Hip-hop pioneer Biz Markie, who passed away Friday night, was a pioneering, flamboyant DJ, rapper, beatboxer and producer. A colorful and technically gifted, humorous and versatile freestyling musician who, with an overdose of charisma and self-mockery, assigned himself the free creative role of joker in the vibrant, competitive hip-hop scene of New York in the 1980s.
Harlem, New York native Marcel Theo ‘Biz Markie’ Hall came to fruition in a hip-hop scene that was first and foremost live – on the streets, at parties, in clubs. He made a name for himself as a DJ and beatboxer. How he vocally combined rhythms, melodies and effects was overwhelming. In the VPRO documentary Big Fun in the Big Town from 1986 you can see how a hall in New York explodes when Biz Markie starts beatboxing on stage as accompanist to Roxanne Shante.
As part of the legendary Juice Crew, Biz Markie became one of the most renowned entertainers on the hip-hop scene. One who dressed up in lavish costumes, built hits based on well-known advertising jingles, effortlessly stringed together witty metaphors, could rap infectiously or pick your nose, smell armpits and Star Wars, and in his big hit Just a Friend from 1989, sang with full dedication out of tune.
Biz Markie often created his material from memory in one go. In the Beastie Boys Book Adam ‘Ad-Rock’ Horovitz of Beastie Boys tells them they told their engineer to hit record as soon as Biz Markie picked up the mic in the recording studio or else you’d have missed the magic before you knew it.
The single built around an advertising jingle Nobody Beats the Biz of Biz Markie led to a copyright lawsuit in 1988. In 1991, he again became embroiled in a lawsuit, over sampling music by singer Gilbert O’Sullivan in his track ‘Alone Again’, on album I Need A Haircut. His label was ordered to recall copies and completely stop album sales.
It was a ruling that damaged Biz Markie’s career and that legally labeled sampling a theft in one fell swoop. That changed the hip-hop industry permanently and led to sampling becoming unaffordable for many artists. Biz Markie responded in 1993 with his penultimate album, All Samples Cleared! Ten years later Weekend Warrior, his last record. He remained active, as an actor and comedian, and as the live DJ, performer and entertainer that he was by nature.
An official cause of death has not yet been announced. Biz Markie turned 57 years old.