Biz Markie, an American original born Marcel Theo Hall and a larger-than-life hip-hop figure, has died at the age of 57. Known widely for a career spanning back to 1986, Hall went on to become a beloved cultural figure later in life, celebrated for his spirited personality as much as his massive 1989 hit, “Just A Friend.” His death was confirmed by his manager, Jenni D. Izumi.
“We are grateful for the many calls and prayers of support that we have received during this difficult time,” Izumi told NPR via email. “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.”
Hall had reportedly been ill for months, but Izumi did not provide an official cause of death.
Biz came of age when rap was still young; a free-for-all in terms of approach and style, an era that seemed innocent yet was wildly progressive. He was born in Harlem before moving to Long Island in his early teens. An early introduction for those outside of New York, at least on film, was best captured in the 1986 Dutch hip-hop documentary, Big Fun in the Big Town. In it, we see a tall, lanky beatboxer in a hat emblazoned with big letters spelling out “Biz Markie.” He’s effusive onstage with fellow crewmate, Roxanne Shanté. They’re doing exuberant back-and-forth routines as the camera zooms in on Biz, showcasing the innate ease at which he can pack a party and move a crowd through his voice and natural presence.
He was an early standout in the Juice Crew, a dazzling collective led by producer Marley Marl, a visionary who assembled a team so adept and rich in character it would only be rivaled in the modern age by the otherworldliness of Wu-Tang Clan. The crew, whose affiliates were mostly out of Queensbridge, was founded by radio DJ Mr. Magic and subsequently placed on Tyrone Williams’ record label, Cold Chillin’ Records. Their first release, 1984’s “Roxanne’s Revenge,” was produced by Marley and featured a 15-year-old Roxanne Shante. The charismatic release became a hit and is largely responsible for Juice Crew’s early strides.