“Just a Friend” by Biz Markie
The late Biz Markie went down in history as the “Clown Prince of Hip-Hop” for a reason. For example, “Just a Friend”, being his signature song, takes a comedic approach to a topic that most other artists would take a lot more seriously, i.e. discovering that their girlfriend is concurrently dating someone else.
But the signs were all there from the beginning. For example, homegirl initially comes off as a groupie, i.e. a scantily-clad woman the Biz befriended at one his concerts. This is back in the days when rappers were a bit more classy than they tend to be now.
So instead of trying to instantly bed an attractive fan that’s obviously feeling him, the vocalist rather asks her beforehand if she is involved with someone else. And her response is “no”, but she does have someone who is “only a friend”. And this alarms Markie, but he decides to shoot his shot nonetheless.
At the onset of the second verse, it is revealed that Biz rationalizes his decision to do so but noting that he too has a number of platonic friends. And verily, he and this lady go on to build up a notable romance, complete with future relationship goals and all. And even when they can’t be together, due to the touring nature of his career and her educational pursuits, he still manages to call her daily.
There’s Something Wrong!
But the vocalist is aware enough to sense that something is amidst. And verily one day he calls, and instead of her picking, “a guy” responds instead. So when he calls back to ask what exactly is going on, her response, once again, is that “he’s just a friend”.
So, by this point you probably already know where this story is going, even if you’re not familiar with this song.
The Biz proceeds to visit the university she attends and dorms at one day unannounced. Apparently he didn’t do so under an air of suspicion but rather genuinely desiring to see his sweetheart. And he manages to make it all the way to her dorm room without homegirl even knowing that he’s around.
But upon opening the door, “oh snap!” He witnesses his girlfriend vigorously “tongue kissing” some other guy ‘in the mouth’. And of course there is a moral to the story. And that is if you meet a girl who says she doesn’t have a boyfriend but rather another male in her life who is “just a friend”, then it’s best to just leave her alone. Well, unless maybe you want to end up heartbroken.
And again, we’re not out to lambast more contemporary acts, but this a far cry from the raps we are reviewing now in the 2020s, where many artists are instead bragging about sleeping with women who are romantically involved, sometimes even married, to others.
Well, this is not to imply that some of them weren’t doing it back then also. But the fact that a song like this was a hit some decades ago is a good example of how popular rap music has evolved throughout the years.
Are the Lyrics of “Just a Friend” autobiographical?
Biz Markie (1964-2021) is credited as the exclusive writer of this song. And according to the rapper, it is based on a real-life relationship, his first actually, that he went through.
Release Date and Achievements of “Just a Friend”
As noted earlier, this hip-hop classic was the Biz’s signature song. For instance, it broke the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 and promptly achieved platinum certification from the RIAA.
Its release date was on 26 September 1989, an era in which there were a lot less rappers in the system. So even though Markie may not have had the most outstanding career on paper, with this being his only big hit, he was at the time one of the stars of Cold Chillin’ Records. The said label was a premiere hip-hop label in the game. And this song in conjunction with Markie’s association with the label made him universally known.
Are there any samples used in “Just a Friend”?
Yes. This song relies heavily on a track from 1968 entitled “(You) Got What I Need” by Freddie Scott (1933-2007). Said tune was actually written by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, a pair of Hall of Fame songwriters whose names you’ll come across quite often in this blog.
However, they are not credited on “Just a Friend”. This is because back in the days (before lawsuits started being levied against hip-hoppers) rappers rarely officially acknowledged the musicians they sampled from.
More Facts about “Just a Friend”
“Just a Friend” was notably sampled onto a track R&B vocalist Mario dropped entitled “Just a Friend 2002” (2002). And the tune has enjoyed an enduring popularity in the 21st century. It was actually featured on quite a few TV shows and movies, as well as a Heineken commercial. And that latter effort resulted in it appearing on Billboard’s Hot Digital Songs listing as recently as 2009.
And to note, back in the 1990s “Just a Friend” was also featured on an episode of MTV’s Beavis and Butt-Head. Well actually it was the track’s cinematic music video, which was the product of director Lionel C. Martin.
Markie produced this song along with DJ Cool V. And it was the lead single from the rapper’s second album, “The Biz Never Sleeps” (1989).
Biz Markie notably sings on this track. This was before the days that rappers started taking singing seriously, and it shows, with said performance adding to the overall comical underpinnings of the piece.
But Biz has stated that the only reason he did go as far as to sing was because on the day of recording, others he had asked to do so (such as presumably TJ Swan) failed to show up. So he just did it himself. And whereas at first people weren’t feeling it, as illustrated above, the track did catch on.
According to Cool V, i.e. Biz Markie’s cousin who also served as his official DJ, he and Biz never received any royalties from this song. Instead any money they did make from Just a Friend was via live performances.
And luckily for them, it was so well-received that they were able to eat off it “for almost 31 years” despite the fact that, once again according to V, Biz Markie totally lacked confidence in his singing skills.
R.I.P., Biz Markie
In 2021, Markie eventually passed away, at the age of 57. His death was as a result of complications resulting from diabetes.