ERS-Plus is turning up the volume on MCs across 50 years of Hip Hop. This month we celebrate Biz Markie. Want more Hip-Hop and R&B? Check out ERS-Plus on 88.9FM HD2 and online at WERSPlus.org.
By DJ Mo Wilks
Born Marcel Hall, on April 8, 1964, in Harlem, Biz grew up on Long Island, New York. Marcel created his rapper nickname in a place very close to him—his home, literally. He put together his neighborhood nickname, "Markie,” along with the name of his favorite rapper at the time, Busy Bee Starski. These combined to form the name, Biz Markie. Biz always brought the unique characteristics of fun, freestyle, and innovative technique to enhance any gathering.
THE DIABOLICAL BIZ MARKIE'S ASCENSION
By the time Biz was 14 years old, he was already performing as a DJ at house parties. Later, he played at nightclubs like the Funhouse and The Roxy. Although, technically, Biz started as a rapper, he is also respected as a beatboxing pioneer. His was a nuanced technique that incorporated singing or humming while simultaneously beatboxing.
In 1985, Biz Markie would team up with another up-and-coming teen on the Hip Hop scene, 15-year-old rapper Roxanne Shante. Legendary Hip Hop radio DJ Marlon ”Marley Marl” Williams brought the two together. Billed as the “Inhuman Beat Box,” The Biz would assist Shante on one of Hip Hop's first female-led songs, “The Def Fresh Crew.”
After connecting with Marlon and Shante, Biz joined Marley Marl’s Hip Hop collective: The Juice Crew. The rest of the crew consisted of Big Daddy Kane, Kool G. Rap, and MC Shan. This led to a few singles and an EP released on Prism Records. “Music With Your Mouth, Biz” was a spotlight track. Also, the underground hit, “Nobody Beats The Biz,” was a take off on a popular New York area electronics retailer: The Wiz. The strength of the single releases and buzz in the community around the new genre of music inspired Marley Marl to create Cold Chillin' Records.
BIZ GOIN' OFF AND GRABBING SUCCESS
In 1988, signed to Marley's Cold Chillin' Records, Biz Markie’s Goin Off was a hotly anticipated debut. Goin Off featured many earlier singles and new tracks that catapulted Biz to increased fame—including “Vapors,” “Make the Music with Your Mouth, Biz,” and “This Is Something For The Radio.” Biz had a knack for combining a groovin’ Hip Hop vibe with comical lyrics. These would be his trademarks going forward
In 1989, he released his second full-length album, The Biz Never Sleeps, under the moniker The Diabolical Biz Markie. Biz continued the creative hijinks of being less serious. He also emphasized a party-style theme in his music. Of note, the song “Spring Again,” revived the Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway classic soul selection “Back Together Again.” Likewise, “The Dragon” played up on the theme of having good hygiene. Hip Hop Heads could always count on The Biz to be a playful distraction from the harder-edged beats of Hip Hop between 1988 and 1995.
On this album, Biz Markie struck gold with “Just A Friend.” It was a Top Ten Pop sensation catapulting Markie to the role of a celebrity. Biz would also use his comical off-beat talents in music videos—connecting a viewer to their favorite artist. As he explained in a 2000 Rolling Stone interview, the song was really about a real person whom he had a crush on, but she would always be with someone else whenever he would call her. However, in true out-of-the-box Biz fashion, he had this crush star in the song’s music video.
Biz released his third album in 1991: I Need a Haircut. What the album lacked in sales, it made up for in headlines and controversy. Gilbert O'Sullivan sued Biz Markie for using a sample of his song “Alone Again.” At the time, sampling tech was relatively new, but some musicians didn’t want their works—even when altered for the new genre—released without their permission or compensation. O'Sullivan won the judgment against Biz, forcing Warner Brothers to pull his album from the shelves. Legal action like this drastically shifted the course of Hip Hop for artists like Biz, De La Soul, and numerous others.
LASTING IMPACT ON HIP HOP
In 1993, Biz made an attempt at a comeback with his release All Samples Cleared. The album did less than stellar in record sales; Biz went underground without new material for a decade. While he didn't produce his own album, many producers and artists in the Hip Hop and non-Hip Hop world would call upon his unique talents. In 1996, Biz Markie made guest appearances on the motion picture soundtracks for The Great White Hype and Space Jam. That same year, then an emerging artist, Snoop Dogg honored Biz with a remake of “Vapors.”
Given his past, it was ironic that Biz Markie's voice was sampled for The Rolling Stones’s “Anybody Seen My Baby.” Additionally, the Beastie Boys, who previously sampled Biz Markie on their 1992 hit “So Whatcha Want,” asked him to be on their records in the late 1990s. The Beastie Boys even named their record label Grand Royale after Biz made the suggestion. For the remainder of the decade, The Diabolical One kept a fairly low profile.
In the early 2000s, Biz appeared on the big and small screen. 2002's blockbuster movie, Men In Black, starring Will Smith, presented Biz as a beatboxing alien. He also had a cameo role in the cult classic movie, Sharknado 2.
Biz dropped Weekend Warrior on Tommy Boy Records in 2003. It was his final album. In 2009, a Heineken commercial featuring Biz's signature song “Just A Friend,” caused the track to resurface.
In the mid and late 2010s, Biz introduced his beatboxing to a new generation of adoring fans on children's tv shows. He toured with Yo Gabba Gabba Live in 2013 and Spongebob Squarepants in 2014. In 2017, Biz made one of his final TV appearances on the show Black-ish.
One of his most noteworthy final appearances was Biz’s performance at New York's Radio City Music Hall. He joined fans in singing along to every word of “Just A Friend.” Whenever a DJ drops “Just A Friend,” you can expect an intergenerational sing-a-long. Known as the "Clown Prince of Hip Hop,” Biz was more than just an MC, a beatboxer, or a DJ—he was a sincere friend to Hip Hop. Because of his dedication to making sure fun was at the party, nobody will ever beat the Biz!
WHO BIZ MARKIE INFLUENCED
- Missy Elliott
- Wu-Tang, Method Man, and ODB
- MF Doom
- Kool Keith
- Nice and Smooth
- Will Smith
- De La Soul
- Notorious B.I.G.
- Ja Rule
WHO INFLUENCED BIZ MARKIE
- James Brown
- Busy Bee Starski
- Grand Wizard Theodore
- GrandMaster Flash & The Furious Five
AWARDS AND HONORS
MTV Video Music Award Nomination: "Just A Friend” (1990)
- “Just a Friend”
- “Nobody Beats the Biz”
- “Make the Music with Your Mouth, Biz”
- “Spring Again”