When I enter the Acura lounge, Biz Markie and others assembled are debating records. The rapper is spinning tonight in Park City on behalf of Roxanne Roxanne, a film he co-produced about the seminal and oft-overlooked emcee Roxanne Shante. A Queensborough native, Shante garnered attention at the age 14 when she began rap battling anyone silly enough to challenge her. But despite scoring a surprise hit with “Roxanne’s Revenge,” a lacerating retort to UTFO’s “Roxanne Roxanne,” the wordsmith never made it big time. Her career came to halt after a series of events including childbirth, familial troubles and shady producers.
One constant throughout Roxanne’s life has been Biz. In his telling, he was Shante’s “honorary” big-brother. Whenever she needed him, he was there. In turn, Shante, now 47, paved the way for New York rappers like Biz and Nas. Her unmatched flow and lyrical precision inspired Biz to create Goin’ Off, a debut album only bumped by folks in the underground hip-hop scene. As years past, Markie ascended. He shifted his attention from artistry to entertainment. Entertaining, he believes, is what he was put on Earth to do.
But back to the matter at hand: There’s a disco record in the vein of “I Will Survive” that Biz wants to play this evening, and his crew can’t ID it. The details are nebulous, but the banter between Biz and his cohorts is playful. It’s the type of brotherly ribbing you can only have with people you’ve known for far too long.
As they wrap up, Biz asks me to sit down. Even while he’s gnawing on a vegetable platter, he dominates the space. He’s holding court. This is what a living hip-hop legend looks like at 52 years old.
We discuss his enduring legacy as a consummate entertainer, why he thinks “Just a Friend” blew up and how he’s not afraid of people—especially Donald Trump.
But first, Biz poses a question…
What’s up, dog?
Hey! So what’s going on with this movie?
This movie, Roxanne Shante, Roxanne Roxanne. The thing is, with this movie, it’s the beginning of a whole bunch of beginnings. She’s like the first battle rapper on record, that’s one thing. And she was a little girl doing it, and it started a whole regime. It started the Juice Crew. Besides Mr. Magic, rest in peace, her stardom kicked off me, MC Shan. I kicked off Big Daddy Kane, and so on and so on.
Do you remember when she first performed at 14?
I came in when she was like 14 and a half. I came to her projects and I met her, and the rest was history. She was a kid but she was a grown kid.
Did you relate to her?
I’m a big brother, of course. Honorary.
When did you know she was going to blow up?
It was right away, it was right off the tip. When I met her she was a star already, so I got my start through her, and then, you know, just a snowball effect after that.
It snowballed into a pretty successful career. Years removed, what do you make of the success “Just a Friend” had?
I just know that when I found a certain record and certain drums, no matter what I did or feel, it was going to be a big hit. I didn’t know that “Just a Friend” was gonna be monstrous, I just knew it was going to be a big record.
What do you think of people talking about your singing?
Everybody’s got their own vocal tone, you know what I mean? God blesses people in different ways. Typical is you get taught to sing this way, but that don’t mean it’s the right way to sing. I sing the way I sing and it worked.
What were you blessed with?
I was blessed with the gift of entertaining. Since I was a kid, I always entertained, you know. Dance, whatever. Anything to get a cookie.
Did your family look to you for entertainment?
Oh, nah, not really. I’m always entertaining.
What do you make of all the sampling that’s being done now in modern rap?
I don’t really see that much sampling in modern rap. I see copying, not sampling. They copy a record that’s already been done. We were sampling records that had never been heard.
So like on Illmatic, Nas sampled Ahmad Jamal—an obscure pianist.
Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. That’s different.
Why do you think people are copying now?
They don’t know better. They’re going for the short hit. When we did stuff, we tried to make sure that nobody had it, and that we had it.
You think rappers are less creative these days?
Young people, they’re doing rap the way they want to do it. I can’t get mad at them because that’s just the way they wanna do it. I’m always understanding, because when we was out, people looked at us the same way like that.
But you think you’ve grown as an artist, right?
Oh, yeah. I’ve grown as an entertainer more than an artist. An entertainer can go in anywhere and do whatever he want to do. We don’t even need to have no hot records out. We know what we’re doing. Whether I’m DJing or rapping.
I don’t really see that much sampling in modern rap. I see copying, not sampling.
Why do you think you like entertaining so much?
Because I grew into it. It’s just part of my life. It just makes me feel good. Music makes me feel good.
More than anything else?
I’d take music over anything, except food. Food is good.
Are you surprised that you’ve had longevity?
Nope. I knew I had to eat. It’s a hobby more than a job.
The hobby’s paying you though.
I do it when I don’t even have to work, so that’s why I call it a hobby.
So you don’t have to work anymore?
Probably, but I just know I love music. I love looking for records. I love listening to records. I love seeing people perform. It’s just crazy.
What do you want from 2017, in the age of President Trump?
I wanna live is one thing, till the next year. I want my Vikings to do pretty great. I want the Eagles to do great, I want the Steelers to do great.
How do you have three teams?
‘Cause I can do that. We can do anything we want, right? Ha ha!
Does Trump bother you?
He don’t bother me, but the only thing I can say is he won. I can’t say nothing else. Everybody elected him in. He’s in. We gotta see what he could do.
Are you scared by him?
Never scared of nobody. I’m scared of bugs. I’m not scared of people.