Biz Markie, the rap icon who helped bring hip-hop into the mainstream in the late '80s, has died. He was 57.
Markie's death on July 16, 2021 was confirmed after a false report earlier that month. The artist had struggled with health issues for some time, including complications from type 2 diabetes. (He'd suffered a stroke in 2020.)
“We are grateful for the many calls and prayers of support that we have received during this difficult time,” a representative 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.”
Born Marcel Theo Hall in Harlem and raised on Long Island, Biz was lauded in the late '80s as one of the most creative and distinctive artists in the rap game. Debut single "Make the Music with Your Mouth, Biz" highlighted his rhymes and his dexterous beatboxing. But it was "Just a Friend" that helped him cross over into the mainstream. A triptych of comedic, romantic woes punctuated by Biz's impassioned (if off-key) singing on the chorus, "Just a Friend" became a Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1989.
Biz's found himself in a seemingly innocuous yet groundbreaking controversy after the release of his 1991 album I Need a Haircut. Gilbert O'Sullivan took the artist and label Cold Chillin' to court over the use of a sample of his hit "Alone Again (Naturally)" that was utilized without permission. The legal decision sent shockwaves through the genre; to this day, all samples of familiar songs in rap music must be approved. (Biz's follow-up album was cheekily titled All Samples Cleared!)
From that point forward, Markie was more often heard as a featured performer, guesting on multiple albums with the Beastie Boys. He also turned to film and television, making a memorable appearance as a beatboxing alien in Men in Black II and a regular appearance on the children's program Yo Gabba Gabba! His most recent venture was a regular DJ slot on SiriusXM, as part of fellow rap icon LL Cool J's Rock the Bells channel.
Biz is survived by a wife, Tara Hall.