Rapper Biz Markie, whose 'Just a Friend' became a '90s staple, dies at 57 (2024)

Biz Markie, who fortified the humor-and-hijinks school of hip-hop by taking it worldwide with his 1989 hit "Just a Friend," died Friday at the age of 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," said Jenni D. Izumi, CEO of Biz Markie, Inc., in an emailed statement.

The rapper had been ill, and Izumi had asked for "thoughts and prayers" after it was falsely reported that he had died.

On Friday, Izumi said, "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."

Rapper Biz Markie, whose 'Just a Friend' became a '90s staple, dies at 57 (1)

Markie, whose real name was Marcel Theo Hall, spent his early years in Harlem but moved to Long Island, and by the time he was a teen, he was rapping and beat-boxing, a way of making percussive sounds through vocal and breath work.

He adopted his emcee name because, he said, he admired pioneering rapper Busy Bee Starski, and initially called himself Bizzy B Markie, using his nickname, Markie.

He later shortened the name and made his 1985 hip-hop debut as a beat-boxer for Roxanne Shante of the Juice Crew, already big names in the emerging rap world.

Markie's first hit, "Make the Music With Your Mouth," in 1987, was an ode to beat-boxing.

But it was "Just a Friend," which sampled Freddie Scott's "(You) Got What I Need," which launched Biz Markie to global hip-hop fame and inspired MTV to call him "the clown prince of hip-hop."

Its chorus sang the universal tune of two-timing: "You, you got what I need but you say he's just a friend/And you say he's just a friend, oh baby."

At a time when the video revolution in music was still a thing, Markie made a strong play for the camera in the song's video, dressing somewhat like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, complete with a white wig, while pecking on a piano.

Markie's song earned a decent rotation in the wake of 1980s criticism that MTV would rarely put Black artists on the air. (The network launched "Yo! MTV Raps," a program focused on hip-hop, in 1988).

"Just a Friend" peaked at 37 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart in December of 1989.

The rapper would also become a major voice in the debate over the breadth of intellectual property rights in a music world dependent on sound recycling.

After the 1991 release of his song, "Alone Again," which sampled several bars from Gilbert O'Sullivan's 1972 hit, "Alone Again (Naturally)," O'Sullivan sued, and won, chilling hip-hop's use of samples that haven't been accompanied by a big check.

In 1993, Markie hit back with an album titled, "All Samples Cleared."

Among those saddened by his passing was rapper Q-Tip, who tweeted, "damn im gonna miss u." Funk star Bootsy Collins tweeted that "to a lot of us he was more than Just a Friend," and Cheo Hodari co*ker, creator of Marvel's Luke Cage and a hip-hip journalist, tweeted: "BIZ. Dammit."

Longtime hip-hop writer Jeff Weiss, editor-in-chief of Los Angeles' theLAnd magazine, called Markie "the epitome of hip-hop wild style."

"A brilliant real-life cartoon full of absurdist humor and class clown wit," Weiss said by email. "A beatbox master, vapor-passing, booger-picking pioneer of the drunken vocal technique. The physical manifestation of pure child-like joy with the musicality of a prodigy."

In an interview with the Washington Post in 2019, Markie said his fans always return to "Just a Friend," saying they repeat the chorus to him. "They always sing that to me. Always."

"The weirdest thing about my fame is that when I'm thinking that it's almost over it just sparks back up," Markie said. "I made 'Just a Friend' in '89. Some people's records die — it sprouts up. Now it's 30 years later and it's sprouted up again in commercials. They're not letting me die. The public, the fans, they like me around."

Markie is survived by his wife, many family members and "close friends who will miss his vibrant personality, constant jokes and frequent banter," Izumi said.

Dennis Romero

Dennis Romero is a breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital.

Diana Dasrath

Diana Dasrath is entertainment producer and senior reporter for NBC News covering all platforms.

Suzanne Ciechalski



Rapper Biz Markie, whose 'Just a Friend' became a '90s staple, dies at 57 (2024)


What was the cause of death of rapper Biz Markie? ›

AILSA CHANG, HOST: Rapper, DJ and pop culture figure Biz Markie has died. A statement from a representative said that Biz created a legacy of artistry that will forever be celebrated by his industry peers and his beloved fans.

Why did Biz Markie song Just a Friend? ›

The untrusting lyricism in the song stems from an actual encounter Markie had, where a love interest of his broke his heart on the spot. “I was talking to this girl — the first girl I ever talked to,” he told EW. “And every time I would call out to California, a dude would pick up and hand her the phone.

Did Biz Markie make money from Just a Friend? ›

“Just A Friend” eventually peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, gaining widespread popularity. However, Cool V revealed he and Biz's only earnings from the song came from touring, not actual music sales.

Did Biz Markie have a open casket? ›

After the service — at which Biz Markie laid in an open casket, draped in an outfit designed by fellow Harlemite Dapper Dan — the legendary artist was toasted in a public celebration of life live-streamed for fans worldwide.

What rapper died of diabetes? ›

Biz Markie, who has died aged 57 after suffering from diabetes, earned himself the nickname of “Clown Prince of Rap” for the way he preferred humour and tunefulness to the guns and gangs scattered through the lyrics of more menacing, gangsta-style rappers.

What was Biz Markie's disability? ›

Biz Markie—who died Friday, July 16, of Type 2 diabetes and at a tragically young age, like so many others of his generation—was an original, multi-faceted creative in a way those who know him mainly as the “Just a Friend” guy have never fully realized.

Was Biz Markie in Beastie Boys? ›

He also made numerous guest appearances with the Beastie Boys on Check Your Head (1992), Ill Communication (1994), Hello Nasty (1998), and their anthology The Sounds of Science (1999).

Was Just a Friend from a real story? ›

Not only that, but the song, which turns 30 this month, was based on a true story — one meant to be an earnest expression of his feelings that, for better or worse, fans have found hilarious for three decades and counting.

Who went to Biz Markie funeral? ›

Markie's nearly three-hour funeral was attended by hip hop stars such as LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, Kid Capri, Treach of Naughty by Nature, Montell Jordan, Fat Joe and more. They remembered him as a fun-loving person who was always smiling and making people laugh.

Who did Biz Markie inspire? ›

For evidence of Biz Markie's influence on rap culture, look no further than the late-'90s prince of the genre Will Smith, whose 1999 sophom*ore solo smash Willenium features Biz on the track "So Fresh" alongside Slick Rick.

Who was buried in the most expensive casket? ›

Over the course of history, there have been many premium caskets. Some of the most expensive ones include Zsa Zsa Gabor's casket, the Xiao En Center Casket and Michael Jackson's casket — the Promethean.

Did Big Daddy Kane write for Biz Markie? ›

Goin' Off is the debut studio album by American hip hop musician Biz Markie. The album was released by Cold Chillin' Records, and produced by Marley Marl. Big Daddy Kane wrote the lyrics of the album's first five songs.

How famous was Biz Markie? ›

Biz Markie, was famous for being an American rapper, DJ, and record producer. Markie was best known for his 1989 single "Just a Friend", which became a top 40 hit in several countries. for his hit song “Just A Friend” & was a member of the 80s hip hop collective Juice Crew.

How many kids did Biz Markie have? ›

While Biz Markie did not have any biological kids of his own, he was a loving father-figure to his bonus daughter Averi and to his niece.

Is Biz Rapper still alive? ›

Marcel Theo Hall (April 8, 1964 – July 16, 2021), known professionally as Biz Markie, was an American rapper and singer.

Does Biz Markie play piano? ›

Markie: I knew it was going to be a big record, but I didn't know it was going to be this big. I just knew it was going to be bigger than the rest. I think it's popular because it's got me singing and because of the piano.


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