Friday, August 6, 2021

Biz Week, Day 5: ...And He Rocks

Let's conclude with a really great single by Biz Markie that isn't featured on any of his albums, "...And I Rock," produced by none other than DJ Premier.  It came out in 2001, on Next Level Recordings.  That's a Japanese label, and they reason they have it is that it was originally recorded for an original compilation they put together called Next Level Vol. 1 (to date, there is no Vol. 2) that features both American and Japanese Hip-Hop artists.  There were some other good songs on there, including the original debut of Lord Finesse's "Down For the Underground," so you might want to track down the whole thing.  But even with stiff competition like that, Biz's song is a highlight.

And that's an important distinction to make, because not every Biz appearance is the joyful masterpiece you might expect.  I was originally planning to make a post about the Biz Markie guest spot disappointments, discussing things like the the feeling I got opening up the latest Beastie Boys album, seeing the Biz's name in the liner notes, only to finally hear the song and discover his contribution is just a vocal snippet of a live performance or some background ad-libs.  You know, depending which Beasties albums with a false-promising Biz appearance we're talking about, because there were several over the years.  You know, it's one thing when it's obviously going to be a skit, like when Biz is just one of many voices who appear on the series of brief "Phone Check"s on MC Lyte's Lytro album which were obviously not going to be actual songs, but it's an entirely different experience when you buy a DJ Riz 12" because the B-side is a track called "Riz Meets Biz," only to find out that it's just another telephone skit.  I decided against it because Biz Week is meant to celebrate, not bum us out further; but suffice it to say there are enough let downs, like Def Squad's "Just Rhyming With Biz" where, no, Biz does not in fact rhyme with the Squad, to bear in mind they're not all good, so we should appreciate them when they are.

And this one's a treasure that belongs in everybody's crates.  There's a decent B-side, too: "Interview" by Sadat X.  And no, it's not a phone conversation masquerading as a song, but a tight production by Da Beatminerz, also from Next Level Vol. 1.  It had actually been previously released on his famous Wild Cowboys album years before, so I don't know why the heck Next Level put it on their thing.  Even the instrumental had been released on 12" before.  So "Interview" is a cool song, but the Biz is why we're here. 

This is really the period where fans and artists alike were sitting by the phone, waiting for Premier to call with a new track.  Each one was a killer, he was pairing up with the hottest artists, and it was before he started spreading himself too thin and started letting some sub-par beats into MCs' hands.  And this is a perfect example of everything we wanted: instantly catchy, funky loops with slick but not too complicated scratch hooks.  Don't let the title fool you, this isn't some electric guitar-laden experiment with Ted Nugent or anything.  Just tight drums, a funky little pager sample and big, big horns.

And Biz is just kicking light, freestyle rhymes, including a story about battling Superman that feels like a throwback to the days of "Rapper's Delight" and "Jam On It."

"Me and Superman, we had a fight;
I punched him in the face with all my might.
Punched him so hard he fell to the floor,
Picked him up and ragged him some more.
Turned around and who did I see?
It was Lois Lane, she was lookin' at me.
She said, 'yo, Biz Markie, you are the best,
'Cause you knocked the S off Superman's chest.'
She took my hand and led me to the room;
We smoked three joints and cracked a quart of brew.
I looked at her and thought she was fine;
I knew the deal: what was on her mind.
We took off our clothes and clicked off the light,
And rocked the bed 'till the sky was bright.
When it came to the break of day,
She said, 'yo, Biz Markie, why don't you stay?'
I cooked her some breakfast and orange juice;
That's one thing I couldn't refuse.
After I ate, I kissed her goodbye.
She said, 'woo, Biz Markie, you're one Hell of a guy!"

But this isn't just a collab between Biz and Preemo; verse two features another MC, someone called Black Indian.  Who's that?  He's a rapper from Washington, probably best known as a member of the jazzy rap crew Opus Akoben. He had a brief solo outing on MCA Records at the time.  And this was when Biz was connected to MCA through his membership of The Flip Squad All Star DJs; so that's probably how they came work together.  Anyway, Black Indian and the Opus guys were pretty dope, but on here, he just feels a little boring and out of place.  I'm sure everybody would've preferred constant Biz from beginning to the end of the song with no one getting in between him and Premier, but oh well.  He doesn't ruin it or anything.

But before we sign off on Biz Week for good, well, you know here at Werner's we like to dip into the more obscure end of the pool.  And this song made a pretty big splash when it was released.  So let's dig a little deeper.  Did you know Black Indian's MCA solo LP, Get 'Em Psyched!! The Album, also featured Biz Markie?  It actually came out first in 1999, so the story probably goes: MCA got Biz to appear on BI's album, and then Biz turned around and put him on "...And I Rock."

However it came about, this Black Indian song is pretty great, too.  It wasn't released on 12", but the album was released on CD and vinyl, so you can you can get it on any format so long as you're willing to spring for a whole album to add just one song to your collection.  I mean, the rest of the album's alright, too, so it's not like you're buying trash, but it's kinda forgettable overall.  Songs like "Hoe Card" and "3 Strikes" are kinda limp gangsta material, but the lead single/ title track and "Fight Song" perk up when they get a little more energetic.

But the crown jewel is easily "Makin' Cash Money," where Biz is also the co-producer, alongside somebody named Monty.  It loops that unforgettable, bassy Herbie Hankcock riff that Digital Underground used for "Underwater Rhymes," Busy Bee used for "Kiss My Ass," etc.  So you know, it's just a tried and true, classic old school groove, which is exactly the kind of track you'd want for a Biz guest appearance.  You know, some of his other stuff is a little more street, but this is definitely Biz's kind of song ("together we be rockin' most definitely"), and yes he gets a proper verse, not just some background stuff or a silly hook: "I get cheers like Norm but don't drink no beer; soon to be elected MC of the year.  I'm not Billy Dee, or R. Kelly, or Markie Dee, or B.I.G.  I'm a little somethin' like Heavy D, 'cause the girls, the girls, they love me!"

So if you were already hip to "...And I Rock," there's another fresh Biz Markie joint you can track down.  And if you haven't already got it, stop sleeping immediately.  My copy is clearly a promo, but there's also a more widely distributed retail version with a sticker cover and the same track-listing: vocal and instrumental versions of both songs.  It really should be on one of his Greatest Hits albums, but for some reason it's not, so...


Sunday, August 1, 2021

Biz Week, Day 4: Biz Markie & DJ Polo

Imagine if things had gone a bit differently, and instead of Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, the pairing was with another Juice Crew All Star, Biz Markie.  We've been given a quick glimpse into what that reality might've looked like thanks to a 1998 song called "Calander[.sic] Girl."  Of course, this isn't the first time the two collaborated, with Biz famously appearing on Wanted: Dead Or Alive's "Erase Racism."  But here we finally get the two alone, to see what sort of music they might've created if left to their own devices.  Or maybe not, but it's still an interesting curiosity to add to your Biz collection.

The only worse solo breakout than Eric B from Rakim has to be Polo's from the Kool Genius.  At least Eric stuck to trusty soul grooves and Freddie Foxxx as a ghost writer.  DJ Polo decided to hitch his wagon to porn star (and now alleged sex offender) Ron Jeremy?  But actually, listening all the way through his 1998 album, Polo's Playhouse, it's not all bad.  He has a nice scratch intro and does use a few familiar grooves, like Eric B, though this time recycling some of his own hits by reusing the classic beats to "Road To the Riches" and "Talk Like Sex."  And he has some good guests, including Roxanne Shante, Melle Mel, Scorpio and yes, Biz Markie.

Actually, I want to talk some more about this project overall, because it's weird.  First of all, just like when Eric B went solo, Polo also became the lead MC on his project.  If you look at the list of guests, you could be forgiven for thinking he's just the producer/ DJ/ host of his album, but no, he's the lyrical front-man now, too.  One of his most prominent seeming guests is Ice-T, right?  But actually Ice just ad-libs a few words between Polo's verses.  And my god, what is up with that MSPaint album cover?

It also has to be pointed out that there are two versions of this album.  Polo's Playhouse only came out on CD overseas, via the German label Black Jam Records (the same label that put out the alternate version of Big Daddy Kane's Veteranz Day).  In the US, we got a couple singles, with the lead Ron Jeremy track "Freak Of the Week" getting the broadest distribution, plus the music video and everything.  But we didn't get the full album until the early 2000s, via Bunny Ranch Records, when it was reworked, losing a few songs and gaining a few.  These CDs are fairly rare, as you pretty much had to order them via snail mail through the Bunny Ranch website, though CDBaby handled the digital distribution and may have sold physical copies through their website at some point, too?  I'm not 100% sure on that.

Anyway, this one's been retitled Bunny Ranch Volume 1 (there has yet to be a Volume 2), and all this Bunny Ranch stuff is about a Nevada brothel that was featured for a time on an HBO series called Cathouse.  So this album drops a few of the more street-sounding songs from Polo's Playhouse and replaces them with more goofy party sex songs featuring Ron Jeremy, plus some radio guys named Budman and Boomer.  See that woman on the left?  That's Madame Suzette, apparently a prominent feature on the HBO show, and she actually has a solo song on this version of the album.  She's as awful at rapping as you'd expect, but I don't imagine we're meant to take this whole project too terribly seriously.  I mean, I hope not, because Ron Jeremy fucking sucks as an MC.  The only credible addition to the roster is Greg Nice, who appears on "Goin' Down On the Bunny Ranch" along with Polo and Jeremy.  It doesn't appear to be online anymore, but there was actually a music video for that one, too, which I downloaded back in the day.  Anyway, it's the worse version of the album, but it's the rarer, so you might want to snatch it up if you come across a copy in the wild.  But either will net you the Biz, because "Calander Girl" is on both.

You probably noticed from Biz Week, Day 3 that a lot of peoples' big idea to make use of Biz Markie is to have him sing old songs.  I guess comically.  We'll see more of that in Day 5, too.  And yes, "Calander Girl" is a modern day Hip-Hop remake of the old 60's Neil Sedaka song.  But in a happy surprise, Polo doesn't have Biz sing that song for the hook.  Instead he samples it and mixes it into a funkier Hip-Hop track, reminiscent of the kind of song Mr. Mixx would produce in his prime, and actually lets Biz rap.  But not first.  Polo takes the first verse, doing a seemingly deliberate (since he even name drops him) Fresh Prince impression.  He actually does a decent job capturing that playful kid-friendly style, and then comes back at the end of the song for a more natural, smoother verse.

But Biz steals the show with the central verse, which is by far the best.  The song's got a really cool bassline and catchy sample that anyone could sound good over, but Biz's personality and humor shines doubly through:

"What's your name?
It's Biz, I film my TV shows in Cali;
Still meetin' girls like When Harry Met Sally;
But I never met a freak this fly
As a calendar, calendar girl, who represented in July.
I met her at this club and she couldn't dance,
But her implants made my bulge jump in my pants.
I wanted to take her home and kick it solo,
But she had a friend so I called my man Polo.
Ooh! You shoulda seen how we did it;
Those two freaks of the weeks, they be wit' it.
The lovin' and bonin' and hittin' the skins.
Well, these are a few of my favorite things.
Yo, we took 'em home, you better believe that it was cool;
We did the wild thing, drinkin' Snapple by the pool.
The calendar girls got busy for a while,
As me and Polo did it (How'd ya do it?) New York style."

Even thought his song was recorded for and included on the 1998 version of the album, you can see that Bunny Ranch material was already ingrained in that original version, and Biz was happy to play along.  It's certainly a novel glimpse into the far more playful alternative universe where Biz and Polo had made their albums together.  Their sensibilities seem much more aligned than the mafioso direction G Rap wanted to go in, though maybe Biz would've wanted to keep things a little cleaner than dirty-minded Polo here.  The song even has girls (presumably some of the "bunnies" from the ranch, but who knows?) providing sexy ad-libs throughout the whole thing.  Unfortunately, this song wasn't included on any of the singles, because its one of the few highlights really worth owning.  They should've made a little "street" vinyl EP with the Melle Mel, Shante, scratch intro tracks and this song.  But oh well.  You can usually find the Black Jam CD pretty cheap, and it's still worth it for the highlights, especially this song.