?
B: I mean I like it when I DJ it, but nothing excites me.
J: What’s your favorite musical instrument?
J: Do you believe in astrology?
B: Yes I do.
J: What’s your sign?
B: I’m an Aries.
J: What was the last movie you watched that really blew your mind?
B: I don’t know. I forget.
J: Out of all the different stuff you do — acting, DJing, performing — what’s your favorite gig?
B: DJing. I like it all. I like performing for Yo Gabba Gabba.
J: Yeah man, I love that Yo Gabba Gabba stuff. I checked out some of that. So is there a key to balancing all the different facets of your career? Is there anything that you would say helps keep all that in balance?
B: Treat it like a hobby.
J: Oh yeah? Tell me a little more about that. That’s interesting.
B: Treat it like it’s a hobby. You know, you love your hobbies.
J: So if it doesn’t feel like work, then it’s not work, right?
J: All right man, I got one more question for you. It’s really serious, and if you don’t wanna answer it I understand — but I gotta ask, did you really slip a little green one inside of Kane’s spaghetti?
B: Of course! [Again with this amazing laugh]
J: Man, I really appreciate your time. It’s been a lot of fun talking to you. Take care.
B: All right, peace.