Over its 25 years, hip-hop has created some durable identities including thug, playa, activist, and straight-up cool cat. But with most rhymers fancying themselves big-ballers in every hater's gun sights, riding on 20-inch rims with a hottie in the back seat, one crucial role has been scuttled: that of the funny, unself-conscious kid. Before all the slick sneering, hip-hop once echoed with belly laughs, most of which came from listening to the rhymes of New York old-schooler Biz Markie. Biz's new album, Weekend Warrior, reminds us of the value of lightening up, of being truly silly, and of being human.
Yes, Weekend Warrior's clean hip-hop/ R&B crossover production (mostly by newcomer Osinachi Nwaneri) and cameos by P. Diddy and dancehall star Elephant Man place the album firmly in the present. But as on Biz's other albums (most of which came out in the late '80s), the key here is the rapper's laid-back rhyming style, delivered gracefully in his lovably mush-mouthed manner and heavy Harlem accent. Biz is so unslick by today's standards that he seems just barely able to rhyme the last word of each line -- and yet he does so with confident skill ("I'm like Mark Twain, or Shakespeare/Cuz when I'm on the stage/People throw their hands in the air"). His guileless lyrics -- like his roll call of now-quaint '80s hip-hop fashions (including, gee whiz, African medallions) in the tune "Throw Back" -- speak to an openness sadly missing in current hip hop orthodoxy.