I was trying to work on a longer version of this story but “recent developments” (DCMA alert!) have short-circuited that, at least for the time being.
Here’s the very very very condensed version though, just to bring folks up to speed.
Years ago, Biz Markie claimed that he owned a 12″ copy of “Mardi Gras” by Bob James, but a version without the bells, thus leaving the breakbeat open. Here’s the regular version of the song:
So yeah, imagine that opening break, but without the bells. That’s what Biz claimed he had.
Now…in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t exactly a big deal. Alt. mixes of recordings exist in the gazillions and let’s also be real about this: it’s all about the bells. Taking the bells away is like eating a cheesesteak…without the steak. I mean, that cheese whiz might be pretty tasty too but you’re missing the main ingredient.
But the reason why this claim ended up snowballing into something much bigger than just “the bells” is that no one could verify Biz’s boast. There are, of course, obscure records out there, of which maybe a literal handful exist. But the fact that no other person on the planet could produce a copy of “Mardi Gras” without the bells lead many to assume that Biz was just pulling our legs.1
And from there, the myth grew. First it grew to Bigfoot proportions, which is to say: most disbelieved but then random people started to pop up, claiming to have heard/seen this mystery 12″ and that only fueled the myth further. For example, there’ve been two cases where people have taped Biz at a party, playing his version…but off of Serato:
Well, that is “Mardi Gras” without the bells, at least for the first four bars. But it’s not exactly iron-clad proof either. We don’t see the record, for example. Of course, I’m not sure how you’d create a bell-less version that easily though some speculated it was actually ?uestlove on the drums there, recreating the break and then mixing it in with the actual “Mardi Gras.” Yeah, the conspiracy theories on this are impressive.
Also, supposedly, there’s some European 7″ version of the song with drums that be panned to the side, thus isolating them from the bells. (Notably, I don’t believe this version has ever been posted online, which then calls into question whether this “pannable” version actually exists or not).
At this point, the mystery has fled Bigfoot land and entered Birther territory, because there are those who are so convinced this single does not exist that no matter what kind of proof is produced, they’d still call bullsh– on it. I mean, if Bob James appeared in a video, holding the record in his hand and played it on a turntable, they’d still claim it wasn’t real. I’m not saying the “Mardi Gras” Birthers are wrong but I do think that there’s some ridiculous lengths that folks have gone to shoot down the remote possibility that a there’s a bell-less version of the song by claiming that any engineer or dude with ProTools could create a bell-less version.2
So this brings us to the video that Thes One shot.3 Thes got a CTI reel of “Mardi Gras” that featured a version of the song with certain tracks taken out. For those of you who saw/heard the video, the first eight bars are bell-less, then the bells come back in, but there are other parts of the song where there’s clearly a track or two that have been pulled out of the masters. What Thes found was NOT a multi-track tape (in which case, you could create any version of “Mardi Gras” you wanted). It was a version that CTI produced, possibly for t.v. library use (though the accompanying documentation wasn’t clear on this). Why they would produce a bell-less version? I have no idea. But I think the reel is legit, regardless. It exists. It’s not a fake.
BUT – and this is important – none of this really settles the Biz debate. And I was being tongue-in-cheek when I said “vindicated” but really, just because a bell-less reel exists doesn’t mean it actually has anything to do with the 12″ version that Biz claims to have (least of all because Biz’s version is four bell-less bars and the reel is eight). But it was, for a minute, a pretty funny new chapter to the story.
So there’s the short story. Does the Biz 12″ exist? Personally, I don’t think it does. But I also think that’s besides the story. The story here is the story behind the single not the actually single itself. And if you don’t collect records, if you’ve never been caught up with a debate around something completely esoteric yet still obsessively engaging then much of this won’t make sense or matter to you. But if that’s the case, then I feel sorry for you because there is such pleasure in the mystery, in the debate around whether Holy Grails are real or not. Finding them is besides the point.
It’s the journey.
- It didn’t help that the odds of CTI pressing up a 12″ of “Mardi Gras” also seemed highly improbable. It’s not outside the realm of technological history, but it would have also made this 12″ one of the first actual 12″ singles released by a modestly sized label. ↩
- Oh word? Then do it. Show us how easy it is to fake a bell-less version. ↩
- It’s not up anymore. More on this in a sec. ↩
- I don’t know how made this, but it’s kind of brilliant. ↩