Biz Markie in 1988
Photo: David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Remembering Biz Markie: 5 Signature Songs From The Hip-Hop Legend
With earworm hooks, sing-along choruses and a campy style, Biz Markie had a unique style that set him apart from his hip-hop peers. The foundational artist died this week, at age 57, leaving behind a joyful void in the rap world.
The Queens, New York, native, formerly known as Bizzy B Markie, a moniker stemming from his birth name, Marcel, and shortened to Biz, rocketed to success via the Juice Crew collective. The monster of his legacy is the classic "Just a Friend," which hit the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1990 and cemented Biz Markie as a bona fide superstar. But aside from the ubiquitous sensation of his most successful single, his legacy includes an innovative and broad tapestry of hip-hop skills—rhyming, beatboxing and producing—as well as a contagious sense of humor that earned him a reputation as a "proudly goofy rapper" and the "Clown Prince of Hip-Hop" moniker.
To celebrate the life and legacy of Biz Markie, here are five of his signature songs that paint a portrait of the hip-hop legend and helped define an era of popular music.
"Just a Friend"
Released as part of his 1989 sophomore album The Biz Never Sleeps, "Just a Friend" immediately shot into the cultural zeitgeist, and it continues to stay there to this day, despite the ongoing evolutions in rap styles, tastes and generations. A lighthearted lyrical rumination of someone wondering if their lover is true, the track's opening salvo is a perfect example of the storytelling nature that defined '80s-era hip hop. "Have you ever met a girl that you tried to date," Markie asks as the song's famous piano loop kicks in. "But a year to make love she wanted you to wait?"
Borrowing lyrics, a melody and a piano hook from the 1968 Freddie Scott song "(You) Got What I Need," "Just a Friend," and its memorably campy music video, subsequently catapulted Biz Markie into the mainstream. "A lot of people didn't like the record at the beginning," he later explained in a 2019 interview, which celebrated the song's 30th anniversary. "They would say, 'Biz is trying to sing? Aw, the record is wack.' But I wasn't supposed to sing the [chorus]. I asked people to sing the part, and nobody showed up at the studio, so I did it myself."
Before "Just a Friend" became Markie's signature song, he was known for a spate of successful tracks that helped introduce him to an underground audience. He chronicled his bubbling career, which was then just below the surface of the mainstream, in his 1988 track "Vapors," which peaked at No. 80 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Co-written with his cousin, the influential rap impresario and fellow Juice Crew member Big Daddy Kane, "Vapors" was a commentary on the nature of becoming a rising success.
"Biz had this whole concept of people catching the vapors," Kane said in 2014, referring to an inside joke about people suddenly wanting to be around Biz Markie as his notoriety grew. "He told me about the idea for the song and he wanted to talk about people catching the vapors. People that was frontin' at first and acting funny and all of a sudden they wanna be in your corner and be down with you."
Many marquee artists from the early hip-hop era commonly saw their star subsequently fade from relevance as musical tastes changed throughout the years. That wasn't the case for Biz Markie, who maintained a certain cache even as the decades went on, a legacy that has been bolstered by his stacked résumé of film and television appearances and synchs—whether starring in Sharknado 2: The Second One or landing his music on TV shows like "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia'' and "Empire." "Gooey Gangsta," which sees Biz Markie beatboxing, featured on the 2019 soundtrack for the animated TV series "Adventure Time," on which he voiced the character Snorlock the Beatboxing Slug; the track exemplifies his enduring appeal.
"Nobody Beats the Biz (Best Of)"
Featured on Biz Markie's 1988 debut album Goin' Off, "Nobody Beats the Biz (Best Of)," a takeoff of the then-popular ad slogan "Nobody Beats the Wiz," showcases the ragtag nature of early hip-hop as the song shines a light on the insult back-and-forth game known as the Dozens. Produced by hip-hop pioneer Marley Marl, the leader of Biz Markie's Juice Crew, both the album and song, the latter of which samples the Steve Miller Band's "Fly Like an Eagle," defined late-'80s New York hip-hop culture, cemented Biz's lyrical style, and helped bolster his popularity. Biz Markie also gets political on the track, spitting, "Reagan is the Pres, but I voted for Shirley Chisholm," referring to the first major-party Black candidate to run for President of the United States.
For evidence of Biz Markie's influence on rap culture, look no further than the late-'90s prince of the genre Will Smith, whose 1999 sophomore solo smash Willenium features Biz on the track "So Fresh" alongside Slick Rick. Smith wasn't the only Biz Markie disciple: Everyone from Snoop Dogg, who covered "Vapors" in 1997, to Questlove of the Roots sang Biz's praises. "I'm using all the education he taught me," Questlove wrote of Biz Markie's indelible impact on his life and career in an Instagram post following the news of the rap legend's death. "We will miss him. But he will be here forever."