“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,” a representative for Markie said in a statement on Friday.
“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. 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.”
Hailing from Harlem, Marcel Theo Hall first made a name for himself as a beatboxer performing in Manhattan nightclubs in the early 1980s. Assuming the moniker Biz Markie, he eventually landed a recording contract with Cold Chillin’ Records, and in 1988 released his debut album, Goin’ Off.
But it was Markie’s follow-up album, 1989’s The Biz Never Sleeps, which propelled him to superstardom, thanks in large part to the single “Just a Friend.” Built around a sample of Freddie Scott’s song “(You) Got What I Need” and featuring an off-kilter singing chorus, “Just a Friend” peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, was certified platinum, and to this day endures as one of the greatest rap songs of its generation.
Unfortunately, the success of Markie’s next album, 1991’s I Need a Haircut, suffered from a landmark lawsuit over the use of an unauthorized sample. This led to Warner Bros. pulling the LP from shelves, and Markie only released one more album in the ’90s, the sarcastically titled All Samples Cleared!
For the remainder of the decade, Markie guested on songs by contemporary rappers like Beastie Boys, De La Soul, and Will Smith. Beginning in the early 2000s, he pursued opportunities in Hollywood, appearing in movies like Men in Black II, voicing roles in TV series including Spongebob Squarepants and Adventure Time, and serving as the announcer of Crank Yankers. He also toured as part of Yo Gabba Gabba!’s live show, and served as the DJ for VH1’s Hip Hop Squares.
Markie was first diagnosed with diabetes in 2011 and lost 140 pounds in an effort to manage the disorder. “If I didn’t make the changes, it was going to make the diabetes worse,” he told ABC News in 2014. “[Doctors] said I could lose my feet. They said I could lose body parts. A lot of things could happen.”
In summer 2020, Markie was hospitalized for several weeks due to complications from diabetes. Earlier this year, his friend and longtime collaborator Big Daddy Kane revealed in an interview with The Breakfast Club that Markie was recovering from a stroke.
Editor’s Note: See tributes to Biz Markie from Missy Elliott, Questlove, Q-Tip, Ice Cube, and more.