New York rapper Biz Markie, the gruff-voiced genius behind ‘Just a Friend’, has died 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,” the rapper’s representatives say in a statement.
“We are grateful for the many calls and prayers of support that we have received during this difficult time,” the statement read. “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. We respectfully request privacy for his family as they mourn their loved one.”
A cause of death has not officially been released, but the rapper had been dealing with health issues related to Type II diabetes in recent years, including suffering a stroke and falling into a diabetic coma earlier this year.
Markie, a Harlem native who was a major player during the birth of hip hop in late 1970s New York, first made his name as a beatboxer. His first single, ‘Make the Music With Your Mouth, Biz’ in 1986, showcased his unique abilities to produce all kinds of unique noises. These booms and clicks, along with his mush mouth delivery and gregarious, fun-loving personality, were crafted into a persona of a goofy pseudo-serious MC.
Over the course of five albums, between 1988 and 2003, Markie, real name Marcel Hall, rose to prominence in the mainstream through his hit single, ‘Just a Friend’, released in 1989. ‘Just a Friend’ was certified platinum and reached Number nine on the Billboard Hot 100, making it one of the most commercially successful rap singles of all time when it came out. Markie’s endearingly pitch-challenged singing voice only made him more likeable, and Markie’s willingness to play into his sillier side earned him the honourable title of ‘The Crown Prince of Hip Hop’.
Even though he never landed another Hot 100 single, Markie solidified himself within pop culture through his frequent cameos and guest appearances in movies like Men in Black II and on TV shows like In Living Color, Wild’n Out, SpongeBob SquarePants, Yo Gabba Gabba, and a number of VH1 “I Love the …” series, of which I personally watched hundreds of hours of as a kid.
Markie’s laboured drawl and teddy bear personality made him a beloved figure in the greater world of entertainment, whether those involved knew his deep legacy within the annals of hip hop history or not. He might have been the Clown Prince, but nobody was clowning on Biz Markie.
Listen to some of Biz Markie’s greatest tracks down below.