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The Sideline Observer

Sports and Culture Commentary

Just a Friend: The Tragic One Hit Wonder of Biz Markie

“Have you ever met a girl that you tried to date, but a year to make love she wanted you to wait?”

The grammar and sentence structure might be appalling, but for many people, it is the opening of the classic 1989 one-hit wonder: “Just a Friend.” Most people are familiar with the hook of the song, a somewhat-off-key belting of:

“You got what I need, but you say he’s just a friend,”

But not everyone knows about the legend behind the hit: Biz Markie. The Biz. The Clown Prince of Hip Hop.

The Start

Marcel Theo Hall was born in 1964 and got his start during the hip-hop boom of the 80s. During its early years, hip-hop involved much more than just the rapped lyrics, it also included beatboxing that would be the backtrack for freestyle, and Biz Markie got his start as one of the best beatboxers in the New York hip hop scene. However, in 1988, Biz released his first studio album: Goin’ Off. The album received a decent amount of attention due to popular singles “Make the Music With Your Mouth, Biz,” or “Pickin’ Boogers,” which was a song about, you guessed it, picking your nose.

The Hit

Soon after, Biz released his second album in 1989, titled The Biz Never Sleeps. This album contained what would become his big hit: Just a Friend. The song chronicles a quick history of the rapper’s lady troubles through an extremely simple beat during the verses, and a sample of the 1968 Freddie Scott song “You Got What I Need” for the chord structure of the verse.

Looking away from the extremely catchy hook, you can find lyrics that clearly only function to amuse:

“I asked her her name, she said blah-blah-blah / She had 9/10 pants and a very big bra”

Even though he is clearly a hopeless romantic poet, Biz fills the song with a rhyming structure that isn’t exactly what the experts in the music industry would call… good. Given examples of bars like:

“So I took blah-blah’s word for it at this time / I thought just havin’ a friend couldn’t be no crime / ‘Cause I have friends and that’s a fact / Like Agnes, Agatha, Germaine, and Jack”

While it’s not exactly Shakespeare, the song has a bit of a so-bad-its-good reputation, with the iconic off-key wailing in the chorus, and the innocent end of the rapper’s story of heartbreak. Instead of walking in on his girl rolling in the hay with a different man, Biz describes the encounter as:

“So I came to her room and opened the door / Oh, snap! Guess what I saw? / A fella tongue-kissin‘ my girl in her mouth I was so in shock my heart went down south / So please listen to the message that I send / Don’t ever talk to a girl who says she just has a friend”

The song would go on to be ranked No. 81 on VH1’s 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders in 2000, and later as No.100 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop in 2008, however, this would all happen after…

The Unfortunate Downfall

After presenting himself as a goofy joking rapper, Biz Markie had a difficult time being taken seriously by the public. Unfortunately, this was not the only issue in his career. After his third studio album, “I Need a Haircut” was released, the rapper was handed a lawsuit from Gilbert O’Sullivan, claiming that Biz’s song “Alone Again” contained an unauthorized sample from O’Sullivan’s single “Alone Again (Naturally).”

The claim was upheld in what would become a monumental case for the hip hop industry, Grand Upright Music v. Warner Bros. Records Inc. This case ruled that artists now have their samples cleared with the original artist before being used, huge in that the practice had not previously been upheld. As punishment, the record company took all of the copies of Biz’s new single off the shelves and made it impossible for the album to be sold. Biz would eventually release another album in 1993, cheekily named All Samples Cleared! but his reputation was hurt badly, and the album did not sell well.

Where is he now?

Biz has the type of funny-guy personality that others like to be round, so he’s become an icon in the music industry. Biz has been included in many small projects such as working with the Beastie Boys, The Rolling Stones, producing a song from the Office Space soundtrack; even appearing in Men in Black II, a spot on the children’s show “Yo Gabba Gabba!” a relatively famous Radio Shack commercial, and many other shows such as “Empire” and “Blackish.” While all in all, Biz did not have a traditionally successful career with his music, he was still able to create a wave in pop culture, all with a catchy song, and the lasting message of:

“Don’t ever talk to a girl, who says she just has a friend”

-Charlie

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