Biz Markie, who rapped the classic song Just A Friend, dies at 57

Biz Markie, who rapped the classic song Just A Friend, dies at 57

July 17, 2021

Biz Markie, the Just A Friend rapper whose legal troubles altered the makeup of hip-hop, dies at 57 from complications of diabetes

  • The rapper Biz Markie (born Marcel Theo Hall) died Friday night in a Baltimore hospital at age 57, TMZ reports
  • Markie reportedly died of complications of type 2 diabetes, which he had been suffering from throughout the past year
  • He was best known as a one-hit wonder with the classic track Just A Friend
  • But Markie inadvertently changed the face of rap after he was sued for using uncleared samples in 1991, leading to the current era of sparser sampling

Biz Markie, the rapper who rose to fame with the one-hit wonder Just A Friend, has died at age 57.

The hip-hop legend died at a Baltimore hospital on Friday night from complications of diabetes, TMZ reports.

Although Markie was best known for his instantly catching song and other tunes, he inadvertently helped to end an era of unchecked sampling in hip-hop as the result of a 1991 lawsuit against him.

End of an era: The rapper Biz Markie, who rose to fame with the one-hit wonder Just A Friend, died Friday at age 57 from complications related to his type 2 diabetes, TMZ reported; seen in 2018 in LA

Jenni Izumi, a representative for the late rapper, reacted to news of his death in a statement. 

‘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,’ she wrote. 

‘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,’ she concluded.

Markie had previously been hospitalized in the summer of 2020 due to health issues related to his type 2 diabetes.

 Legend: ‘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,’ his representative told TMZ

A source told the publication that Markie had died at 6:25 p.m. with his wife Tara Hall holding his hand through his final moments, as the nursing staff supported his family.

The rapper and his family remained tight-lipped about his medical condition throughout the past year

In July 2020, TMZ reported that Markie had been hospitalized for weeks due to his diabetes.

In April, rapper Big Daddy Kane claimed during an appearance on The Breakfast Club that the Markie was undergoing physical rehab and had been making improvements.

One-hit wonder: Markie had his greatest success in 1989 with the release of Just A Friend, which featured a prominent melody interpolated from Freddie Scott’s You Got What I Need; seen in 1988

Classic: The humorous video helped elevate the song’s profile. Markie was featured in a section of it dressed as Mozart with a powdered wig

Markie had his greatest success in 1989 with the release of Just A Friend, which featured a prominent melody interpolated from Freddie Scott’s You Got What I Need.

The piano melody gave the song a pop-music feel that departed from other popular hip-hop songs of the era, and Markie’s ragged vocals added a charming, light-hearted touch to the tune.

The song peaked in the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, and its humorous video, which included a section with him dressed as Mozart in a powdered wig at a piano, helped it become a lasting track.

Markie was among several rappers who were hit by lawsuits in the early 1990s for using samples in their songs without permission.

Throughout the 1980s, many artists created hip-hop and rap songs that were filled with dense layers of samples, in contrast to contemporary rap songs where most artists use just a few samples that have been approved and paid for.

End of an era: Markie was sued by singer–songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan for sample his song Alone Again (Naturally). O’Sullivan won and helped end the era of rampant sampling in hip-hop; Markie seen in 2011

After releasing his third album, 1991’s I Need A Haricut, Markie was sued by singer–songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan for sampling his song Alone Again (Naturally) on Markie’s track Alone Again.

A judge hearing the case ruled in favor of O’Sullivan and escalated the lawsuit by referring it to criminal court.

No charges were ever brought against Markie or others involved in creating the song, though it would affect his career going forward. 

That same year, the hip-hop group De La Soul was also sued for using uncleared samples by members of The Turtles, effectively ending the era of rampant sampling. 

Markie managed to laugh about the setback two years later when he released his fourth album, titled All Samples Cleared. 

Rising star: Markie was born in Harlem as Marcel Theo Hall on April 8, 1964, though he was raised on Long Island. He got his start in NYC clubs before expanding with shows throughout the northeast; seen in 2012 in NYC

Markie was born in Harlem as Marcel Theo Hall on April 8, 1964, though he was raised on Long Island.

The musician got his start playing at small clubs around New York in the early 1980s, before building his cult following with concerts throughout the northeast.

One of his most influential early tracks was Make The Music With Your Mouth, Biz, a track on his 1988 debut LP Goin’ Off.

The song showcased his human beatbox skills along with his rapping, and Markie would continue to beatbox on other artists songs in the future.

Following his sampling controversy, the rapper’s career entered a fallow period in which he mostly made guest appearances and turned to modest film and TV roles until returning with his final studio album, 2003’s Weekend Warrior.

Staying busy: After his career slowed down following his lawsuit, Markie made guest appearances with the Beastie Boys and appeared in Men In Black II and in shows like Crank Yankers and SpongeBob SquarePants; seen in February 2020 in Miami Beach

He would go on to make multiple appearances with the Beastie Boys, who were open about their admiration of him.

Markie appeared on the sketch comedy series In Living Color in 1994 and was an announcer on the Comedy Central series Crank Yankers, in which real prank phone calls made by actors and comedians were acted out by puppets.

His most recognizable film role was probably 2002’s Men In Black II, in which he played an alien being who communicated in a language that sounded exactly like his beatboxing.

Markie would also be featured as a voice actor in animated shows including SpongeBob SquarePants and Adventure Time, and he had cameo appearances on Fox’s Empire and ABC’s Black-ish.

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