It has been reported that rapper Biz Markie, who was known for his light-hearted 1989 hit about unrequited love, “Just a Friend,” has died at 57 years old. His manager Jenni D. Izumi has confirmed his death.
Markie, whose given name was Marcel Theo Hall, became an active rapper and performer from as far back as 1986. His sense of humor and silly demeanor made him an endearing figure in the rap world, as he connected to his fans through his darling approach to life and lyricism.
The Harlem native emerged in the rap scene during its infancy and collaborated with pioneering rappers such as Roxanne Shanté, Big Daddy Kane and Marley Marl, and was immortalized on film in the 1986 documentary, “Big Fun in the Big Town,” where he was shown expressing his beatboxing and rap talent alongside Roxanne Shanté, revealing his ability to attract attention and move a crowd with his fun and exciting presence.
He came to popularity as a part of the hip hop collective Juice Crew and was mentored by the DJ Mr. Magic, who was very influential at the time. The Queensbridge group, where Biz Markie established himself as the jokester, included producer Marley Marl. 1984’s “Roxanne’s Revenge” was their first release which became a favorite among the growing hip hop community of young fans and listeners. Juice Crew was made up of rappers including Kool G Rap, Masta Ace and MC Shan, who would become innovators of the culture.
His 1988 debut album, “Goin’ Off,” established Biz Markie as a proficient MC with an immature and humorous perception of the world, as the first track of the collection of music, “Pickin’ Boogers,” gave no illusions of who the rapper was. He was not political, he was not a romantic, he existed to make listeners laugh, offering an alternative option in the beef-latent rap world. Big Daddy Kane assisted in writing his lyrics, carefully crafting the rapper’s persona which was largely Markie being his authentic self. “Goin’ Off” also released singles “Vapors,” “Make the Music with Your Mouth, Biz,” and “Nobody Beats the Biz.”
The rapper saw true success in 1989 when he turned the hip hop world on its head by releasing “Just a Friend,” which became a pop hit, launching Biz Markie into the limelight. The song was a single from his second album “The Biz Never Sleeps.” “Just a Friend” sampled music from the 1968 song, “(You) Got What I Need” which was written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, and performed by Freddie Scott, giving the song its iconic piano melody.
Biz Markie’s 1991 follow-up album “I Need a Haircut” sparked controversy as he was sued along with his label by Gilbert O’Sullivan who accused Markie of stealing 8-bars of music from his 1972 hit song “Alone Again (Naturally).” The judge ruled in O’Sullivan’s favor and Markie and his label had to pay $250,000 and discontinue distributing the album. This set a precedent in the hip hop world in regard to sampling other artists’ music. Markie released a nod to the incident with his next album titled “All Samples Cleared!”
Throughout the 1990s, the rapper appeared on three Beastie Boys albums and embarked on a film and television career through the end of his life, including appearances in “Men in Black II,” “Black-ish” and the kids’ television show “Yo Gabba Gabba!” where he had a segment called “Biz’s Beat of the Day” that taught children beatboxing techniques.
Biz Markie enjoyed popularity on social media platforms and engaged with his fans often. He will be truly missed.