Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Biz Week, Day 3: The Soundtracks

...Or, more specifically, The Soundtrack Exclusives.  Because plenty of Biz Markie songs have been featured on film soundtracks.  "Nobody Beats the Biz" was on New Jersey Drive, "Make the Music With Your Mouth" was on The Wood, "Just a Friend" was on The Wackness... but these are old, licensed catalog songs that had already been available for years on his albums.  Although the version of "Just a Friend" on The Book of Life soundtrack features an original beat box introduction by Cheech Marin, which makes sense if you've seen the film.  But by and large, these appearances were of no interest to us Biz fans who already owned all these songs for years.  A few songs have been exclusive to the soundtracks,though, and those were... well, mixed.

Space Jam 2 is the big movie of the summer right now, I guess, so let's start with the original film's soundtrack.  1996's Space Jam features a remake of the KC & the Sunshine Band's "That's the Way (I Like It)" by The Spin Doctors feat. Biz Markie.  Another reason I'm starting with this one is it's the most forgettable, so let's get it over with.  The Spin Doctors were a 90's indie rock band who had one big hit on MTV called "Go Ahead Now" or something, and they turned a fun disco song into more of a rock anthem.  It's not terrible, because the original is strong enough to survive any interpretation, and this version has some nice, strong horns on it.  It's produced by Rashad Smith, and the Biz?  He basically just sings the original song.  Yeah, he never raps or comes up with new lyrics.  He does some quick human beat boxing at the start, which leads you to believe he might be providing some cool percussive elements to this remix, but he's immediately replaced with traditional studio drums as soon as the music starts.  It's listenable enough, but only the most die-hard Biz Markie completist would ever put this one on instead of the original.

Speaking of weird collaborative remakes, 1996 also gave us The Great White Hype soundtrack, which brought with it a cover of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" by Lou Rawls and Biz Markie.  It's produced by Marcus Miller, who turns Cole's 30's tune into a super smooth, slow groove with a lot of catchy live instrumentation.  Lou Rawls gives Porter's words a much deeper, more soulful feeling, almost making it classier than it has any right to be.  But lest things turn too jazz club lounge roomy, Biz Markie gets on the track and yes, this time he gets to rap, which kind of relegates the original Porter lyrics to just a hook, but that's okay.  When Biz gets to declare, "well, bring in the band, baby," and all the musicians kick in, it's beautiful.  Then Biz starts singing back-up for Lou and Lou even raps!  Finally, Biz slips in a cool, laidback beatbox at the end.  I could've maybe done without the Roger Troutman-style slide whistle (ugh! the 90's!) and the line "she got me open like Fallopian tubes," but overall it's a kick.

1996 was a big year for Biz Markie soundtracks, because here's one more: "I'm Hungry" from the movie Phat Beach.  And what's exciting about this one is that it's not a cover of any old timey non-Hip-Hop song and it's not a collaboration with any non-Hip-Hop artist or anyone.  This one's an original, solo Biz Markie song.  He even produced it himself.  Boom bap beats and a little sample.  The subject matter is exactly what you think it is as he wails, "I'm hunnngry!  Please feed me!  Need something in my belly, 'cause I'm hunnngrryyyyyyyyy!"  Biz's raps are fun and he really sells the anguish in his delivery as he begs for somebody, anybody, to feed him.  It's not a Greatest Hit, but it's just a good, solid Biz song that would've fit in perfectly on any of his 90s albums.

Our next noteworthy soundtrack appearance was in 1999, another collab, this time with Canibus; and another remake of a classic non-Hip-Hop song, this time the 1970's country anthem "Take This Job and Shove It" by Johnny Paycheck.  This version's titled "Shove This Jay-Oh-Bee" and it's on the Office Space soundtrack, produced by Salaam Remi.  You can predict the formula for this one: Canibus raps original lyrics and Biz hams up the original country lyrics for the hook.  But the production is kinda funky and catchy (including a creepy vocal sample from the film itself) with no instrumental hints of its country western origins.  And here's the thing about Canibus; I know he's considered to have fallen off and all, but he can do certain kind of records really well: fast-flowing, hard hitting, high-concept, syllable-packed battle raps.  Listen to "Beasts From the East" - his shit still holds up!  He just got into trouble when he tried to branch out into... just about anything else, from "Stan Lives" soliloquies directed at Eminem to all that Fugees folk music stuff.  But this song surprisingly works!  The rhythm works with his staccato flow and his verses are actually a rather smart and relatable take-down of life under capitalism, "about an hour from now, you should be at your place of employment, which is annoyin' because it's so borin'.  Your co-workers keep talkin' too loud for you to ignore them; it effects your occupational performance.  You wonder why your workload is so enormous?  Because your boss just laid off three fourths of your whole office."  I only wish Biz had a verse and wasn't just relegated to hook man.

And that's been about it, until recently.  In 2019, the popular cartoon series Adventure Time released a crazy soundtrack boxed set, with like 3 LPs, a 10", a CD and a cassette.  And somewhere on one of those LPs is a Biz Markie original, entitled "Gooey Gangsta."  Unfortunately, this has no vocals.  Or at least no verbal vocals.  It's Biz Markie beat-boxing over some very synthy, spacey freestyle instrumentation.  Biz puts in an impressive, varied performance, but I can't say it's worth throwing down the $75 they were charging for a massive box of childrens' music just to get one neat but brief Bizstrumental, let along the several hundreds of dollars people are charging for it now that it's out of print.

And if you're looking to shore up your collection efficiently, it's worth noting that there's a fairly common bootleg EP that features two of the best ones: the Phat Beach and Great White Hype songs, plus the previously covered "Odd Couple" and a couple other good Biz songs on one cheap 12" white label.  Just a tip.  ;)

Monday, July 19, 2021

Biz Week, Day 2: Biz North Of the Border

Here's one I bet very few of you guys checked for: Len's third album features not one but two appearances by Biz Markie.  Who?  Len is a Canadian alternative rock band, essentially a brother and sister duo whose first video was this.  That's the sum of the research I'm willing to put into these guys, because I don't care a lick for that type of music.  I first heard of them when everybody else first heard of them, as they're largely known as a one-hit wonder for the song "Steal My Sunshine" that blew up from the soundtrack of 1999's Go.  I don't care about that crap either (though it is kinda catchy thanks to a big disco sample at its core), but it got them signed to Columbia, where they took their newfound celebrity and major label budget to delve into Hip-Hop.

DJ Moves, who's been the DJ for Josh Martinez, Tachichi, Knowself and like a dozen other noteworthy Canadian Hip-Hop artists, joined the group and they released their third album, You Can't Stop the Bum Rush.  Now Len is working with all sorts of credible Hip-Hop guys like Mr. Dibbs, Moka Only and Kurtis flippin' BlowThe lead singer changed his moniker to D-Rock and started rapping (sometimes)Edit: slight correction here, thanks to GitMunny on Twitter.  The lead singer took on the alias Burger Pimp, and D-Rock is an MC from Hip Club Groove, another crew Moves was a part of.  Buck 65 was their tour DJ and was asked to officially join the group.  He declined, but he's still depicted on this album cover (that's him lurking behind the lamp post) and does some cuts on the album, which is what drew me to the project.  I wasn't expecting all this other rap stuff to be on it, including not one, but two songs with The Diabolical himself.

The first is a fun, semi-instrumental tribute to classic Electro-Hop, and alternates between Biz doing the human beat box and Mr. Dibbs.  For vocals, it mostly just has very old school vocoder raps about Biz's history with The Juice Crew.  The girl sings a little on the hook, too; but it all sounds fresh with no hints of Len's early 90s alt rock origins.  Usually a problem with a song where an artist you like collaborates with one you don't is that you wind up with a song meshing good and bad qualities together, which still spoils the whole thing.  You know, you might try to appreciate a dope verse, but how often are you realistically going to revisit a song where you hate a good portion of it?  This song doesn't have that problem, it's genuinely good stuff through and through.

Then the next track is "Beautiful Day," a more 90's style Hip-Hop track with some really funky production.  I want to give all the credit to Moves, but from reading the notes and all, I don't know.  The actual Len guys might have some genuine talent for this stuff, too.  Either way, it's surprisingly funky.  D-Rock takes the first verse and it's nothing amazing, but he comes off well enough.  Then Biz sings the hook in his distinct "Just a Friend" way.  But the song really picks up in the second half, which is 100% classic Biz:

"Party people in the place, I'd like to tell you a tale
About a high powered girl, her name is Gail.
She's a funky fresh girly; she ain't stale.
Every time I see her she makes me hard as a nail.
I was chillin' at my house drinkin' ginger ale
Watchin' Monty Python and the Holy Grail
When I got a phone call, it never fails.
It came all the way from a college called Yale.
I said, 'hello, pretty mamma. What's up, female?
Let's go on a cruise, or go on a sail;
But at first let me call my man named Dale.'
I called him, but he was in jail.
We both went down and paid his bail.
It came back three weeks in the mail.
But one thing, I forgot this last detail:
That the Biz Markie will always prevail!"

Len's follow-up single was a throwback posse cut called "Cryptik Souls Crew" that's also better than it has any right to be, but that was the end of their time on Columbia.  Dreamworks almost picked them up for one album, 2002's We Be Who We Be, which was never actually released.  But promo copies exist, and the Biz appears on that album, too!  It eventually got placed on a later album called Diary Of the Madmen.  The song's called "Let It Slide," and it's a singing duet with the sister half of the duo.  It's also awful, so don't worry about tracking this one down unless you're a completist.  But there are enough good parts to You Can't Stop the Bum Rush that it is worth picking up cheap.  In fact the whole first half of the album is full of surprisingly slick, head nodding production.  Then the second half turns to rock junk.  But at least they put all the cool, Hip-Hop songs together so you can easily listen to all the guests and turntablism in one sitting without having to constantly ride the dial.

Now, if you need this on vinyl, you'll have to track down a rare, limited picture disc, which is the only option... but I'd advise against that unless, again, you're a hardcore Biz completist.  The good parts of the album still aren't that amazing.  But the market's flooded with CDs, so you can get it pretty cheap.  And it's surprisingly worth it.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Biz Week, Day 1: The Diabolical Vs. Humpty Hump

Every post in this series is dedicated to the great Biz Markie, who we just lost this weekend.  And instead of just repeating the typical biographical details every news site is busy copy & pasting from wikipedia, I've decided to take a look at some of the many overlooked Biz Markie B-sides and guest appearances that even some of you dedicated fans may've slept on.

This is a tragedy compounded by the recent loss of another Hip-Hop giant, Shock G, who also just passed this April.  So when I was putting together my list of the tracks I wanted to tackle this week, this one jumped out at me right away: "The Odd Couple" from Digital Underground's 1998 album, "Who Got the Gravy?"

I feel like most audiences kind of wrote Digital Underground off when they got dropped by Tommy Boy (sales numbers seem to demonstrate that pretty definitively, anyway).  But Shock's skills never waned, as proved by the number of highlights that pervaded on the later, indie albums.  Albums which, frankly, might outshine the last Tommy Boy LP, despite the absence of some of their secret weapons like DJ Fuze or Saafir2Pac, obviously.  In fact, the first thrill of opening any DU album was racing through the credits to see who the collaborators were this time.

So the elevator pitch for "The Odd Couple" is that it's a battle between Biz Markie and Humpty Hump.  Obviously, this is a written together, all in good fun kind of "battle," more along the lines of "The Sugarhill Gang Meets the Furious Five" or "Kid Vs. Play" than anything you'd see in 8 Mile.  But that's exactly what you want in this scenario, a play fight between two of the purist spirits in our genre's history.  They're going back and forth dissing each other, but it's all in fun: "2Pac is the only one that was livin' large, and Humpty, your nose is like a two-car garage.  I know you got soooouull!  I heard you don't eat pussy, you be eatin' bootie hole."

Yeah, it's silly and guileless, but it's not scrubbed clean for the whole family.  There's an Explicit Lyrics sticker on that cover for a reason, and it's sometimes surprising where the two of them take it, "no, my nose be in her bootie; my tongue be in her vertical smile.  I heard your sister had sex with Gomer Pyle."  And the first time you hear a Rodney King line, it comes off as a little edgy, and maybe of questionably dated taste.  But as they keep bringing him back up throughout the song (the chorus even), you start to realize they're slipping in something a little subversive under the radar.  And there's more going on than just a play-fight to keep the kiddies amused, "yeah, that's cool; y'all doin' your thing.  But look what they did to that man Rodney King.  They beat 'im and stomped 'im like a bunch of grapes.  When I seen him he looked like The Planet Of the Apes. / Yeah, you're right, police don't act tight, but in the riots, yo, California niggas wasn't scared to go at po-po."  Like, whoa, they got serious on us all of a sudden!

And the production couldn't be better suited.  It's got that slow, chunky kind of groove that plays right into Biz's delivery like "We Write the Songs," but with sparse horns and a slightly funkier, flusher tone that's, of course, classic D-Flow.  Seriously, I think a lot of heads would be surprised to hear a track this killer on a post-Tommy Boy album, but here it is; Shock and the gang never lost it.  This is some of their best work from both of these guys, and it's on an album people hardly check for.  Well, if there's ever been a time for rediscovery, this is it.  Get the whole album, because while it was released on 12" (as a B-side for "The Mission" with Big Pun), that single's only got the clean versions.  And these two don't keep it clean on this one.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Snagglepuss Legacy Continues

(Fourteen years later, and we're back with more Snagglepuss! Lost, unreleased stuff and a brand new album. Youtube version is here.)