Biz Markie, the ‘Clown Prince of Hip Hop’ Best Known for 1989 Hit “Just a Friend,” Dies at 57

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Biz Markie, the pioneering rapper, producer, and beatboxer whose jovial goofiness, boundless, off-kilter creativity and innovative music made him a singular presence in both hip-hop and pop culture at large, died Friday at the age of 57.

“It is with profound sadness that we announce, this evening, with his wife Tara by his side, hip hop pioneer Biz Markie peacefully passed away,” his rep Jenni Izumi said in a statement. “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,” Izumi added. “He leaves behind a wife, many family members and close friends who will miss his vibrant personality, constant jokes and frequent banter. We respectfully request privacy for his family as they mourn their loved one.”

While a cause of death was not revealed, the rapper had struggled in recent years with health issues related to his decade-long battle with Type 2 diabetes. In April 2020, he was hospitalized due to complications related to the disease, and later that year suffered a stroke. Although the rapper was rehabilitating, his condition continued to decline, leading to premature reports of Markie’s death in late June.

“Biz is still under medical care, surrounded by professionals who are working hard to provide the best health care possible,” Izumi wrote in a statement to Rolling Stone at the time.

Over the course of five albums — most notably 1988’s Goin’ Off and 1989’s The Biz Never Sleeps — the producer-MC, whose real name was Marcel Hall, developed his own style unlike any other rapper at the time: a mix of half-sung (and intentionally off-key) choruses, riveting beatboxing, and silly humor that would earn him the nickname the “Clown Prince of Hip-Hop” and pave the way for gloriously bizarre rappers like Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Although deemed one of hip-hop’s biggest one-hit wonders — VH1 placed his 1989 classic “Just a Friend” at Number 81 on its 2000 list of the greatest one-hit wonders of all time — the rapper’s impact extended far beyond hip-hop’s greatest friend-zone lament.

The Harlem-born, Long Island–raised MC was a member of the legendary Juice Crew, the Queensbridge collective assembled by DJ Magic Mike and Marley Marl, and featuring fellow rappers like Big Daddy Kane, Masta Ace, Roxanne Shante, and Kool G Rap.

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SOURCE: Rolling Stone, Daniel Kreps and Jason Newman

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