Biz Markie, the rapper whose classic “Just a Friend” was a major hit in 1989 and has since been sampled in countless songs and videos, has died Friday in a Baltimore hospital from complications of diabetes. He was 57.
TMZ broke the story of his death, but weeks before, a flurry of reports prematurely told of his passing. Those were dispelled by his manager, but it was acknowledged that he had been in ill health for some time.
A statement from his representatives confirmed the death. “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.
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Born Marcel Theo Hall on April 8, 1964, in Harlem, NY, he adopted the stage name Biz Markie and began his career in New York City nightclubs, expanding to colleges.
During his career, he worked as a rapper, singer, DJ, record producer, actor, comedian, and writer. His debut album, Goin’ Off, came out in 1988, led by the single, “Make the Music with Your Mouth, Biz.”
His second studio album followed in 1989. The Biz Never Sleeps featured “Just a Friend,” a lament on woman problems that featured him rapping and mournfully singing about a girlfriend. It rose to No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and was certified platinum.
His third album, I Need A Haircut, was tarred by a lawsuit from songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan, who claimed Markie used a sample of his 1972 hit, “Alone Again (Naturally),” without permission. It proved to be a landmark court case and led to the album being pulled from circulation by Warner Bros. The expense provided a cruel lesson to the heretofore Wild West of sampling, underlining the need to get permission from the copyright holders before using music from other artists.
Biz Markie’s career was hurt by the lost momentum, and his fourth album, titled All Samples Cleared!, did not do particularly well. However, he was established in the rap pantheon by his earlier work and collaborated on several albums by other artists, most notably the Beastie Boys, including their groundbreaking 1992 album Check Your Head.
Turning to acting, Biz Markie made appearances on Fox’s In Living Color and in the film Men in Black II. He also appeared in the TV series Fastlane, Kung Faux, Celebrity Fit Club, The Andy Milonakis Show, Nick Cannon’s Wild ‘n Out and dozens of episodes of Nick Jr.’s kids show Yo Gabba Gabba!
Markie opened the show on Chris Rock’s No Apologies tour in 2008, spinning other artists but closing with his own major hit. He also surfaced in a RadioShack commercial, repeating the line “Oh, Snap! Guess what I saw” from “Just a Friend.”
Later in his career, he guest-starred on the SpongeBob SquarePants episode “Kenny the Cat” and did voice acting work on an episode of the animated Adventure Time.
In 2014, he appeared in Sharknado 2: The Second One and surfaced in 2016 on the Fox TV series Empire, performing (once again) “Just a Friend.” He was also on the ABC series Black-ish in 2017.
His career was capped by hosting a weekday satellite radio show on SiriusXM.
He is survived by his wife, Tara Hall. No memorial plans have been announced.