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


Biz Markie, the innovative yet proudly goofy rapper, D.J. and producer whose self-deprecating lyrics and off-key wail 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 did not specify the cause or say where he died.

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

A native New Yorker and an early collaborator with hip-hop trailblazers like Marley Marl, Roxanne Shanté and Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie began 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 its Cold Chillin’ label, under the tutelage of the influential radio D.J. Mr. Magic.

But it was his pained, rough-edged singing on 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 neeeeeed/But you say he’s just a friend/But you say he’s just a friend.”

Marcel Theo Hall was born April 8, 1964, in Harlem. He was raised on Long Island, where he was known around the neighborhood as Markie, and he took his original stage name, Bizzy B Markie, from the first hip-hop tape he ever heard in the late 1970s, by the L Brothers, featuring Busy Bee Starski. Always known as a prankster, he was said to have once given his high school vice principal a cake laced with laxatives.

He honed his act as a D.J. and beatboxer at Manhattan nightclubs like the Roxy, although his rhyming remained a source of insecurity. By the mid-1980s, he had fallen in with the Juice Crew, whose members began featuring him on records and eventually working with him on his lyrics and delivery.

“When I felt that I was good enough, I went to Marley Marl’s house and sat on his stoop every day until he noticed me, and that’s how I got my start,” he said.

In 1986, Biz Markie appeared on one of his earliest records, “The Def Fresh Crew” by Roxanne Shanté, providing exaggerated mouth-based percussion. That same year, he released an EP produced by Marley Marl, “Make the Music With Your Mouth, Biz,” calling himself the Inhuman Orchestra.

“When you hear me do it, you will be shocked and amazed,” he rapped on the title track, which would also serve as a single from “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 would become a part of hip-hop history for nonmusical reasons, which would nonetheless reverberate through the genre: a copyright lawsuit.

In 1993, Biz Markie responded with a pointed new album, “All Samples Cleared!” But his popularity had waned, and it would be his last release for a major label. A decade later, he returned with “Weekend Warrior” (2003), his fifth and final album, though he maintained cultural relevance as a big personality with an enduring smash in “Just a Friend.”

Survivors include his wife, Tara Hall. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.



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