When Biz Markie’s friend-zone anthem “Just A Friend” was released in 1989 it launched the rapper to a new level of fame.
Prior to the career defining single, Biz had made a name for himself as a beatboxer and he had a few underground hits including “Nobody Beats the Biz” and “Vapors.”
But “Just A Friend”, with its anguished off key chorus made the rapper a mainstream success for a couple of years in the early 90s. It climbed to number 9 on the Billboard charts and helped the album “Biz Never Sleeps” reach Gold.
Biz Markie, who was born Marcel Hall, told Entertainment Weekly in 2019 that the song was actually inspired by a real-life situation. Every time he called this girl he really liked, a different guy would answer the phone and she would say, don’t worry he’s just a friend.
The song, including the signature piano melody, was a reworking of the 1968 Freddie Scott song, also called “You Got What I Need.”
In 1991, the self-described Clown Prince of Hip-Hop, followed up with his third album “I need a Haircut” but soon found himself in legal hot water for sampling a song without permission.
Singer-songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan sued the rapper for sampling his 1972 song “Alone Again (Naturally)” without permission.
In a ruling that was felt throughout the music industry a judge not only ruled against Biz Markie and barred the sale of the album, he even referred the matter to the US Attorney’s Office for possible criminal charges.
A criminal case was never brought, but the matter led to huge changes to the way hip-hop producers approached sampling going forward and it seemed to knock Biz Markie’s career off course.
Throughout the 1990s Biz Markie frequently collaborated with Beastie Boys, including an off-key rendition of Bennie and Jets, but didn’t release another solo album until Weekend Warrior in 2003.
Biz Markie died on July 16, 2021, following a long struggle with diabetes. He was 57.
To learn about more important events from the 90s check out my podcast History of the 90s available on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at on the Curiouscast website.