Biz Markie, the New York rapper, beatboxer and producer, has died at age 57.
Markie’s representative, Jenni Izumi, said the rapper and DJ died peacefully Friday evening with his wife by his side. The cause of death has not been released.
“We are grateful for the many calls and prayers of support that we have received during this difficult time,” Izumi said in a statement. “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.”
A highly endearing figure who emerged in the nascent hip-hop scene of the mid-1980s, he scored his biggest hit in 1989 with Just a Friend, which reached No 9 in the US charts.
He was diagnosed with diabetes in 2014, and was hospitalised for weeks with the illness during 2020.
Tributes for the rapper poured in on Friday evening.
“The one hurts baad”, tweeted Tribe Called Quest rapper Q-Tip. “RIP to my Aries bro … I’m gonna miss u”.
“We lost another Rap legend”, tweeted musician Bootsy Collins, while Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea wrote: “All of my love to the one of a kind bringer of love and joy, the great Biz Markie. I will bang his records til the day I die”.
Born Marcel Hall in 1964, Biz Markie cut his teeth on New York’s hip-hop club circuit, and became noted for his freestyling and beatboxing talent. DJ-producer Marley Marl hired him to beatbox on tracks he was making for artists including Roxanne Shanté, and that skill was blended with lyricism on his breakthrough solo track, Make the Music With Your Mouth, Biz.
It was included on 1988 debut album Goin’ Off alongside tracks such as Pickin’ Boogers – an ode to nasal mucus that showcased his goofy humour – and Vapors, which was later covered by Snoop Dogg.
The following year he released second album The Biz Never Sleeps. Buoyed by the single Just a Friend and its glorious, occasionally-in-tune chorus sung to a hesitant would-be lover, the album became his biggest success and was certified gold in 1990.
Follow-up I Need a Haircut was less successful and didn’t reach the US Top 100. Markie was sued by Gilbert O’Sullivan following its release over the track Alone Again, which sampled the chorus and piano backing of O’Sullivan’s song Alone Again (Naturally). A court ruled against Markie, who wryly titled his next album All Samples Cleared!; the decision changed the way samples were used in hip-hop, requiring them to be cleared prior to release.
Markie released only one further album, 2003’s Weekend Warriors, but continued touring (including as a DJ), made appearances in film and television, and performed guest raps with other artists.
He appeared on the Beastie Boys tracks Do It, The Biz vs The Nuge and Intergalactic, and sang on Benny and the Jets, their cover version of Elton John’s song. He guested alongside Slick Rick on the Will Smith track So Fresh, later acting opposite Smith in a cameo in Men in Black II. He was sampled by the Rolling Stones for their 1997 song Anybody Seen My Baby?, and guested on the Avalanches’ 2016 album Wildflower. In 2020, he became a host on US radio station Sirius XM.
“When I was a teenager we used to sneak out on Monday night to hit the hottest party in NYC. Soul Kitchen taught how let music live in my body,” wrote Washington on Twitter. “Whenever we saw Biz on the 1s & 2s we were in awe. He was a genius. Rest In Peace and Soul.”
Even New York major Bill de Blasio weighed in, saying: “Biz Markie turned hip hop on its head and brought that New York sense of humor to audiences across the world. We’re mourning a true son of Harlem tonight.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting