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BIZ MARKIE (Buy CDs by this artist)
Goin' Off (Cold Chillin'/Warner Bros.) 1988 + 1998
The Biz Never Sleeps (Cold Chillin'/Warner Bros.) 1989 + 1998
I Need a Haircut (Cold Chillin'/Warner Bros.) 1991 + 1998
All Samples Cleared! (Cold Chillin'/Warner Bros.) 1993
Biz's Baddest Beats (Cold Chillin') 1994 + 1998
The Best of Cold Chillin' (Landspeed) 2000
Goin' Off/The Biz Never Sleeps (Landspeed) 2001

Old school rap's original clown prince (this is pre-ODB, mind), Long Island's Biz Markie (Marcel Hall), has a juvenile sense of humor and a pronounced speech impediment, but his relaxed rhyming style, good cheer and uninhibited silliness made him a winning entertainer, especially as the hip-hop world turned harder. Produced by long-time associate Marley Marl and co-written by the Biz, Marl and Big Daddy Kane, Goin' Off is a dubious debut, opening with a supremely obnoxious ode to something too tasteless to go into before settling down to a mildly entertaining program of inoffensive nonsense.

Although it also begins on a worthless note ("Dedication") and includes a number about body odors, The Biz Never Sleeps (credited to "The Diabolical Biz Markie") is a much better record that solidly establishes his unique character. Producing (with disconcertingly abrupt fades) and writing it all himself, the Biz re-emerges as an ingenious nut, punctuating his winsome romantic stories with odd musical bits and wholesome wit. A dinky piano line and a hopelessly off-key refrain keep popping up in the sad/funny tale of a faithless lover (the classic "Just a Friend"), while an equally inane bit of crooning (in a goony Barry White voice) breezes through "Spring Again," an infectious hymn to warm weather. But the Biz isn't only geared for laughs: with a neat horn sample adding to the evocative groove, he dips into nostalgic recollection for the tender tribute of "My Man Rich."

His playful career sank in the '90s when a song on I Need a Haircut left him the loser in a sample clearance court case that forced the album's recall and inspired the title of its follow-up. On a fairly diverting record that could have been suppressed on the basis of good taste — "T.S.R. (Toilet Stool Rap)" describes a sitdown creative process no one needs to hear about — what caused the ruckus was "Alone Again," a winsome rejection tale in which the Biz sang the chorus and bit the piano track of Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)."

"I don't give a damn if my record gets banned," declares the Biz within the first minute of All Samples Cleared! , a harder-edged album whose cover depicts him in prison stripes pleading his case before a wigged-out judge. With so much detailed information in the booklet that there are probably cleared samples that aren't even on the record, (nobody beats the) Biz doesn't dwell on his recent legal troubles; instead, his songs touch on old-school nostalgia, the women he's hot for and people calling him ugly. Still, the episode seems to have shaken his innocence. Other than "I'm Singin'," a lumbering stroll through pop standards like "Over the Rainbow" and "Singin' in the Rain," and the bluesy "Bad by Myself," the clown doesn't sound like he's having much fun. Now that's a crime.

Biz's Baddest Beats is a career anthology.

[Ira Robbins]