Who Wrote “Just a Friend” by Biz Markie?

“It never changed nothing because I still do everything the same. It never changed nothin.’”

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Biz Markie said this during an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2019 in celebration of the 30th anniversary of his smash hit “Just a Friend,” released in September 1989. Explaining that the massive success of “Just a Friend” — which reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 — never caused him to lose himself, the song was just an extension of the Long Island native’s already fun-loving personality.

Carrying the Load

“Just a Friend” being such a reflection of Markie’s essence surely stems from the fact that he was the song’s primary writer, along with its producer Cool V. But, this absence of other collaborators wasn’t for lack of trying. Understanding that listeners could possibly be turned off by his wonky singing on the song’s hook, which interpolates Freddie Scott’s 1968 song “(You) Got What I Need,” he explained to EW that he sought different singers for the chorus. But nobody took him up on his offer.

“A lot of people didn’t like the record at the beginning,” he said. “They would say, ‘Biz is trying to sing? Aw, the record is wack.’ But I wasn’t supposed to sing the [chorus]. I asked people to sing the part, and nobody showed up at the studio, so I did it myself.”

You got what I need
But you say he’s just a friend
But you say he’s just a friend, oh baby
You got what I need
But you say he’s just a friend

In an interview with HipHopDX in 2021, Cool V uttered a similar sentiment. Although Markie wasn’t the most proficient singer, the energy in the recording felt right.

“I got him in the booth and he was singing, and even though it might not be perfectly correct to anybody else, the feeling of it was good,” he said. “He had his fist balled up and he was really trying. He was really, really crooning and I said, ‘That’s it.’ And he had one take.

“Then he had another take that was not as good as the first one. So I took the first one and put it with the next one. So it’s the same one, twice. He did both of them and he did them very well and maximized it too. He did it as best he could do it — and it was good enough for me.”

The untrusting lyricism in the song stems from an actual encounter Markie had, where a love interest of his broke his heart on the spot.

“I was talking to this girl — the first girl I ever talked to,” he told EW. “And every time I would call out to California, a dude would pick up and hand her the phone. I’d be like, ‘Yo, what’s up [with him]?’ She’d say, ‘Oh, he’s just a friend. He’s nobody.’ And I came out there a week early just to surprise her, and she’s tongue kissing somebody — and I caught her! So instead of me fighting, I put the pain into the pen and wrote it out.”

Reflecting on how the song helped him cope in his EW conversation, which took place just a couple of years before his tragic death in 2021, Markie said that airing out his grievances was a form of therapy.

“I think all artists tell a story through their music, whether they experienced it personally or someone they know went through it. It’s always therapeutic to talk about heartbreak whether it’s a conversation with a friend, or through music.”

Cool V was Always There

As the only other credited writer on the song, Cool V’s bond with Biz was unbreakable. Along with producing “Just a Friend,” he practically crafted all the instrumentation for Markie albums like I Need a Haircut (1991) and All Samples Cleared! (1993). Additionally, aside from working on Markie hits like “Along Again” (1991) and “A Thing Named Kim” (1989), V also collaborated with other hip-hop icons such as Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap.

During the aforementioned HipHopDX interview, V explained that he and Markie would always compare their lives to the show Twilight Zone. They would act as if they were characters from the show at times, and Markie always spoke about how he was excited to rewatch their lives when he eventually passed on.

“Biz always said when we would get to heaven, we would be able to see the tapes… He would always say that — ‘Wait ’til we see the tapes.’ And nobody knew what he was talking about but me. We were supposed to be watching the tapes together. Now he got the chance to watch the tapes without me. Nobody beats the Biz.”

(Photo by David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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