Biz Markie, who came to fame during hip-hop's golden era as the beatboxing rapper with a sharp wit & comedic streak, initially won fans with such records as "Just A Friend," "Vapors," Pickin' Boogers," and "Make The Music WIth Your Mouth, Biz." But these days he is better known for his movie and TV roles, including playing the beatboxing alien in Men In Black II or his ongoing entertaining part in the Nickelodeon TV kids show Yo Gabba Gabba! where he does his short but fun "Beat of The Day" segment.
Along with the Fat Boys and Doug E Fresh, Biz Markie ranks as one of the early ambassadors of beatboxing, credited with bringing the hip-hop art form to the masses. In the music history books the Biz will also be immortalized in the early 1990's landmark sampling court case with Gilbert O'Sullivan which would forever alter (read: stifle) the direction that hip-hop production would thereafter take.
Born Marcel Hall in Harlem, and later living in Long Island, Biz Markie started out beatboxing and rhyming in the early eighties while just barely into his teens. But it would be his beatboxing skills specifically that would first get him noticed. Thanks to crossing paths with then up-and-coming producer Marley Marl in the mid-eighties, he got a break doing his human beatbox routine for Marl related Juice Crew acts like MC Shan and Roxanne Shante, with whom he would make his rap world debut, appearing on her 1986 record "Def Fresh Crew." That same year he released his debut 12", the EP "Make The Music With Your Mouth, Biz" on Prism Records. Two years later this Marley Marl produced record would be followed by his debut (and best) album, 1988's Goin' Off. His consequent three albums, 1989's The Biz Never Sleeps, 1991's I Need a Haircut, and 1993's All Samples Cleared! were not produced by Marley Marl and consequently never reached the pinnacle of greatness that his debut did.
"Def Fresh Crew" - Roxanne Shante' & Biz Markie (1986)
But it would be Biz's second album that would be his most successful. 1989's The Biz Never Sleeps on Cold Chillin' was produced by the artist himself in conjunction with Paul C and his cousin Cool V and featured such memorable tracks as "Spring Again" and "I Hear Music." It was the runaway success of the single "Just A Friend" that made it Biz's biggest hit, hitting the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number 5 on the Hot Rap Singles chart twenty years ago and has remained ever present since (most recently used in a US TV ad for Heineken). "Just A Friend" caught the attention of an audience beyond just rap with its universal theme of a dedicated boyfriend, whose suspicions that his girlfriend's other male pal is more than "just a friend" prove true.
"Have you ever met a girl that you tried to date but a year to make love she wanted you to wait? Let me tell you a story of my situation: I was talkin to this girl from the U.S. nation," began Biz in his unique flow on the timeless "Just A Friend," which alternates between rapping and singing (well, trying to) in a totally off-key but funny way. Equally important to the initial success of the song, which sampled the 1968 Freddie Scott song "You Got What I Need," was its accompanying music video (below), directed by Lionel C. Martin. The video opens with a series of "yo mama" jokes and then goes on to vividly capture the sour love tale's narration including the bit where the Biz follows his girl to her college campus "on a surprise visit" only to find, "a fella tongue-kissin my girl in the mouth, I was so in shock my heart went down south So please listen to the message that I say don't ever talk to a girl who says she just has a friend."
Biz Markie "Just A Friend" (1989)
The "Just A Friend" music video also showed Biz Markie at a piano singing the chorus, decked out like Mozart in bygone century attire including an old fashioned wig. A few years later on the cover of his fourth album All Samples Cleared!, Biz would again be pictured wearing a wig, only this time it was a judge's wig, in a direct nod to the ugly sample clearance case he found himself in and lost. It was the track "Alone Again" off of Biz's third and not so successful 1991 album I Need a Haircut on Cold Chillin' that attracted the attention of the lawyers of Gilbert O'Sullivan, who sued over the unauthorized sample use of the 70's pop star's hit single "Alone Again (Naturally)."
Bear in mind that this was a whole other era in hip-hop. Up until this point in hip-hop production there was pretty much an unwritten rule of "anything goes" when it came to sampling other peoples' music. The resulting Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records (the label that distributed Cold Chillin') case would change of all of that forever with the court granting an injunction against the defendants to prevent further copyright infringement of the plaintiff's song by sampling. The song in question was removed from the album. More significant was what this stifling judgement meant for hip-hop, a genre built on sampling-- now all samples (music and otherwise) would have to be preapproved by the original copyright holders or else criminal prosecution could be imposed.
Unfortunately the album inspired by the case, 1993's All Samples Cleared!, was not that great and did not do that well commercially. It would be ten years before the artist would record his follow up, 2003's Weekend Warrior on Tommy Boy, which was a really disappointing release. Oddly, it seems that the artist saved his best work for others' releases -- as can be heard in numerous collaborations with the Beastie Boys, with Canibus on the Office Space soundtrack, and with Morcheeba, Will Smith, Len, and most notably, London's DJ Yoda, with whom he appeared on 2006's Amazing Adventures of DJ Yoda on Antidote UK on the two great tracks "Breakfast Cereal" and "Haunted House."
In this decade Biz Markie has spent more time onscreen than on record -- with the exception of the noted record collector's appearances spinning records at large scale parties. In 2002, he appeared alongside Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as an alien in the hit movie Men in Black II. The following year he did extensive voiceover for the global TV series Kung Faux. He has been on many TV shows, including as a cast member on Nick Cannon's Wild 'n Out on MTV, he appeared on the first season of the VH1 TV show Celebrity Fit Club (which he was successful on), and has provided the kid's television show Yo Gabba Gabba! with "Biz's Beat of the Day" and dance moves. His appearance on this fun Nickelodeon TV kid's show may cause some hip-hop fans to shake their heads in dismay, but most see this legend's inclusion as the ambassador of beatboxing for a future generation of hip-hop fans as just the perfect fit. After all, nobody beats the Biz!
1980's TV commercial for local NYC electronic store the WIz - from where Biz Markie
got the concept for his song "Nobody Beats The Wiz"
got the concept for his song "Nobody Beats The Wiz"
Biz Markie's "Beat of the Day" (Yo Gabba Gabba!)