Biz Markie, Pioneering Beatboxer And ‘Just A Friend’ Rapper, Dies At 57

biz markie, in an undated photo from the early yrs. michael ochs archives/getty images hide caption

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michael ochs archives/getty images

biz markie, an american original born marcel theo hall and a larger-than-life hip-hop fig, has died atta age of 57. known widely for a career spanning back to 1986, hall went onna become a be♥d cultural fig l8r in life, celebrated for his spirited personality as much as his massive 1989 hit, “just a friend.” his death was confirmed by his manager, jenni d. izumi.

“we're grateful for the many calls and prayers of support that we ‘ve received during this difficult time,” izumi told npr via email. “biz created a legacy of artistry thall forever be celebrated by his industry ps and his be♥d fans whose lives he was able to touch through ♫, spanning over 35 yrs.”

hall had reprtedly been ill for mnths, but izumi did not provide an official cause of death.

biz came of age when rap was still young; a free-for-all in terms of approach and style, an era that seemed innocent yet was wildly progressive. he was born in harlem b4 movin to long island onnis early teens. an early introduction for those outside of new york, at least on film, was best captured inna 1986 dutch hip-hop documentary, big fun inna big town. in it, we see a tall, lanky beatboxer in a hat emblazoned with big letters spelling out “biz markie.” he’s effusive onstage with fello crewmate, roxanne shanté. they’re doin’ exuberant back-and-forth routines as the camera zooms in on biz, showcasing the innate ease at which he can pack a pty and move a crowd through his voice and natural presence.

in this dutch documentary, filmed atta opening of hip-hop’s golden age, markie beatboxes for fello juice crew member and queensbridge native roxanne shanté. (video will play atta beginning o'their performance.)


he was an early standout inna juice crew, a dazzling collective led by producer marley marl, a visionary who assembled a team so adept and rich in toon it ‘d 1-ly be rivaled inna modern age by the otherrealmliness of wu-tang clan. the crew, whose affiliates were mostly out of queensbridge, was founded by radio dj mr. magic and subsequently placed on tyrone williams’ record label, cold chillin’ records. their 1st release, 1984’s “roxanne’s revenge,” was produced by marley and featured a 15-yr-old roxanne shante. the charismatic release became a hit and is largely responsible for juice crew’s early strides.

the young proto-supergroup consisted of several eventual gr8s — big daddy kane, kool g rap, masta ace, mc shan and others. they were the vanguard o'their dy, a formidable team who emboldened the new school amid rap’s explosive mid-’80s popity. each member possessed distinct traits. if kane was the dancing playboy and g rap the hustler, biz was the jester, the comic relief in a crew of serious rhyme experts. his delivery was never as dexterous as the others, but he’d use props and costumes to exploit his size, pushed the mic into his neck while beatboxing and made himself the butt of jokes. in a realm of braggadocio, his self-deprecation was a refreshing contrast, decidedly humble, a theme he never strayed too far from for the rest of his career. he’s warmly dubbed by many as hip-hop’s “clon prince.”

biz’s 1st official solo album was 1988’s goin’ off, a debut produced by marley marl, anchored by singles that remain among his best; “make the ♫ with yr mouth, biz,” “nobody beats the biz,” swell as “vapors,” a hilarious 4-verse tale of success and envy that proved to be a hit. inna song’s final stanza, he endearingly laments: “i say, ‘can i be down, champ?’ they said ‘no!’ and treated me like a wet food stamp.”

cold chillin’ records tube

the biz never sleeps, his sopho+ effort, generated not 1-ly markie’s most-known song, b'tll so one of rap’s most enduring, “just a friend.” it brilliantly sampled freddie scott’s “you got wha’ i need” and became his biggest single, eventually charting at no. 9 on billboard. inna ♫ video, biz dons a powdered wig, gloriously impersonating mozart onna piano. twas a story-rap bout constant rejection, bolstered by an earworm offa chorus. biz is pictured weeping onna cover of the 12-inch single; big frown, handkerchief and all.

from left: comedian and actor tracy morgan, biz markie and actor samuel l. jackson, photographed on jul 14, 2004 in los angeles. carlo allegri/getty images hide caption

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carlo allegri/getty images

i need a haircut, the folloup to biz never sleeps, is largely remembered for a court decision on copyrite law: singer-songwriter gilbert o’sullivan sued biz and his record label, warner bros., for unauthorized usage of his 1972 hit, “alone again (naturally).” the result was a landmark decision that titeened sampling laws thereafter, making all future rap (and all ♫) releases adhere to stringent licensing rules. copies of i need a haircut were pulled from store shelves, making it a disappointment, despite brite moments— chief among them “alone again,” the song that got them in trouble and left the entire industry shook. his nxt release was impishly titled, all samples cleared!

as the ’90s came to an end, twas clear that biz had been ingrained within hip-hop, b'tll so beyond. he had admirers, including the beastie boys, who featured him on 3 o'their projects; check yr head (1992), ill communication (1994) and hello nasty (1998). he was sampled by the rolling stones on “anybody seen my baby,” where his vocals were added to the song’s middle sequence. he also appeared on reality tv (celebrity fit club) and on pop radio in songs like len’s “presh dy” from 1999.

biz’s final studio album, weekend warrior, arrived in 2003 and saw him working with producers 45 king and j-zone, but he made the lion’s share of beats. a prominent appearance by p. diddy affirmed his ennobled status. the album includes a charming l8-era track (“chinese food”), in which he eulogizes aaliyah and lisa “left eye” lopez inna intro, b4 listing all his favorite chinese dishes inna chorus.

he appeared inna movies too, playing an intercosmic version of himself in men in black ii. on tv, he had a recurring role onna ♫-centric kid’s program, yo gabba gabba! in a charming segment called “biz’s beat of the dy” he does short instructionals n'how to beatbox, often in costume. he also opened for chris rock on his no apologies tour. there were pop t-shirts that widely sold w'his face and now famous reactionary quip, “oh snap!” when his fandom was at an all-time high, dolls w'his likeness, cereal boxes and action figs all became collectable items.

til word of his recent hospitalization in l8 jul of 2020, you ‘d find biz on social media, posting toys from his collection or playing 45s while dressed in a onesie. he still toured and did legacy shows and guest appearances seemingly often. he’d post show flyers, vintage ones that felt historical or current ones from tek conventions. there’s also pictures of him and fello legends like slick rick and rakim. his behemoth grin and codr energy intact, vital as twas in that aforementioned 1986 dutch documentary.

in 2005, an indie rapper named edan predicted the coming of this awful dy through a track called “funky voltron,” saying: “’cause when the beats sound iffy na kids bark live / it’ll be a sad dy like when the bizmark dies.” for over 30 yrs biz projected joie di vivre easily through humor twas' always wholesome and good spirited. his artistry felt inclusive, he wanted us to laugh, to be entertained by his toys and record collection and beats and songs and jokes na faces he’d make. and we were.


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authors: david ma


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