Biz Markie, Beloved Rapper, Dead at 57

"Just a Friend" was his best-known song

Biz Markie
Biz Markie.
John Medina/WireImage for Starz Entertainment

The world of hip-hop lost one of its luminaries on Friday. Biz Markie, best known for the single “Just a Friend,” has died at the age of 57. The New York Times reported his death, which was confirmed by his manager Jenni Izumi.

Nicknamed the Clown Prince of Hip-Hop, Biz Markie’s career in music began in the early days of the genre. At the Times, Joe Coscarelli notes that he worked with the likes of Roxanne ShantĂ© early on. A list of Biz Markie’s collaborators would include everyone from Big Daddy Kane to the Beastie Boys. The latter’s Mike D wrote movingly about Biz Markie for Rolling Stone, writing that “[h]e was all inclusive the way hip-hop can be at its best moments.”

His 1989 album The Biz Never Sleeps was home to “Just a Friend,” which found him memorably crooning the song’s hook — which, the Times noted, he only did because the vocalist to record that part never showed up to the studio. And yet it’s impossible to imagine the song any other way.

As Pitchfork’s Allison Hussey notes, Biz Markie was also at the center of a legal case with a significant impact on contemporary music. Gilbert O’Sullivan sued him over the use of a sample on 1991’s I Need a Haircut. The ruling resulted in artists needing to clear samples — something which changed the genre substantially in the years that followed.

Biz Markie’s last album was released in 2003, but he has remained active — including touring as a DJ and appearing in movies and television shows. His irreverent approach to music — and his exuberant love for it — remains reflected in the songs he made.

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