Rapper, DJ, beatboxer, and comedian Biz Markie has carved out a unique place for himself in hip-hop history. Born Marcel Hall, the New York-bred rapper teamed with iconic hip-hop producer Marley Marl for his 1988 debut studio album Goin’ Off.
Not only did Hall infuse the songs of his debut with humor in tracks such as Make the Music With Your Mouth, Biz he also showcased an undeniable talent for beatboxing.
But it was a year later when Hall released his sophomore album, The Biz Never Sleeps, that his legacy would be cemented forever.
The album’s lead single, Just a Friend, cracked the Top 10 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, was certified platinum, and has remained a fan favorite for almost 30 years.
Although Hall has embraced the song’s enduring popularity, it hasn’t stopped him from branching out into a multitude of creative endeavors. He’s worked with everyone from the Beastie Boys to the Rolling Stones, was the opening act on Chris Rock’s No Apologies Tour, and made a cameo as a beatboxing alien in Men In Black II.
He’s also a regular on television, appearing on everything from In Living Color and SpongeBob SquarePants to Empire and Black-ish. Hall even landed a recurring role on the Nick Jr. show Yo Gabba Gabba!, which led to his inclusion as part of the show’s run as a national touring act.
Hall recently spoke to us about it all from his Maryland home.
HALL: Are you currently on tour?
PACIFIC: I’m always on tour. This week it’s Delaware, Cleveland, D.C., and then I’m going to the Eagles game on Sunday. It’s always something.
What led you to music?
My pops was a saxophone player. He played all instruments, but he was mainly a saxophone player. He used to play with John Coltrane back in the ’50s and ’60s.
When did that strong jazz influence turn into a love for hip-hop?
My boy let me listen to his L Brothers tape (Grandmaster Flash protégés) and I’ve been hooked ever since.
You’re currently doing the Decades Collide: ’80s vs ’90s show. Is there anyone new catching your ear?
Yeah, that’s when hip-hop was really branching out. I don’t listen to anyone new specifically, but if the record sounds funky, I like it!
Touring with Yo Gabba Gabba! seemed like a sweet gig. What was it like getting in front of a new audience?
I’ve always been in the public eye. That just helped me stay in the booth with the younger kids. And I still had to do something to make them like me. But it did bridge the gap between those kids and their families. And I think they’re going to do a 10th anniversary.
Your last album came out 15 years ago. Is there any plan to release new music again?
I don’t know. I’ve got a couple of records out. And I’ve got a couple more done. I just haven’t brought them out to the public yet. It’s just got to be the right time. And I’m older now. The radio don’t play us like they used to.
You’ve really seemed to find your groove as a DJ. Do you foresee ever doing a rap show again?
I still do shows. I’m just on and off with all kinds of different stuff. Like I’m doing this ’80s/’90s show right now. It’s a crazy, bubbly show. And I’m going to continue to DJ around the world. But I just can’t lay Just A Friend down to rest. They won’t let it rest.
But that’s the dream, right? You came up with something that’s forever part of the pop culture and hip-hop lexicon.
HELLLLLLLLLL YEAH! And everyone told me not to make it!
Decades Collide: ’80s vs ’90s featuring DJ Biz Markie
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 23
Where: House of Blues, 1055 Fifth Ave., downtown