Biz Markie, Hip-Hop’s ‘Only a Pal’ Clown Prince, Dies at 57

Biz Markie, Hip-Hop’s ‘Just a Friend’ Clown Prince, Dies at 57

Biz Markie, the innovative yet proudly silly rapper, DJ and producer, whose self-deprecating lyrics and weird whining on songs like “Just a Friend” earned him the nickname Clown Prince of Hip-Hop, died on Friday. He was 57.

His death was confirmed by his manager Jenni Izumi, who gave no cause.

He was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in his late 40s and said he lost 140 pounds in the years that followed. “I wanted to live,” he told ABC News in 2014.

Born in New York, Biz Markie is an early contributor to hip-hop pioneers such as Marley Marl, Roxanne Shanté and Big Daddy Kane. Biz Markie started out as a teenage beatboxer and freestyle rapper. He eventually made a name for himself as the resident court jester of the Queensbridge-based collective The Juice Crew and their Cold Chillin ‘label under the guidance of influential radio DJ Mr. Magic.

On “Goin ‘Off” (1988), his debut album, Biz Markie introduced himself as a clumsy upstart with youthful humor – the opening track “Pickin’ Boogers” was about that – but his charm and skill were undeniable, which made him a plausible one Selling to an increasingly rap-curious crossover audience.

With straightforward, often mundane lyrics written in part by his childhood friend Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie was a hip-hop everyone whose main love was music, a journey he made via a James Brown sample on his first hip -Hop-Hit, dem, biographical “fumes”; Snoop Doggy Dogg later adapted the song for his own 1997 version.

“As a teenager, I wanted to be with a lot of MC DJ crews in town,” Biz rapped Markie. “So at Noble Street school I say, ‘Can I be down there champion’ / They said no and treated me like a wet food stamp.”

But Biz Markie soon surpassed his peers commercially, becoming a pop with the unlikely 1989 hit “Just a Friend” from “The Biz Never Sleeps,” released by Cold Chillin ‘and Warner Bros. over a dabbed piano beat. Sensation His tune from the 1968 song “(You) Got What I Need,” recorded by Freddie Scott and written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Biz Markie raps an extended story about the bad luck in love.

But it was his tortured, edgy singing in the song’s chorus – along with the “yo ‘mama” jokes and the Mozart costume he wore in the music video – that made the song indelible: “Oh, baaaaby, you / You got what I need / But you say he’s just a friend / But you say he’s just a friend. “

In the New York Times, critic Kelefa Sanneh Biz called Markie “the father of modern bad singing” and wrote, “His bellowed request – wildly out of tune and utterly unforgettable – sounded like something that came after a day of romantic disappointment and a night of heavy drinking . “

Biz Markie has said that he should never be the singer who handles those notes. “I asked people to sing the role and no one showed up in the studio,” he later explained, “so I did it myself.”

“Just a Friend” would go platinum and reach number 5 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Singles chart and number 9 on the Hot 100 of all genres. He said he realized how big it got “when Howard Stern and Frankie Crocker and all the” white channels around the country started playing it. “And although Biz Markie never returned the heights of” Just a Friend. ” “Would achieve – he failed to land another single on the Hot 100 – he brushed off those who disparagingly described him as a one-hit wonder.

“I don’t feel bad,” he said. “I know what I’ve done in hip-hop.”

Marcel Theo Hall was born in Harlem on April 8, 1964. He grew up on Long Island, where he was known locally as Markie, and took his original stage name, Bizzy B Markie, with him from the first hip-hop band he heard from the L Brothers in the late 1970s Hardworking Bee Starski. Always known as a prankster, he is said to have once given his deputy headmaster a laxative cake.

He honed his role as a DJ and beatboxer in Manhattan’s nightclubs like the Roxy, though his rhymes remained a source of uncertainty. In the mid-1980s he had joined the Juice Crew, whose members began to present him on records and eventually work with him on his lyrics and his performance.

“When I felt I was good enough I went to Marley Marl’s house and sat on his porch every day until he noticed me, and so I started,” he said.

In 1986, Biz Markie appeared on one of his earliest albums, Roxanne Shanté’s The Def Fresh Crew, which provided exaggerated mouth-based percussion. In the same year he released an EP “Make the Music With Your Mouth, Biz” produced by Marley Marl, which the Inhuman Orchestra called itself.

“If you hear me doing it, you will be shocked and amazed,” he rapped on the title track, which was also to serve as the single of “Goin ‘Off”, his official debut. “It’s the brand new thing they call the human beatbox craze.”

But after the success of his first two albums, Biz Markie’s third became part of hip-hop history for non-musical reasons, which nonetheless reverberated through the genre: a copyright lawsuit.

After the 1991 album “I Need a Haircut” was released, Biz Markie and his label were sued by Irish singer-songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan, who said eight bars of his 1972 hit “Alone Again (Naturally.))” were sampled without permission in Biz Markie’s “Alone Again.” A lawyer for Mr. O’Sullivan called sampling “a euphemism in the music industry for what anyone else would call pickpocketing.” A judge agreed, demanding $ 250,000 in damages and prevented further distribution of the album.

That ruling would help set a precedent in the music industry by requiring that even small pieces of sampled music – a cornerstone of hip-hop aesthetics and studio production – be approved in advance. A sampling-sharing market has emerged that remains an important part of the hip-hop economy.

“Because of the Biz Markie ruling,” said a record manager at the time, “we had to make sure in advance that we had written approval for everything.”

In 1993, Biz Markie responded with a pointed new album, “All Samples Cleared!” But its popularity had waned, and it would be his final major label release. He returned a decade later with “Weekend Warrior” (2003), his fifth and final album, although he retained his cultural relevance as a great personality with continued success in “Just a Friend”.

Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

Biz Markie appeared on the big and small screens, usually as a version of himself. He was featured in “Men in Black II”, as the voice in “SpongeBob SquarePants”, and appeared in “Black-ish” and as Beatbox professional behind “Biz’s Beat of the Day” in the children’s program “Yo.” to Gabba Gabba! ” He also became an avid collector of rare records and toys, including beanie babies, barbies, and TV action figures.

But even as a novelty flashback, he stayed jovial, calling himself “one of their unsung heroes” and likening himself to a McRib sandwich in a 2019 Washington Post interview (“when I show up, they appreciate everything they see).

“I’ll be Biz Markie until I die,” he said. “Even after I die, I’ll be Biz Markie.”

Michael Levenson contributed to the coverage.