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(Above: Biz Markie rocks his classic “Just a Friend”  in Sweden on March 28, 2009.)

By Joel Francis

Rapper Biz Markie’s free performance at the Power and Light District Thursday night was less a concert than a warm-up/advertisement for his nightclub set later that night.

Markie was onstage for about 45 minutes. He spent 20 minutes behind turntables, 20 on the mic and five plugging the late show. The set-up was as old school as Markie’s material: two turntables and a microphone (and a laptop). After warming up the sparse crowd – the entire audience could have comfortably fit inside the Record Bar – with a brief DJ set of random favorites, Markie finally emerged from behind the tables.

A celebrated beat boxer before breaking through as an MC, Markie was Rahzel before Rahzel. His skills are no less impressive today. Vocal recreations of “Thriller” and “Beat It” drew big cheers, as Markie placed the mic on top of his head and against his throat to capture new sounds. Think of it as a funky ear-nose-and-throat exam you could dance to.

The dedicated audience took advantage of the ample dance space. Pockets of break dancing and circles of swinging bachelorette parties populated the floor close to the stage. The dancers were a nice visual diversion. There was little to see onstage beyond the Markie’s crew, turntables and the oversized, t-shirt and sweat-pant clad MC. The kaleidoscope of twisting colors and twirling ladies definitely added to the evening’s presentation.

Markie didn’t perform many songs, but he made the handful he did count. “Vapors” and “Nobody Beats the Biz” are old school staples that had everyone singing and bobbing along. Markie teased “Just A Friend,” his Top 10 hit from 1989, with the signature piano sample and backbeat urging everyone to sing along and throwing his weight behind every “oh baby.” The biggest of his songs, it was also the most disappointing. Markie only delivered one verse, turning the song into one big crowd participation number with looped chorus.

Frequently and appropriately omitted from the rolls of rap legends, Markie’s charm outstrips his talent. He didn’t shy from playing the clown, wagging his tongue to the crowd when they responded to a record he played and grinning at his modest singing abilities. The best of these moments was when he encouraged the crowd to join in his rendition of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” Markie’s signing was hilariously out of tune and he free-styled new verses, despite repeatedly telling the audience to sing along if they knew the words.

Although the set was definitely slight, it was also free, which meant all it cost was a little time. That hour was definitely a good time.

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