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Biz Markie (1964–2021), rapper known for “Just a Friend”

by Linnea Crowther

Biz Markie was a rapper best known for his 1989 hit song, “Just a Friend.”

Music career

Markie had moderate success on R&B radio with his early singles “Make the Music With Your Mouth” (1987) and “Vapors” (1988). But it was “Just a Friend” that made him a star, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and achieving platinum status. The video was an MTV hit, and the song was later ranked among VH1’s “100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop.” Markie became known as the “Clown Prince of Hip Hop” for his funny music and persona. Later singles were popular with rap audiences but didn’t cross over to mainstream radio play, including “What Comes Around Goes Around” (1991) and “Young Girl Bluez” (1993). In later years, Markie was a frequent guest on songs by other artists, including the Beastie Boys and Will Smith. He toured with Chris Rock in 2008, DJing as the opening act.

Acting and reality TV

Markie made appearances on the early ‘90s sketch TV show “In Living Color.” In 2002, he had a cameo in “Men in Black II,” playing an alien whose language sounded like beatboxing. He was in the 2014 SyFy Channel movie “Sharknado: The Second One,” and he performed “Just a Friend” on TV shows including “Empire” and “Blackish.” In 2005, Markie competed on the first season of “Celebrity Fit Club” and won, losing more weight than any other contestant.


Landmark lawsuit

Markie’s third album, 1991’s “I Need a Haircut,” sampled other songs in a practice common to hip hop music. Among the songs sampled was “Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan, who sued Markie’s label, Warner Bros. Records, for unauthorized use of his song. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of O’Sullivan, calling the sampling copyright infringement. The ruling had a profound impact on hip hop music, making it necessary for samples to be cleared with the original artist before being used. Markie responded by titling his follow-up album “All Samples Cleared!”

Markie on the enduring popularity of “Just a Friend”

“That’s what I go into the studio to do, create music that people will love forever. I always knew that record would be big.” —from a 2013 interview with siam2nite.com

Tributes to Biz Markie

Full obituary: The New York Times

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