When it came to bringing humor and warmth to a most serious rap game, Marcel Theo Hall had what we all needed
Sometime around 1999 or so, when I was living back in the East Meadow area after college, I ran into Biz Markie at the old Pathmark on Hempstead Turnpike. This is Long Island, I’m talking about. Nassau County.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
He was standing in front of me at the checkout line. It was unmistakably him, I could tell by his tattoos and massive frame. Had he not chosen rap music as his path to immortality, Biz could’ve easily become a pro wrestler. It was one of the only times in my life I was genuinely starstruck. I was far too nervous to say what’s up to him; all I could do was just stand there and acknowledge his presence before me. Now that he’s gone, passing away on Friday after a long battle with undisclosed medical complications at the age of 57, squandering the opportunity to say hey to the Biz makes his death all the more saddening for me.
VIDEO: Biz Markie “Vapors”
The original concept of rap was to build up your posse and diss down your competition. And when it came to the former, nobody beat the Biz. Perhaps no song better exemplifies this prowess quite like “Vapors,” the main single off Biz’s 1988 debut Goin’ Off. Particularly the second verse blessing up Big Daddy Kane, who along with Markie, Marley Marl, MC Shan, Cutmaster Cool V, Roxanne Shante and Masta Ace made up the First Family of the influential East Coast rap label Cold Chillin’ Records.
I got another partner that’s calm and plain
He goes by the name of the Big Daddy Kane
A mellow type of fellow that’s laid back
Back in the days he was nothing like that
I remember when he used to fight every day
What grown-ups would tell him he would never obey
He wore his pants hanging down and his sneakers untied
And a rasta-type Kangol tilted to the side
Around his neighborhood people treated him bad
And said he was the worst thing his moms ever had
They said that he will grow up to be nothing but a hoodlum
Or either in jail, or someone would shoot him
But now he’s grown up, to their surprise
Big Daddy got a hit record selling worldwide
Now the same people that didn’t like him as a child
Be saying can I borrow a dollar, ooh, you’re a star now
Yet it was the primary single off his second LP The Biz Never Sleeps that truly sent the Biz into the stratosphere. “Just A Friend” took off like a rocket upon its release to radio in late September 1989. And once the song’s comical video, directed by Video Music Box co-host Lionel C. Martin, hit MTV, its impact was tantamount to the prior success of Run DMC and Beastie Boys in delivering hip-hop to the suburbs, thanks in part to the universality of the song’s topic: being friend-zoned. Speaking for myself, who at the time was haplessly crushed out on the most popular girl in the grade above me, “Just A Friend” was pure gospel. And hearing Biz offering humorous laments about these two girls he struck out with served as a perfect counterpoint to the ladies’ man swagger of his partner Kane while solidifying his strengths as a master storyteller.
VIDEO: Biz Markie “Just A Friend”
The next time Biz significantly showed up on my radar was on the third Beastie Boys album Check Your Head on the track “Biz Vs. The Nuge,” where he’s singing “the Beastie Boys, they are-a comin’ home” over the opening guitar lines to Ted Nugent’s “Home Bound” off 1977’s Cat Scratch Fever. Seven years later, the Biz would find himself onstage with the Beasties at Madison Square Garden for a wild-as-fuck rendition of the Elton John staple “Benny and the Jets.”
“We are so grateful to have had so many unforgettable experiences with the truly unique and ridiculously talented Biz Markie,” Mike D wrote on the Beasties’ socials following the news of the rapper’s death going public. “We will miss his presence deeply in so many ways. In the Nineties, Biz would often show up at our G Son studio in Atwater, CA. Naturally every visit would start with a trip to the candy store — which in this case was actually a liquor store across the street. Regardless, he would always return happy with a brown paper bag full of treats. Once he had his sugar fix, he would typically grab a mic and sing whatever song he wanted, looking at us as if we’d know exactly what to play — and somehow he was usually right.
AUDIO: The Honeydrippers “Impeach The President”
“I’ll never forget the time he showed up with a stack of 45s to make a mixtape to listen to on his flight back to New York. Did this mix tape include famous break beats like The Honey Drippers’ “Impeach the President” or Rufus Thomas “Funky Penguin” or any of the other classics that you might associate with Biz and his amazing human beatbox skills? Nope. He smiled ear to ear as he put on Helen Reddy‘s “I Am Woman” and sang along at top volume with his headphones on — so excited that he’d soon be able to do this all over again on his flight!
“Biz was a completely unique musician. No one else could beatbox — making beats and grooves and sounds the way he did — when he came out. He didn’t play by the rules or observe any categories. If he loved something, he would play it or sample it or rap over it — or just DJ the song and have the audience sing along. He was all inclusive the way hip-hop can be at its best moments.
VIDEO: Biz Markie performing “Benny and the Jets” with Beastie Boys 2009
“It’s also important to note that the Biz was not just a rapper or a record-maker, but a true entertainer. He could get on and rock a crowd whatever the circumstance — from his legendary early appearances at the Latin Quarter in New York City to the Tibetan Freedom Concert in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Once he was doing a DJ set opening up for us — just him, records, a mic and the audience singing along — and the power suddenly cut out. He didn’t miss a beat, human beatboxing and singing a cappella without amplification. He could not be stopped. Biz, we love you and we miss you and we are so grateful for everything we got to do together and make in the time we had. Much love always…”
For true rap cats, however, it was Biz Markie’s human beatboxing skills that made him the ultimate rap legend. I finally got around to watching episodes of the belovedly hip children’s show Yo Gabba Gabba once my son Benjamin was around 2, and little did I know I was in for such a treat to discover Biz’s recurring role on the program that served specifically as a showcase for his human beatbox mastery with Biz’s Beat Of The Day. Then, in one of his final television appearances on Nick Cannon’s Wild’n Out, we got to catch him go toe-to-toe with beatboxing new jack DC Young Fly in the show’s popular segment “Pick Up and Kill It.”
VIDEO: Biz’s Beat Of The Day compilation
Many artists took to their socials to express their sorrow and pay their respects to Biz. But it was Flea’s tweet that sums up how many of us feel about this most significant and tragic passing.
“All of my love to the one of a kind bringer of love and joy, the great Biz Markie,” he wrote. “I will bang his records til the day I die and my heart will rejoice. I love you Biz.”
Rest in Peace, Marcel Theo Hall. We are gonna miss you. And I concur with one of the commenters on that clip of Biz and the Beasties covering Elton John, I hope MCA did greet you at the gates of Heaven.
VIDEO: Biz Markie and Fab 5 Freddy on Yo! MTV Raps