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The Battle Between Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie at Brooklyn’s Albee Square Mall

The Battle Between Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie at Brooklyn’s Albee Square Mall

There were two major shopping destinations in Downtown Brooklyn that served as the focal point for New York City’s Hip-Hop community in the 1980s.

The Fulton Mall — which often boasted preachers from the Black Hebrew Israelites delivering sermons on soapboxes — had a variety of stores that sold gold chains, sneakers, track suits, and beepers.

Nearby, the Albee Square Mall — an indoor complex off Fulton Street — had stores selling basketball jerseys, stands offering underground mixtapes, and shops like Gibb’s, where a person could buy items like Bally sneakers.

Collectively, this whole area was at one time the third most profitable shopping district in New York — after only Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue.

Despite the eclectic mix of stores, the preferred hangout at Albee Square Mall was Orange Julius, a beverage franchise that satiated the sugar demands of millions of New Yorkers during its time inside the shopping center.



Photos by David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

“That’s where all the hood cats would hang out,” recalls Big Daddy Kane. “We’d take the train up to Midtown and all meet over at Orange Julius. It was like a hangout spot for all the teenagers.

But if you came in there dressed a little too heavy, you were getting robbed. It’s that simple.”

A young Big Daddy Kane was still four years away from releasing his debut album, Long Live the Kane, on Cold Chillin’ Records, which forever changed the industry thanks to his unique combination of dexterous wordplay and charisma. Like so many other young MCs at the time, Kane earned respect by battling other people.



Photos by David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Kane likened his 1984 battling approach to that of Muhammad Ali meets Grandmaster Caz — capable of using his opponents’ greatest strengths against him — as he Rope-a-Doped them into submission. For example, if he was facing a battle rapper who had a large vocabulary, he would turn to more funny rhymes. Conversely, if someone tried to be more humorous, Kane ratcheted up his wordplay.

“I might do eight bars off the top based on what you got on,” Kane says. “If you had something raggedy on, I might incorporate that in the rhyme as well. But everything else was written freestyles.”

Regardless of his preferred method of destruction, Kane always came out on top — reveling in watching his opponents succumb to their own hopelessness.

“Once I saw that look in your face that you’re not ready for this — or you don’t know what your next move is — I know I got you,” Kane says. “That was my whole tactic. There’s a certain way people will act when they don’t really have a response and you can see it.”

The majority of Kane’s battles occurred outdoors. He made it a mission to travel from his own school — Sarah J. Hale in Brooklyn — to other high schools throughout the city. His question would always be the same.

“Who’s your best rapper up here?”

Kane had found his lane and mastered it. However, he had the itch to flex his lyrical muscles beyond high schools, block parties, community centers, and street corners. His natural inclination told him to cut a record.

“Somebody told me I should try doing it,” he says. “I tried to cut a demo with a rap group that I was with, but they didn’t take it seriously. Then I finally ended up doing one on my own and I came up with an amazing concept.”

While most records at the time were based around braggadocious party concepts, Kane laid down an ambitious demo centered on Motown, creatively name-dropping all the artists on the label at the time using similes and metaphors. He fondly recalls lines like “More Miracles than Smokey” and “Make you Wonder like Stevie” on the unnamed track. He sent the demo to Motown but never heard back.

“It ain’t worth it,” he thought about recording songs. “I’ll just stick to battle rap, [and] forget it.”

With his path firmly entrenched in his own mind, Kane was an adversarial gladiator without a suitable opponent. But as fate would have it, there was one name that kept coming up in conversation.



Photos by David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Kane’s cousin, Nicole, was dating a Long Island man named Wayne. Every time they’d all be together, Wayne would sing the praises of an upstart 20-year-old MC named Biz Markie Dee. Kane was quick to dismiss Wayne’s assessment, but the constant mention of someone who could give him a run for his money began to intrigue him. Then one day he heard Biz Markie was at Albee Square Mall.

“I told Wayne, ‘All right, I’m going to ask your man for a battle.

And after I bust his ass, you go to your man, Biz Markie Dee, and you tell him about MCK,’” Kane says.



Photos by David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Flanked by stores like Orange Julius and Gibb’s, Kane did just that. Within a few minutes of the battle commencing, a large crowd had formed — prompting mall security to 86 everyone from the premises. But there was still unfinished business.

“We went right in the very foot of the Albee Square Mall and finished the battle there,” Kane recalls.

Kane’s rhymes focused primarily on his own self-promotion. When he shifted to a more comical tone, Biz Markie couldn’t help but laugh. He asked if Kane had more rhymes like that — which he did, which prompted Biz to broach the idea of a partnership. Since Biz Markie had already made a name for himself doing shows in Harlem and Brooklyn, he promised Kane that one day they’d land a record deal together.

“I don’t know what it was about the funny rhymes, but it was something that he just gravitated to and was like, ‘I want you down with me,’” Kane says.

The duo mostly frequented the Albee Square Mall or searched for breakbeats together at Downtown Records in Manhattan, Birdel’s Records in Bed-Stuy, and Rock and Soul in Midtown.

“I wanted to prepare his stuff for his record,” Biz Markie says. “So when it was time for him to have his break, he’d be ready.”

Biz would also visit Kane sometimes at Sarah J. Hale High School in Brooklyn — freestyling and beatboxing in the lunchroom even though he wasn’t a student. After school, they’d seek out potential rappers to battle.

“Once Kane beat Biz, then it was like, ‘Okay, you’re coming with me. You’re coming with me to take out these other rappers,’” says Mister Cee, Kane’s future DJ and classmate at Sarah J. Hale.

While Kane had attempted a recording career and soured on the experience, his newfound relationship with Biz Markie inspired him to once again try his hand at making a record. Together they recorded “Vapors” — based on an experience Kane had in the Albee Square Mall — as well as “Nobody Beats the Biz,” “Biz Is Goin’ Off,” “Pickin’ Boogers,” and “Albee Square Mall.”

“He slowly but surely became the in-house writer for a couple of Juice Crew members — in particular Biz and Shante — before we came out with our record, ‘Just Rhymin’ With Biz,’” Mister Cee says. “He was doing a little bit of everything before we got our records off the ground.”

“Just Rhymin’ With Biz” was seemingly a perfect recipe. Kane and Biz’s reputation had grown throughout the city. However, the very title of the song — coupled with Biz’s appearance on the first verse — had many convinced that it was in fact a Biz Markie record. Kane knew that he still needed something to make his own mark on Hip-Hop.

* Banner Image: Ed Lover, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie / Photo by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


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