Biz Markie: ‘Just a Friend’ rapper and ‘Yo Gabba Gabba’ actor dies aged 57 - a look back at his life and career

The American music producer had lived with type 2 diabetes for seven years

Biz  Markie passed away on Friday, 16 June (Picture: Getty Images)
Biz Markie passed away on Friday, 16 June (Picture: Getty Images)

Hollywood stars and music icons have paid tribute to rapper and music producer Biz Markie, who died on Friday 16 July.

In a statement released by his agent, Jenny Izumi, he was described as having created “a legacy of artistry that will forever be celebrated by his industry peers and his beloved fans”.

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The 57-year-old was best known for his US Top 10 hit, Just a Friend, which he released in 1989.

So, who was Biz Markie and how will he be remembered? This is what you need to know.

Who was Biz Markie?

Marcel Theo Hall was born in April 1964 in Harlem, Manhattan.

He was raised on Long Island and became known as Markie during his childhood.

Biz Markie recorded #TBT Night Presented By BuzzFeed in 2018 (Picture: Getty Images)

Before being an internationally recognised rapper and beatboxer, he performed in New York nightclubs as a DJ. In the early 80s, he also became known in states such as Pensylvannia and Washington DC.

His stage name, Biz Markie, came from rappers who he grew up listening to.

He said of the origin of his name: “Biz comes from the first hip-hop tape I heard. It was ’77, ’78, from the L Brothers. Grand Wizard Theodore was the DJ, and the rappers was Kevvy Kev, Master Rob and Busy Bee Starski.

“I loved Busy Bee. Busy Bee just stuck with me. My name used to be Bizzy B Markie, and after a while I put the Biz with the Markie.”

He married his wife, Tara, in 2005 and the pair went on to have two children together. The pair kept their lives incredibly private and so not much is known about his family life.

In 2014, Markie was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and in 2020 he was hospitalised after experiencing a diabetic coma.

On 15 July 2021, he passed away with his wife by his side after being hospitalised at the start of July.

In a statement, his agent said: ““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.”

No cause of death has been confirmed at this time.

What music and acting was he best known for?

He first shot to fame in the US in 1988, upon releasing his debut album, Goin' Off. He became known for his single "Make the Music with Your Mouth, Biz".

In 1989, his big break came when he released a second album, The Biz Never Sleeps, which featured his biggest ever hit, Just a Friend. This was his first album released under Warner Bros.

The song featured Biz rapping and singing, with a n edited version of 1968 single "You Got What I Need" by singer-songwriter Freddie Scott. It reached number nine in the Billboard charts.

In 1991 he released his third studio album, I need a haircut, which caused controversy and a lawsuit which he ultimately lost. The legal battle was brought by Gilbert O'Sullivan, who claimed that the album's "Alone Again" featured an unauthorized sample from his hit "Alone Again (Naturally)".

In the end, Warner Bros had to pull Biz’s third album from production and the lawsuit changed the landscape of rap music. The win by O’Sullivan signalled the beginning of artists needing full approval from original song producers before covering their song.

Biz continued to release music, but his career had been damaged by the overshadowing lawsuit.

He went on to make guest appearances in shows and charity music videos, before appearing as an alien parody of himself in Men in Black 2 (2002), alongside Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.

He also made guest appearances for Chris Rock, and Nick Cannon’s show, Wild n Out.

Throughout the noughties, Markie also performed a beatboxing segment "Biz's Beat of the Day" on the Nick Jr. show ‘Yo Gabba Gabba!’ He also toured with the show in 2013.

In 2020, he took on hosting duties at LL Cool J's Rock the Bells Radio, leading the weekday lunchtime show, SiriusXM.

How have his friends and fans paid tribute to him?

American musicians flooded to Twitter to pay their respects, with musician Bootsy Collins writing: “We lost another Rap legend.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea described him as “one of a kind.”

“All of my love to the one of a kind bringer of love and joy, the great Biz Markie. I will bang his records til the day I die,” he wrote.Rapper and actor Ice T told how he had shared a tour bus with Markie, he added: “We were all so young and hype. Enjoy every single moment of life with your friends and family.”