I’m not here for ‘the clown prince of rap’ references in today’s obituaries. And as great as the song is, Biz Markie is way more than “Just A Friend.” Biz is a true pioneer, a heart-and-soul figure of hip-hop culture who leaves an indelible mark on future generations of artists. Rest In Peace to the great Marcel “Biz Markie” Hall. I woke up this morning in California wanting to share the impact Biz had on me as a rap fan in the 1980s, when I was still a teen. He also inspired me when I was a young hip-hop journalist in the ‘90s.
“I’m Shante. He’s Biz Markie.”
Biz was the ultimate showman. I first discovered him as the human beat box behind Roxanne Shante’s 1986 “Def Fresh Crew” (scroll down). l was a big fan of Doug E. Fresh’s beatboxing, and the same for the Fat Boys’ Buffy. But Biz’s vocal drum patterns were booming! And his harmonizing patterns were uniquely infectious. As he explained to London’s Tim Westwood back in 1988 ⬇️
“Def Fresh Crew” is also the first song that let me know what was up with the vials scattered around my Woodside Housing Projects in Queens. And what that foul smell was that I was catching from the hallway outside my apt. 1A: It’s sort of crazy / It’s sort of wack / I’m talkin’ about five-dollar crack.
But Biz couldn’t just play the back. He was destined to take centerstage. I didn’t know what an ‘EP’ was at the time. but I cherished my vinyl copy of Biz Markie’s 1986 Make The Music With Your Mouth, Biz.
All I needed was the title track. Over the masterful Marley Marl production, Biz’s debut single was a powerful introduction to a young legend. A year later, Biz upped the ante with 1987’s “Nobody Beats The Biz.” The triumphant TJ Swan hook interpolated the popular commercials from NYC’s rising retail chain, The Wiz (sidebar: the first music I ever purchased with my own money was LL Cool J’s 1985 Radio at a Wiz on Steinway Street in Queens. Later that day at my grandmother Lucille’s apt, my brother Kenny bent my vinyl up and I had to head back to the Wiz for another copy.)
Later that same year, Biz helped usher in the career of Brooklyn’s finest, Antonio “Big Daddy Kane” Hardy. It was the b-side of Kane’s “Get Into It” that everyone was bumpin’ throughout NYC’s five boroughs. “Big Daddy, my man, mellow / Get on the mic / ‘Cause you know you eat Jell-O.”
Biz was getting big. Becoming a star. He talked about how others were becoming impacted by his success. Nobody wants you when you’re down and out. But we were all here for Biz on a yacht with a dookie rope chain recounting the rise of himself and his friends, TJ Swan, Big Daddy Kane, and his cousin, DJ Cool V. “Damn it feels good,” he said, “to see people up on it.”
It only got bigger for Biz. Released in the fall of 1989, “Just A Friend” penetrated pop culture. Soon the casual rap fan college kids were kegging up and chanting along, “You! You got what I need…” This eternal song is how Good Morning America and CBS This Morning worlds remember him today. But as I said, he’s more than that one classic.
Sadly, Biz’s run got derailed by a 1991 sample clearance conflict with Irish singer/songwriter Gilbert O’ Sullivan. Biz song is called “Alone Again.” The song wasn’t even a single, but a deep album track from Biz’s third full-length, I Need A Haircut. O’Sullivan’s 1972 original, one of the biggest hits of the ‘70s, is called “Alone Again (Naturally).” O’Sullivan sued. Warner pulled the album off shelves. After this, even after the song was removed, and the album re-pressed and re-released, for Biz … nothing was same.
I never had the chance to chop it up with Biz. I did witness him one time tho, shopping for breaks at New York’s Downtown Records. Biz bought a Meters record, so I bought a Meters record. His love and knowledge for music across genres is well documented as is his massive record collection — word to Questlove. But Biz didn’t have to always dig deep for rare grooves. Anchored by 1979’s Philly Soul classic, “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now,” Biz’s 1993 “Let Me Turn On” is a very upbeat ending to his legacy as a musical artist.
And yup, before I go, I gotta tell you about the Biz Doll.
When young Cold Chillin signee Masta Ace couldn’t get Biz Markie to show up for his collaboration, he created 1990’s “Me And The Biz,” a duet with himself, performing his version of Biz’s lyrics. For the video, a Biz doll was created and Ace got his ventriloquist on.
What happened to the doll after the video?
Well, the doll remained at the Empire Management offices in Manhattan. Ace’s former manager Patrick Moxey, also managed Gang Starr and one day, Jeru The Damaja and Group Home’s Lil Dap were tossing the doll around and accidentally decapitated it. It was destined to be disregarded as trash, but thankfully our friend Vikki Tobak called my ego trip colleagues and the Biz doll was rescued. We had his head sewed back on and it almost instantly became our mascot. Quickly we had the idea of having rappers pose with the doll for photo ops. They were often damn near giddy to see the actual artifact. Look — Eminem almost smiled.
In my wife Danyel’s latest #BlackGirlSongbook, she conducted an amazing conversation with Public Enemy’s Chuck D, who when reflecting on the recent passing of Digital Underground’s Shock G, dropped the gem: “Stop telling folks how great they were. Tell them how great they are.”
You are great, Biz.
We love you, legend, and we thank you.
a danyelliott production
Danyel Smith + Elliott Wilson