25 Years Ago: Biz Markie Leaves Legal Woes Behind on ‘All Samples Cleared!’
On June 2, 1993, Biz Markie released his fourth studio album, All Samples Cleared!, the rapper's first release after losing a legal battle over clearance of samples in his music. It was a case that shifted in the way artists and producers craft albums, whose impact is felt even today.
Emerging as fan favorite during the late '80s due to the success of his classic 1988 debut album, Goin' Off, as well as the 1989 follow-up, The Biz Never Sleeps, the Long Island, N.Y. rep charmed fans with his humorous brand of rap on songs like "Vapors," "Nobody Beats The Biz" and "Just a Friend."
Reaching No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, "Just a Friend" marked Biz Markie's arrival as a crossover success and helped The Biz Never Sleeps attain gold certification by the RIAA in 1990, making it his best-selling release to date. Big things were expected for Biz Markie's follow-up, which was released in 1991, however, no one was aware of how it would change the landscape of rap forever.
Titled I Need A Haircut, the album hit shelves on August 27, 1991, and picked up where The Biz Never Sleeps left off, with plenty of storytelling and quirky musings to satisfy both his core fan base and his newfound audience alike. Ultimately, however, I Need A Haircut was deemed a commercial disappointment in comparison to The Biz Never Sleeps. It did, however, make headlines after Biz was served a lawsuit by Gilbert O'Sullivan, over the album cut "Alone Again."
As was common practice in hip-hop at the time, Biz Markie and his production partner Cool Vee crafted many of their beats by using samples of previously recorded songs, mixed with hard-hitting percussion, synths and additional elements. Most times, however, the samples were never cleared by the original artist, composer or record label, resulting in textbook copyright infringement. Throughout the '80s, this infringement typically flew under the radar, with producers going so far as to not reveal the source of the samples used, a tactic that can be traced back to the days of DJs in the '70s, who often covered the labels of their records to avoid imitation.
The case, Grand Upright Music, Ltd v. Warner Bros. Records Inc., listed Biz Markie, his production company and Warner Bros. Records as co-defendants and charged that Biz had used a sample from O'Sullivan's 1972 song "Alone Again (Naturally)" without permission. In its defense, Warner Bros. argued that Grand Upright Music, O'Sullivan's publishing company, did not own a valid copyright in the sampled song, essentially nullifying their claim.
In the end, Judge Kevin Thomas Duffy granted an injunction against Warner Bros. Records, stating "it is clear that the defendants knew that they were violating the plaintiff's rights as well as the rights of others. Their only aim was to sell thousands upon thousands of records. This callous disregard for the law and for the rights of others requires not only the preliminary injunction sought by the plaintiff but also sterner measures."
I Need A Haircut was immediately pulled from shelves, which impacted the album's already under-performing sales, and, more importantly, set the precedent for record companies regarding the consequences of not clearing samples before releasing records commercially.
In the wake of the ruling, more songwriters and composers came out seeking compensation from rap artists for sampling their songs, ending the practice of producers pilfering from catalogs without fear of litigation.
In 1993, Biz moved forward from the ruling in the only way he could, titling his next album All Samples Cleared!, with its cover depicting Cool Vee as a lawyer and Biz himself as the judge and defendant. Also, in spite of the ruling, Biz Markie did not shy away from using samples on the album, with over a dozen listed in the album's credits.
All Samples Cleared! may be recognized more for marking a new era of production techniques in rap, but in hindsight, it's a strong body of work that includes some of Biz Markie's most dexterous lyrical exploits, most notably the album opener "I'm The Biz Markie." From crooning on the album standout "Let Me Turn You On," to touching on matters of the heart on "Young Girl Bluez," "Bad By Myself" and "Hooker Got a Boyfriend," Biz Markie plays to his strengths and displays the savvy of a veteran. The result is ultimately the most underrated album of the Juice Crew member's career and an unsung gem.
All Samples Cleared! peaked at No. 43 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and "Let Me Turn You On," peaked at No. 7 on the Hot Rap Singles chart. The song would be his last Top 10 hit, though, marking the end of his run as one of rap's most consistent hitmakers. Biz Markie put rapping on the back-burner to focus on other endeavors, officially closing the chapter of his career as an artist with his 2003 Tommy Boy release, Weekend Warrior.