Saturday, the Village of Patchogue renamed South Street “Biz Markie Way” in celebration of the local hip-hop star’s music, acting and philanthropy.
Spearheaded by Tracy Todd Hunter of the Of Colors group, this past weekend’s naming ceremony was a collaboration between him, Mayor Paul Pontieri and the Greater Patchogue Foundation, the chamber’s nonprofit arm.
For Hunter, renaming the street honors more than ‘Just a Friend.’
“Patchogue has a long and storied history,” Hunter said. “And as an African-American, there’s nothing here about our history. We need to start building a legacy here in Patchogue. You can’t go anywhere, the Village Hall or the Patchogue Library and find out anything about any of us about out past.”
Born Marcel Theo Hall and given the endearing moniker the “Clown Prince of Hip-Hop,” Markie spent several of his formative years in Patchogue. He died on July 16 at the age of 57.
His star-studded funeral service was held at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts on Aug. 2.
Greater Long Island conducted interviews with several of Markie’s childhood friends, including Hunter, following his passing. Their stories tell a larger story of a talented man who went from rags to riches, remembered his hometown and lived up to his title of “Clown Prince.”
Markie lived with his father on West Avenue during his early teens, according to Hunter, who resided on the corner of West Avenue and South Street.
Like many of his friends in the diverse area, Markie came from humble beginnings. They were raised “to work hard and be 10 times better than anybody else at what you do,” according to Hunter.
“We were minorities,” he said. “We all came from humble beginnings, none of us were rich. We all had to work hard and our parents and grandparents worked hard. We all were in the same predicament. All of us from that neighborhood, we may not have had the best of things, but we always had.”
One of the most popular spots in the neighborhood was South Street Park.
Although it no longer exists, the basketball games and players have become local mythology.
“That was our Mecca, where everybody met, socialized, listened to music,” Penny Antonio, a friend of Markie, said. Antonio said she was one of the only female basketball players, which impressed Markie. “Biz always represented tolerance no matter who you are and making the best of every situation and having fun with every situation.”
Markie was underestimated on the court because he never played the intense pickup games the park was know for, but he was a sharpshooter.
“We would take shots against him and Biz would make all of his shots no matter where he was at,” Hunter said. “From three-point range, he was really really good. He would hit all net, all the time.”
the Grooveline Crew
As hip-hop reached Long Island, several crews formed and battled one another for bragging rights at the Music Box in Patchogue, which was the Grooveline Crew’s crew’s hometown. The crew consisted of Markie, Hunter, Pedro Torres, Willie Colon, Gilbert Maldonado, Jose DelValle, Victor Ruiz, Charlie Vasquez and Rafael Hernandez.
They practiced in ‘the basement,’ Colon’s apartment turned makeshift studio space at 108 South Ocean Avenue, where they would battle their own. It was here Markie sharpened his quick wit.
“You knew not to mess with him because he wouldn’t say [anything] to you, then all the sudden you found yourself in the middle of his lyrics, like God damn, that’s me he’s talking about,” Torres said. “But it was always funny.”
Although competition was in the air during head-to-head throw downs or 15 minute group sets, the atmosphere of the Music Box was not adversarial, even when Grooveline faced of again their foes from Bellport, the Playboy Crew.
“He’d make you wanna crawl into a shell,” Hunter said of Markie. “He could just make things off the top of his head, and it wasn’t even mean spirited or anything, but it was always something hilariously funny. Even if people were making fun of something it was all in jest, not anything where it turned into anything physical.”
‘Make the Music With Your Mouth, Biz’
One day in ‘the basement,’ Markie took Torres’ new Shure SM57 microphone, cupped it to form a cone and introduced his crew to his ability to make music with his mouth. It was not met with instant acclaim.
“I actually got pissed off at him,” Torres said. “I said ‘dude what [are] you doing with my mic, you got spit all over the mic?’ He said ’cause yours is the best.’ I said ‘it’s actually kinda cool, but God damn why you gotta use my mic?'”
While he admires Markie’s beatboxing now, Hunter was not too fond of it at 6:55 a.m. on the school bus.
“In the beginning it was annoying,” he said. “You’re tired and you don’t really wanna go to school and the bus would be quiet. Especially if he sat right behind you. There would be times were I’d turn around and I’d give him a look like ‘come on Biz.'”
‘the human jukebox’
The ‘Clown Prince’ provided hours of entertainment outside the Patchogue-Medford Library as what his friends called ‘the human jukebox.’ “Biz would stand there like a robot and someone would say, ‘I want you to play this song,'” Hunter said. “We’d tap him in the middle of his chest and he’d beatbox that song.”
Markie then imitated a record falling onto the turntable, the arm turning and the needle dropping. “We would let him do a little bit of the song, like maybe thirty seconds and then someone else would say, ‘play ‘You’re So Vain’ by Carly Simon’ and then we’d press him in the chest and he’d start it all over again.”
Denyzio Laboy, another lifelong friend of Markie, moved to Maryland a few years ago and said he managed to reconnect with his childhood friend later in life for occasional lunches.
“No matter how big he was, if there were people he cared about and he knew cared about him, he made himself accessible to them, no matter what superstar was around,” Laboy said. “If you were Biz’s friend he never disregarded you and he’d welcome you with open arms.”
Markie returned to Patchogue in recent years to receive several honors, perform and reconnect with friends and the community.
“It was always like we had just got home from the library,” Torres said of talking to Markie when he came back to Patchogue. The former Grooveline Crew member, who now runs Grooveline Entertainers, remembers the last time he saw Markie as an encouraging encounter.
“Even when we were growing up he motivated people to do better with whatever talent that they had with music,” Torres said. “When we did Alive After 5 and he was there and my youngest daughter was there — who subsequently went and graduated from Berklee — she thought he was the greatest thing. And he’s talking to her ‘what are you interested in?’ ‘what are you doing?’ He made her feel comfortable to talk to him about her dreams and that’s just the way Biz was.”