clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Biz Markie: ‘We were daring to be different from everyone else’

Biz Markie | SUPPLIED PHOTO

By now, Biz Markie has become synonymous with the hit VH1 show “I Love the ‘80s,” but the phrase is also one he likes to use quite often.

“Those were the greatest [years] that have ever been in existence,” declares the DJ (born Marcel Theo Hall), talking about the inspiration in putting together the nostalgic “Decades Collide: ‘80s vs. ‘90s Tour” coming to the House of Blues on March 24. More than anything, it aims to capitalize on the lost charm of the once New York underground that produced fellow talents like Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys, all of whom had gotten their start playing block parties and became more energized when production started moving away from cassette formats back to records.

DECADES COLLIDE: 80s VS. 90s TOUR FEATURING BIZ MARKIE

When: 8 p.m. March 24

Where: House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn

Tickets: $15

Info: (312) 923-2000; houseofblues.com/chicago

“In the ‘80s and ‘90s, when it started taking off, artists showed their confidence in themselves and their skill,” says Hall, also including in the chronology the late Frankie Knuckles, pioneer of the Chicago house music scene who he used to DJ with at clubs like Velvet Lounge. “We were daring to be different from everyone else. We weren’t trying to look or sound anything like each other. … But today there’s not enough individualists.”

In the current hip-hop nexus, big beats are often being outdone by bigger egos (see Kanye West), but in Hall’s heyday personality quirks could actually make a star. His biggest hit, 1989’s “Just A Friend,” was a playful, out-of-tune oddball about the pangs of unrequited love. In the video Hall mocks Mozart and “Rock Me Amadeus,” which begat his nickname, the “clown prince of hip-hop,” a commentary on the comedic sensibilities that became his hallmark.

“I always watched comedy like Benny Hill and Richard Pryor,” he says. “I’d rather have a smile than to be serious anyway.”

Though Hall never reached the level of “Just A Friend” with subsequent releases, if only partially because of his unintended role in a historic copyright infringement lawsuit in 1991 that forever altered the use of sampling in hip-hop tracks, he never strayed from the spotlight. His lighthearted, animated persona led to work with the children’s series “Yo Gabba Gabba,” and he found gigs opening for Chris Rock and acting in movies including the sequels to “Men in Black” and “Sharknado.” His personal struggles with weight also led to his appearance on the first season of reality show “Celebrity Fit Club,” which he ended up winning.

After losing triple the amount of weight in later years, Hall was also diagnosed with diabetes. But he says, “I’m in great health” and is looking forward to a marquee year. In addition to the new tour, there are also gigs at SXSW, an ‘80s music cruise and an upcoming residency in Vegas. Though, for now, there are no plans for new music.

“I don’t want to look like a 50-year-old rapper trying too hard,” Hall says (his last full-length album, “Weekend Warrior” was released in 2003). “If I’m doing to do a record I’m going to do it because I want to do a record.”

Much of his musical energy now is rather put into staying on top of current releases to add to his massive collection of nearly 130,000 albums, 90,000 45s and 100,000 12-inches. “I have a separate house for them,” he says, declaring himself a “studier of music.” So, count on him to bring his “A-game” to his HOB gig.

“I’m going to shock the crowd with all I have planned,” he says, continuing his M.O. for the past 30 years. “I hope people can see that I’ve contributed different and funky rhyme styles and really showed how you can be different in this field. You can’t say I have sounded like anyone else.”

Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.

Posted on March 15, 2016.