Rapper Biz Markie has died at the age of 57.
His family told TMZ that the man behind the hit “Just a Friend” died of complications from diabetes in a Baltimore hospital surrounded by loved ones. He was hospitalized last summer with the same illness.
A representative for Markie, legal name Marcel Theo Hall, confirmed the rapper’s death in a statement noting the massive impact he had made: “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.”
Markie was born in New York City in 1964. His marquee song came out in 1989 on the album The Biz Never Sleeps, reaching the Top 40 on the Billboard charts in multiple countries, including breaking the Top 10 of the Hot 100 in the United States. The song had staying power, too: it was later certified Platinum. Snoop Dogg paid homage to Markie’s 1988 song “Vapors” with a cover in 1996. Though he would not crack the Hot 100 again, Markie told The New York Times he never felt like a one-hit wonder: “I don’t feel bad. I know what I did in hip-hop.”
“Just a Friend” featured goofy, wailing vocals that Markie said came about by accident. He told Entertainment Weekly, “I asked people to sing the part, and nobody showed up at the studio, so I did it myself.”
MTV dubbed Markie “Hip-Hop’s Clown Prince,” and the name stuck. He got his start in the New York City-based Juice Crew as a beatboxer, and after his smash hit he would go on to act in bit parts in Men in Black, Black-ish, Spongebob Squarepants, and other shows
The momentum of his first two albums waned when a copyright lawsuit marred the trajectory of his third, I Need a Haircut. A judge slapped Markie with a $250,000 penalty for sampling eight bars of an Irish songwriter’s work without the latter’s permission. The ruling came with the stipulation that Markie stop distributing the album and set the precedent that all samples in hip-hop songs be cleared before the song’s release, a contentious custom that remains today. Markie titled his fourth album, All Samples Cleared! His fifth and final album was released in 2003.
After he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in his late 40s, Markie was open about his efforts to lose weight and focus on his health, telling ABC News he had heeded doctors’ advice to make drastic changes because, “I wanted to live.”
In a 2019 Washington Post interview, the rapper reflected on how he was both “part of hip-hop” and “forgotten in hip-hop” at times.
“It’s beautiful because it means all eyes ain’t on me, so when I do pop up they appreciate everything they see. It’s like the McRib sandwich. It’s like the flowers outside that turn white on the bushes. It comes around when it’s getting ready to be springtime. You appreciate it,” he said.
“I’m going to be Biz Markie until I die. Even after I die I’m going to be Biz Markie.”