Biz Markie, the New York rapper who pioneered beatboxing and who had an enduring hit with the song “Just A Friend,” has died, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed. He was 57.
“It is with profound sadness that we announce, this evening, with his wife Tara by his side, Hip Hop pioneer Biz Markie peacefully passed away,” read a statement from Markie’s representative on Friday.
“We are grateful for the many calls and prayers of support that we have received during this difficult time. Biz created a legacy of artistry that will forever be celebrated by his industry peers and his beloved fans whose lives he was able to touch through music, spanning over 35 years. He leaves behind a wife, many family members and close friends who will miss his vibrant personality, constant jokes and frequent banter. We respectfully request privacy for his family as they mourn their loved one.”
Markie had been suffering from ill health for some time and was hospitalized last year due to complications with Type 2 diabetes. Earlier this year he had reportedly suffered a stroke.
Beatboxing his way into the burgeoning New York hip-hop scene in the mid-1980s, Biz Markie made his mark with his unique lackadaisical rhyme style, sense of humor and witty lines that won him the nickname the Clown Prince of Hip-Hop during the golden age of rap music.
Born Marcel Theo Hall in Harlem, New York on April 8, 1964, he grew up on Long Island before moving back to the city to pursue a music career. In 1985, he first drew notice as a beatboxer for Roxanne Shante of the Juice Crew. Biz Markie, along with Doug E Fresh and the group The Fat Boys, are considered pioneers of beatboxing, innovating and popularizing the form.
In 1988, he released his debut studio album Goin’ Off, released on Cold Chillin’ Record and produced by the Juice Crew’s Marley Marl. The album contained the hit single “Vapors,” one of the rapper’s most well-known songs, which was later covered by Snoop Dogg.
The following year he released The Biz Never Sleeps, produced by his cousin Cool V and himself, which would become a critical and commercial success driven by the hit single “Just A Friend.” Released in September 1989, “Just A Friend” made it to No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified platinum by April 1990.
“Just A Friend,” written and produced by Biz Markie based on an interpolation of Freddie Scott’s “(You) Got What I Need,” would have enduring success and become a hip-hop classic. The track is notable for Biz’s faulting attempts at singing the chorus, but in interviews, he said he wasn’t originally supposed to sing it. “A lot of people didn’t like the record at the beginning. They would say, “Biz is trying to sing? Aw, the record is wack.” But I wasn’t supposed to sing the [chorus]. I asked people to sing the part, and nobody showed up at the studio, so I did it myself,” he told EW in 2019, on the 30th anniversary of the song’s release.
The song has been sampled a number of times, and Mario made a loose cover of it in 2002. In 2009, the song recharted after featuring in a beer commercial.
He released his third studio album, I Need A Haircut, in 1990. The album sold reasonably but the album track “Alone Again” became notorious for a landmark legal case about sampling in rap music. Gilbert O’Sullivan sued the rapper over the unauthorized sample in “Alone Again” from O’Sullivan’s 1972 song, “Alone Again (Naturally).” The resulting court case and judgment in favor of O’Sullivan had a seismic effect on rap music and henceforth required all samples to have clearance from copyright holders before use in recording.
He made light of his legal troubles with the title and the cover art of his fourth album, All Samples Cleared! released in 1993. The album sold modestly reaching No. 43 on Billboard‘s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.
Biz would release his fifth and final album ten years later, with 2003’s Weekend Warrior released on Tommy Boy. The album was hotly anticipated given the gap in releases but didn’t trouble the charts and received lukewarm reviews.
Despite the slowdown of music released under his own name, Biz was a sought-after collaborator and had guest spots on songs by a number of major artists including the Beastie Boys (featuring on several tracks across a number of albums), the Rolling Stones, the Flaming Lips and Will Smith.
In the early 2000s, he began to branch out into other creative pursuits. He had a memorable cameo as a beatboxing alien in Men In Black II in 2002 and a bit part in Sharknado 2: The Second One. On television, he perhaps became best known for featuring on and winning the first season of Celebrity Fit Club in 2005. He also featured in episodes of Eve, Empire and Black-ish. He contributed ‘Biz’s Beat of the Day’ to the Nick Jr children’s show Yo Gabba Gabba!
In the 2010s, Biz became a highly demanded touring DJ and booked over a hundred shows a year across the world. He was a regular face at parties for major events, DJing pre-event and after parties for Oscars, Grammys and movie premieres.