Pioneering New York rapper, producer, DJ, and beatboxer Biz Markie died Friday at the age of 57. A rep for the musician said in a statement that Markie passed away peacefully at his home in Baltimore with his wife by his side.
Markie, whose perpetually goofy antics and playful lyrics earned him the title the “Clown Prince of Hip-Hop,” got his start in the early 1980s in New York City. The teenage beatboxer and rapper eventually joined up with legendary Queensbridge-based collective the Juice Crew, working alongside other hip-hop trailblazers like Marley Marl, Big Daddy Kane, and Roxanne Shanté.
Markie’s trademark beatboxing skills were both featured in and the subject of his 1986 debut single, “Make the Music With Your Mouth, Biz.” He released his debut album, Goin’ Off, on the Juice Crew’s label Cold Chillin’ Records two years later, featuring tracks like the oft-sampled “Vapors” and the goofball rap “Pickin’ Boogers.” In 1989, Markie put out what would end up being the most successful of his five albums, The Biz Never Sleeps. It gave the world the smash hit “Just a Friend,” which featured Markie interpolating (and crooning part of) the 1968 Freddie Scott song “(You) Got What I Need.” It went platinum and became an all-time classic, and made Markie a pop-culture celebrity.
His third album, 1991’s I Need a Haircut, made Markie a pioneer in the industry for a different reason: He was successfully sued over the use of a sample from another song without permission. The ruling, which barred distribution of the album and awarded $250,000 in damages to the plaintiff, was the beginning of the end for the sampling free-for-all that was such an integral part of early hip-hop. A new precedent of clearing samples before using them soon followed. To wit, in 1993 Markie titled his next album All Samples Cleared!
It would be another ten years before Markie released his fifth and final album, Weekend Warrior, in 2003, but he found other avenues for his talents over the years, appearing on other artists’ tracks as well as beyond the music industry, acting in numerous movies and TV shows.
Though Markie’s cause of death was not confirmed by his representative on Friday, he had been fighting Type 2 diabetes for a decade, and his health had reportedly taken a downturn starting in April of last year.
“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,” Markie’s rep said.