Just a Friend

OHW Just a Friend by krin.jpg

Date Aired
June 20, 2014
Running Time
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Todd plays "Just a Friend" on the piano.

A one-hit wonder retrospective

Todd prepares himself, then...

Todd: YOU!

Video for "Just a Friend"
Biz Markie: ...got what I need
But you say he's just a friend
[Todd mimics the "dancing"]
And you say he's just a friend, oh baby

Todd: Welcome back to One Hit Wonderland, and let me take you back to 1989.

Clip of Milli Vanilli - "Blame It on the Rain"
Milli Vanilli: Blame it on the rain

Todd (VO): In the pop world, music is obnoxiously slick and polished and watered down as it'll ever be. But if you look beneath the surface, you'll find an increasingly popular genre called [clips of De La Soul - "Me, Myself & I", NWA - "Straight Outta Compton", Public Enemy - "Fight the Power"] hip hop, right then going through what they call its golden age. A lot of people didn't like it. "It's not even real music," they said. "It's ugly, it's dangerous, it's threatening." To break through against rampant prejudice against the genre, you had to be the tightest, most undeniable, most technically perfect MC ever to take the mic. In other words...

Todd: ...you had to be Biz Markie.

Video for "Just a Friend"
Biz: Let me tell you a story of my situation
I was talking to this girl from the US nation

Todd (VO): Yes, the diabolical, the clown prince of hip hop, the man they called the Biz. He looked like a cartoon character, he sang like a dying walrus, he rapped like he just had his tonsils removed. And yet, he powered his way not only to a Top 10 hit, but to about 25 years of goodwill since.

Todd: Hip hop loves Biz Markie.

Todd (VO): I came into this knowing nothing about him, and yet, I kinda feel like I also knew almost everything about him because he just seems to be one of those guys who keeps popping up because everybody just wants him around.

Todd: Why him?

Biz: You, you got what I need

Todd (VO): Now, if there's any one-hit wonder who deserves to be forgotten, you'd think it would be this hilariously incompetent marble-mouth. Is there anything really more to the guy than just being the late 80s version of William Hung?

Todd: Well, don't let the looks fool you. To many, Biz Markie deserves to be mentioned among the all-time greats. Instead, he wound up a victim, and to a lot more than just a two-timing groupie.

Biz: Oh, snap, guess what I saw

Todd: But even despite that, he's still around today, still kickin' it. Why? Because nobody beats the Biz. Check-check it.

Biz: Then when I asked, "Do ya have a man," she tried to pretend
She said, "No, I don't, I only have a friend"
Come on

Before the hit

Picture of Biz

Todd (VO): Marcel Hall, better known as Biz Markie, got into hip hop when he was just a teenager on Long Island.

Early interview
Biz: Well, I used to be busy getting in trouble, and my name is Markie anyway, so I put 'em both together.
Documentary footage

Todd (VO): And this being the mid-80s, he did what every kid in New York was apparently doing—he beatboxed. [Biz demonstrates] Yeah, beatboxing used to be this huge thing, [footage includes Doug E Fresh] even among big name rappers. Nowadays, the only people who beatbox are college a capella groups and [clip of 2003 MTV Movie Awards] Justin Timberlake, and people only kind of tolerate it because he's Justin Timberlake, let him do what he wants.

Todd: But in the 80s, it was Biz Markie's ticket to the big time.

Footage from Roxanne Shanté show

Todd (VO): He got a job with Cold Chillin' Records, where he got to go *beatboxes* behind a lot of the late 80s greats like Big Daddy Kane and Roxanne Shanté and MC Shan. I guess he was cheaper than hiring an actual DJ. You know, 808 machines, they don't pay for themselves.

Todd: But then he decided to become a rapper, too. [Album cover of The Biz Never Sleeps] Now, you'd think that would be a disaster, right? Well, he released his [cover of Goin' Off] first album in 1988, and it is fantastic.

Clip of "Biz is Goin' Off"
Biz: Hey to everybody and, people that say partyin
It's time to hear a funky rhyme from me the Biz Markie again

Todd (VO): Really, I mean, listen. He kinda sounds like an actual, credible rapper, doesn't he?

Biz: Ha ha ha ha ha! Check out this bizarre
Rappin style used by me, the B-I-Z
Emm-A-R-K-I with the E and you will be agreein'

Todd (VO): I'm not sure he'd survive if he tried breaking in nowadays, but for an old school rapper, he sounds pretty legit. To be fair, part of that is because his bro, [promo pics with...] Big Daddy Kane, is co-writing his stuff; Biz was always more of, you know, a freestyler.

Brief clip of Big Daddy Kane - "Smooth Operator"

Todd (VO): But Big Daddy Kane, you know, he was this loverman dude. He eventually let himself get [picture of...] photographed banging Madonna. [picture of Biz sticking his tongue out] He and the Biz have different skill sets, let's say.

Todd: You know, I'm gonna keep calling him "the Biz" because...

Todd (VO): ...that's what he calls himself, but that's kind of throwing me off. It makes me keep thinking of The Wiz. I'm not the only one, right?

Biz: [opening door] What's up?
Boy: We want to see the Great Biz.
Biz: The Biz sees no one!

Todd (VO): Okay, yeah, I'm not the only one. Good to know.

Clip of "Vapors"
Biz: When I was a teenager, I wanted to be down
With a lot of M.C.-deejayin' crews in town
So in school on Nobel Street, I say "Can I be down, champ"
They said no and treated me like a wet food stamp

Todd (VO): And yeah, his rap style is a little simple. Occasionally, it's super-simple, like...little kids come up with rhymes that flow better, so he's no Rakim. But he is a great personality, there was no one like him, and he had a great producer in Marley Marl.

Biz: She caught the vapors

Todd (VO): And because of that, I'd like to play the song that, you know, other than his big hit, is probably the definitive Biz Markie song—[record of...] "Pickin' Boogers".

Footage of TV performance, dubbed over with "Pickin' Boogers"
Biz: Pickin' boogers

Todd (VO): Ha ha! You're like, "what? He made a song called 'Pickin' Boogers'?" Yeah, sounds disgusting, right? Yeah, don't worry, this is not actually a song about picking your nose. No, you see, "Pickin' Boogers" is actually late 80s hip hop slang for, you know, being successful, making money.

Todd: Naw, I'm just screwing with you, it's about picking your nose!

Biz: Now what I'm emceein' might not seem kosher to you
But it's still somethin' we all have to do
So go up your nose with a finger or two
And pull out one or a crusty crew

Todd: See? Who else are you gonna get that from but [drawing of Biz on toilet with finger up nose] Biz Markie?

Todd (VO): Biz released his second album in 1989, and it's not quite as good as the first one. A lot of that is because he produced it himself instead of having Marley Marl do it, which...you know, Marley Marl's, like, one of the best, so maybe that wasn't the best idea.

Todd: And yet, it's the album that made him big. Go figure.

The big hit

Video for "Just a Friend"
Biz: [with friends on bench] Your moms is so poor, she went to McDonald's and put a shake on layaway.
[Everyone laughs]
Friend: Your mother's so old, she knew Central Park when it was just a plant.

Todd: Ha ha. I wish I could just hang out with you sometimes, Biz.

[Two fine women walk through, catching catcalls from the guys]
Biz: Forget them girls.
Friend: Why? What's up?
Biz: I got a little story to tell you.

Todd: Do tell.

Biz: Have you ever met a girl that you tried to date
But a year to make love, she wanted you to wait

Todd: No, can't say I have.

Biz: I axed [sic] her her name, she said blah-blah-blah
She had 9/10 pants and a very big bra

Todd (VO): Now, there were joke rap songs before. You had your, you know, Beastie Boys, your Fat Boys. But "Just a Friend" isn't just silly.

Todd: It's inept.

Biz: Forget about that, let's go into the story
About a girl named Blah-Blah-Blah that adored me

Todd (VO): We've seen that Biz Markie actually does know his way around a mic, but "Just a Friend" sounds like absolute amateur hour.

Biz: You, you got what I need

Todd (VO): I can't even imagine what he must have sounded like in 1989. I can only assume people thought they were just watching a fat idiot fail his way into a hit via some combination of pity and amusement.

Todd: And I say "pity" because the song is kind of pathetic in a lot of ways. Lyrically, it's about getting cheated on.

Biz: The way that I met her was on tour at a concert
She had long hair and a short miniskirt

Todd (VO): Biz meets a girl, they start talking, they stay in contact, Biz thinks it's going somewhere, but it turns out she's got this guy on the side, which she is trying to claim is...

Todd: [making air quotes] ..."just a friend."

Biz: I called her on my dime, picked up, and then I called again
I said, "Yo, who was that?"
"Oh, he's just a friend."

Todd (VO): So no, it is not about that mythical, dystopian wasteland, [poster for Just Friends] the friend-zone. [Clip of...] No, you have to look at Mario's awful, awful reworking from 2002 for that.

Mario: But you say I'm just a friend
You say I'm just a friend

Todd: God, I hate you, Mario.

Biz: Then when I asked, "Do ya have a man," she tried to pretend
She said, "No, I don't, I only have a friend."

Todd: Now, what sense does that make?

Biz: "No, I don't, I only have a friend."

Todd (VO): Well, there was your first warning right there. I mean, who would say, "no, I have a friend," in that situation? It's like saying, "yeah, don't worry. I'm not secretly planning to abduct you and eat your skin."

Todd: Red flags, Biz. They're everywhere.

Biz: Don't gimme that, don't even gimme that

Todd (VO): "Getting cheated on" songs aren't rare. I mean, Chris Brown has one right now.

Brief clip of "Loyal"
Chris Brown: These hos ain't loyal

Todd (VO): Lyrically, "Just a Friend" is basically the same thing—these hos ain't loyal. But the tone is completely different. Chris Brown is angry and bitter and as douchey as possible, but you can't help but love Biz Markie. I mean, it's just so innocent.

Biz: So I came to her room and opened the door
Oh, snap! Guess what I saw
A fella tongue-kissin' my girl in the mouth

Todd: Oh, snap. They were... kissing.

Biz: So please listen to the message that I send
Don't ever talk to a girl who says she just has a friend

Todd: Let this be a lesson—men and women can't be friends. Every single guy your girl talks to, she's banging.

Biz: Come on, I'm not even goin' for it
This is what I'm goin' sing

Todd (VO): It's a story about being played for a chump. And unlike Fred Durst, he didn't even get the nookie. But you can't help but feel for him; he's just bellowing that he needs her with such gusto, you know? He's holding nothing back.

Todd: Even the stuff he probably should be holding back.

Biz: Oh, baby, you...

Todd (VO): Of course, knowing what I know now, I can tell you it's all on purpose. In fact, I really admire Biz's dedication to doing everything as deliberately wrong as possible.

Biz: I arrived in front of the dormitory
"Yo, could you tell me where is door three?"

Todd (VO): Biz never had great diction, but he sounds like he's having some kind of severe allergic reaction.

Biz: You say he's just a friend
[straining] Oh, baby, you

Todd (VO): On the hook, he's as off-key as possible. He writes lyrics where he has to bend the words like Yoda to make it rhyme.

Biz: But a year to make love, she wanted you to wait

Todd: Always really awkward songwriting, that is.

Todd (VO): And yet, everyone loves it. Maybe it was just 'cause the late 80s were so slick and edgeless. Imagining this sharing a playlist with Paula Abdul and Roxette makes me laugh and laugh. Well, regardless, there is something there. That hook, that off-key wailing, the stumbling lyrics.

Biz: I went to a gate to ask where was her dorm
This guy made me fill out a visitor's form

Todd: That bastard!

Todd (VO): I try not to use this phrase too often, but this song legitimately is something that's so bad, it's great, which is a legitimate claim to greatness, I think. You'll never forget the image of Biz in his Mozart wig, barely even pretending that he's playing the piano.

Todd: Of course, by the time his next album came around, I'm guessing he wished he could make people forget about it.

The failed follow-up

Brief clip of "What Comes Around Goes Around"
Woman: Oh, excuse me.
Biz: How you doin'?
Woman: Aren't you, um...aren't you that guy who sits at the piano, you know, with this white wig on...

Todd (VO): Yep, that's him, all right. Not shocking that that's the first and only thing she thinks of either. [Video for "Spring Again"] "Just a Friend" is the least surprising one-hit wonder song in history because Biz Markie is a joke. And it's not an insult, it's just how he presented himself.

Todd: Hard to make a career when no one takes you seriously.

Biz: Oh, baby, yeah
Yo this one a'ight though

Todd: For what it's worth, I quite like his follow-up single, "Spring Again", about how great it is that it's springtime, you know? I mean, who raps about corny things like that? Only the Biz.

Biz: Don't you like when the winter's gone
And all of a sudden it starts gettin' warm
The trees and the grass start lookin' fresh
And the sun and sky be lookin' their best

Todd: But, you know...I get why it didn't catch on.

Biz: And the reason I reminisce, cause..
[Voice is slowed down]
It's spring again
Everybody know it's spring again
To the girls and boys and people above
This is the time to fall in love

Todd: I can't be the only person who finds that hilarious, right?

Video for "What Comes Around Goes Around"

Todd (VO): Okay, he released his next album in 1991 titled [album cover of...] I Need a Haircut, which is also hilarious. But I can't say that I'm that impressed with the album's first single. It's another song about how he's unlucky in love, but it doesn't even have a hook. Naturally, this wasn't selling well at first.

Todd: And then disaster struck.

Clips of Public Enemy - "Bring the Noise" and Vanilla Ice - "Ice Ice Baby"

Todd (VO): The golden age of hip hop was driven by sampling. They would make all sorts of amazing, brand new beats out of collages of tons of other songs, and it was great. But you know, it had already been controversial, there were a lot of lawsuits that got settled out of court. Legally, it was still all in the gray. [Clip of "Alone Again" performed by...] But a songwriter from the 70s named Gilbert O'Sullivan outright denied permission for Biz Markie to sample his song beforehand, and Biz decided to do it anyway.

Todd: And Gilbert sued, this went to criminal court, Gilbert won, and the judge ordered every [album cover stamped with "BANNED"] single copy of Biz's albums taken off the shelves.

Side-by-side of Biz and Gilbert with "Alone Again" playing
Biz: Alone again naturally

Todd (VO): This court case not only stopped Biz's momentum in its tracks, it killed the golden age of sampling. Hip hop would never be the same again.

Video for "Let Me Turn You On"

Biz Markie released what would be his last album of his peak years in 1993, titled [cover of...] All Samples Cleared! Ha ha. That album samples five different versions of the same song, possibly just to be clever. [Clip of Snoop Doggy Dogg - "Murder Was the Case"] But hip hop had become such a darker, more intense genre by that point, there was no room anymore for a Biz Markie.

Todd: The last thing anyone ever heard of him was on the kabajillion-selling [cover of...] Space Jam soundtrack, where Biz Markie teamed up [picture of...] with the Spin Doctors to record a cover of...yes, KC and the Sunshine Band's "That's the Way (I Like It)".

Soundtrack cover as "That's the Way (I Like It)"
Biz: That's the way I like it

Todd; Told you it was gonna show up again. This song is following me around, I swear.

Did he ever do anything else?

Todd: Hell yes, he did!

Picture of Biz and the Beastie Boys in studio

Todd (VO): First of all, the Beastie Boys were huge fans and continued to champion him, [concert footage] putting him on the albums, bringing him on tour. Here, let's listen to them cover "Bennie and the Jets".

Biz: A mohair suit
You know I read it in a magazine, oh-ho
B-B-Bennie and the Jets

Todd (VO): Fantastic. [Clip from Celebrity House Hunting] And people just seem to want him around, you know? Turn on VH1 or E! or any cable station, there's Biz, he just keeps popping up. [Clips from...] Look, there he is in Men in Black II. And right now, [...and...] he's on Yo Gabba Gabba!, and I can't believe it didn't happen sooner. Think about it. A whole generation of kids will grow up having been taught by Biz Markie.

Todd: That just makes you proud to be a human being, you know?

Did he deserve better?

Todd: Abso-friggin'-lutely.

Biz: You!

Todd (VO): Biz Markie is an original. There's been none like him, and there won't be another anytime soon. Yeah, he was a clown, but the world loves a clown for a reason. Biz Markie challenged the preconceptions of who could be a rapper because he wasn't a gangsta, he wasn't slick, he wasn't a loverman or a pretty-boy, and he never tried to be. He just was who he was, and every rapper who's come out since then that was weird or goobery or grew up being uncool, owes him a little something.

Todd: Biz Markie—wailing, mumbling Biz Markie—a pioneer of music. [Pounds heart] Respect. Everybody sing along. YOU!

Footage from RapMania with lyrics below
Biz: You got what I need
But you say he's just a friend
And you say he's just a friend
Video ends

Closing tag song: Austin Mahone featuring Flo Rida - "Say You're Just a Friend"

"Just a Friend" is owned by Rhino Entertainment
This video is owned by me

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