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Biz Markie Dead at 57
Biz Markie, hip-hop’s legendary “Clown Prince” and the rapper behind the hit song “Just a Friend” died on Friday. He was 57. Markie’s manager, Jenni Izumi, confirmed his death but did not immediately specify a cause. He was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in his late 40s. In April of 2020, Markie, born Marcel Theo Hall, was hospitalized due to complications from diabetes and reportedly suffered a stroke. “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,” reads a statement from Izumi.
“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.” On Instagram, Biz Markie’s wife Tara Hall captioned a photo of the MC with a heartfelt message: “A GOOD heart stopped beating this evening… and I was there for the last one….Biz Fought till the end, like the true legend he is.”
In 1989, Markie found mainstream success with the release of his sophomore album “Biz Never Sleeps.” The album’s lead single “Just a Friend” went platinum, reaching No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Singles chart and No. 9 on the Hot 100. The irresistible track established Markie as a charismatic MC and stylish beatboxer. As time passed, the song’s influence grew stronger. By the time the r&b singer Mario covered it in 2002, “Just a Friend” and Markie were major totems of American pop culture.
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Markie consumed just as much culture as he created. As folks on Twitter pointed out, in the classic book Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists there’s a piece called “A Few Of Biz Markie’s Favorite Things.” The list contains items that are both silly and savvy, goofy and sophisticated, and much like Markie himself, wildly unpredictable. Who among us could’ve guessed that Markie coveted Barbie dolls. “My treasure” he wrote of his collection. “I got them from the beginning, like from Marilyn Monroe days to now. I got different races from different countries and all that.”
Barbies weren’t the only thing Markie collected. He also had Welcome Back Kotter and Good Times trading cards, old issues of Mad magazine, “every board game ever made,” and an enviable 12” singles collection that he claims included the only copy of “Take Me to the Mardi Gras”—the version without the bells—by Bob James. These are the things that lit Biz Markie up like a christmas tree. They brought joy to one of hip-hop’s most original artists.
Markie remained an active entertainer throughout his life. New generations of fans might’ve encountered the lovable icon through his various tv and film appearances—as a beatboxing alien in Men in Black II, a cast member of the original Wild ‘N Out, and most memorably as a beatboxing tutor on Nick Jr.’s Yo Gabba Gabba! But no matter how someone discovered Biz Markie, they were inevitably delighted by what they found.
Abigail Covington is a journalist and cultural critic based in Brooklyn, New York but originally from North Carolina, whose work has appeared in Slate, The Nation, Oxford American, and Pitchfork
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