Biz Markie, the ‘Clown Prince of Hip-Hop,’ Dead at 57

On Friday, Biz Markie, the 57-year-old pioneering rapper, producer, and beatboxer with giddy goofiness, endless, off-kilter creativity, and groundbreaking music, made him a singular presence in hip-hop and popular music culture at large, passed away.

His representative, Jenni Izumi, released a statement saying, “It is with tremendous regret that we announce, this evening, with his wife Tara by his side, hip hop pioneer Biz Markie gently passed away.  To everyone who has reached out to us through phone calls and prayers, we cannot express how much we appreciate your support and encouragement.”

Biz Markie Cause of Death

“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,” Izumi added. “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.”

The rapper died of unknown causes, but he had been dealing with health problems due to his decade-long fight against Type 2 diabetes. He was admitted to the hospital in April 2020 with symptoms attributable to the illness, and later that year, he had a stroke. Despite the rapper’s best efforts at rehabilitation, his condition deteriorated further, leading to unfounded death rumors in late June.

biz markie cause of death
biz markie cause of death

Izumi said at the time, “Biz is still under medical care, surrounded by doctors who are working hard to provide the best health care possible.”

The producer-MC, whose real name was Marcel Hall, released five albums (including the classics Goin’ Off in 1988 and The Biz Never Sleeps in 1989) that showcased his special voice, which combined half-sung (and intentionally off-key) choruses, riveting beatboxing, and silly humor to earn him the nickname “Clown Prince of Hip-Hop” and pave the way for other gloriously bizarre rappers like Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

The MC, born in Harlem but grew up on Long Island, was a part of the famed Juice Crew, a group of Queensbridge rappers that included Big Daddy Kane, Masta Ace, Roxanne Shante, and Kool G Rap. The group was put together by DJ Mr. Magic and Marley Marl.

Markie’s “human beatbox” skills were on full display in his 1986 debut single, “Make the Music With Your Mouth, Biz,” which was produced by Marl; his beatboxing abilities were so out of this world that he was cast in a cameo appearance as a beatboxing, mail-sorting alien in 2002’s Men in Black II.

The Juice Crew’s Cold Chillin’ Records released Markie’s first LP, Goin’ Off, in 1988, with Marl serving as producer. Even though the album wasn’t a critical success, the songs “Vapors,” “Nobody Beat the Biz” (a play on the jingle of a New York electronics store), and “Pickin’ Boogers” have been underground hits for a long time.

“Pickin’ Boogers” shows off the Clown Prince’s unique blend of humor and hip-hop. In 2018, the rapper was questioned if the events in “Vapors” were true, to which he responded,  “Dead real. Everything. I didn’t know how to write no other way.” In addition to being sampled by everyone from Notorious B.I.G. to Ice Cube, the song also inspired Nas’s Illmatic classic “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park),” which prominently features the line “Now let me take a journey down memory lane” from “Pickin’ Boogers.”

The Biz Never Sleeps, released in 1989, became Markie’s best-selling album because of the hit single “Just a Friend.” Markie’s sole platinum-selling success peaked at number nine on the Billboard 100 in 1990, thanks to a catchy chorus incorporating his hound-dog voice on an interpolation of Freddie Scott’s 1968 song “(You) Got What I Need” and a similarly hilarious music video casting Markie as Mozart.

When asked about “Just a Friend,” Markie remarked in 2013 that “usually when I make a record, I know what the potential is going to be,” but that he had been surprised by the song’s success.

“‘Just a Friend’ opened a world where I never knew the difference between being a pop star and a regular rap star. It was crazy.”

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