No matter what a person accomplishes during their time on Earth, it’s an absolute certainty that one day, their life will end. Hip Hop legends are not exempt, as 2017 proved time and time again. While the year brought us great music, it also bade farewell to outstanding MCs, influential musicians, and rappers who died too soon. Raise your glass as we toast to these lost ones.
Walter “Junie” Morrison
Junie was an accomplished keyboardist, vocalist and producer for the Ohio Players, the famed funk group whose melodies were borrowed by rap’s elite. The list of rappers who sampled the Ohio Players is far too long to list here, but a few notables include N.W.A, De La Soul, The Notorious B.I.G. and JAY-Z. Morrison was also part of Parliament-Funkadelic, another group sampled countless times by rap heroes such as Dr. Dre and Nas. Morrison died on January 21 at 62.
Lee “Q” O’Denat
Whether you want to watch a high school brawl, dive into nostalgia with Flashback Fridays, or just catch up on some daily Hip Hop/entertainment news, WorldStarHipHop.com is one of the prime places on the web for it. The mastermind behind this cornucopia of outrageous news clips was Lee O’Denat, whose generosity of spirit was said to be even bigger than his frame. He had been trying to slim down when he died of heart disease on January 23.
Hip Hop owes a lot to genre-melding artist David Axelrod, who spent his career mixing jazz, rock and R&B before dying at age 85 of lung cancer on February 5. Axelrod has been sampled over and over again in rap. Hip Hop artists who have borrowed from his brilliance include Lil Wayne, Vince Staples, Earl Sweatshirt, Joey Bada$$, Lord Finesse, Pete Rock, Curren$y, Mos Def and Eminem, just to name a few.
Jazz, R&B, Soul: Al Jarreau could do it all. He was rewarded for his efforts with seven Grammys before dying at 76 of respiratory failure on February 12. Jarreau’s genius was recognized time and time again in Hip Hop, from the jazz-influenced (De La Soul’s “Foolin’”), to the southern-fried (Three 6 Mafia’s “Triple 6 Hotline”), to the hardcore (Xzibit’s “Nobody Sound Like Me”).
James Brown is one of the most-sampled artists in Hip Hop history, but it wasn’t just his emotive cries that were chopped up, it was the funky drums that backed his one-of-a-kind voice. Give the drummer sum credit, and that drummer was Stubblefield, who died at age 73 of kidney failure on February 18. Stubblefield’s drums were sampled by Run-DMC, Gang Starr, Beastie Boys, Wu-Tang Clan, N.W.A, LL Cool J, and Public Enemy, among many others. Public Enemy frontman Chuck D commented on Stubblefield’s style to HipHopDX not long after the legend’s passing: “It was a style of repetition that was emulated as opposed to just the actual sound,” Chuck D said. “You know, holding it there, and keeping steady with the vamp.”
Joni Sledge joined up with her sisters to create the fearsome Philly foursome Sister Sledge and cranked out some classic tunes in the ‘70s, most notably “We Are Family.” The group’s music was so infectious that the Pittsburgh Pirates, then cross-state rivals with Sledge’s hometown team the Philadelphia Phillies, used “We Are Family” as an anthem during their 1979 championship run. Hip Hop artists found the group’s music equally alluring, and the group has been sampled consistently throughout the years by the likes of Will Smith (“Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”), Skyzoo and 9th Wonder (“Stop Fooling Yourself”) and AZ (“Seems That Way”). Joni Sledge died of natural causes at the age of 60 on March 10.
The real father of Rock ‘N Roll had been covered countless times before Hip Hop was even invented, but rap legends also knew to honor Chuck Berry. LL Cool J sampled Berry on his 1987 joint “Go Cut Creator Go,” and avant-garde artist Mos Def covered Berry twice with “No Particular Place to Go” and “Maybellene.” Dante Smith also chin-checked historical revisionists with “Rock N Roll,” on which he told listeners: “Chuck Berry is rock and roll/You might dig on the Rolling Stones/But they ain’t come up with that style on they own.” The legendary musical genius died of cardiac arrest at age 90 on March 18.
Before going viral through Chappelle’s Show, the slept-on Charlie Murphy was known as the grittier brother to superstar Eddie Murphy. After it, he was known as
Charlie Murpphhayyy, pristine narrator of Chappelle’s Show True Hollywood Stories that lampooned Rick James and Prince. He also was Tyree on the show’s “Mad Real World,” among many other outrageous characters. A devoted family man and impressive comedian in his own right, Murphy died of leukemia on April 12 at age 57.
Cuba Gooding Sr.
Everyone remembers Cuba Gooding Jr. for his stunning portrayal in the Hip Hop culture film Boyz n the Hood. However, the OG Cuba Gooding also made substantial contributions to Hip Hop before dying of hypertension and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease at age 72 on April 20. Gooding Sr. was a member of the soul group The Main Ingredient, which has been heavily sampled in rap music.
The group’s impact has spanned decades of Hip Hop, from The Notorious B.I.G. (“Things Done Changed”) to Eminem (“Mosh”) to Kendrick Lamar (“Poe Mans Dreams”). That’s right — three different legends from three different generations acknowledged Gooding Sr.’s brilliance. Game recognize game.
https://www.instagram.com/p/-sHHU3tl1O/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=8&wp=1000#%7B%22ci%22%3A0%2C%22os%22%3A2245.86%7DAnother year, another rapper taken too soon. BTY YoungN, a member of Cash Money’s Rich Gang, was murdered on April 29 in what his mother called a result of “jealousy” over his rap career. Just nine days before his death, BTY released Cut the Check with Hollygrove Keem and Jay Jones. Two suspects were indicted in September on charges of second-degree murder stemming from BTY’s death.
The security guard-turned-reality TV star Christopher “Big Black” Boykin lit up the screen as the calmer yang to ex-skateboarder Rob Dyrdek’s silly yin. The duo lit up the screen for three seasons on the hit MTV show Rob & Big before a falling out ended their run. However, Rob and Big made up before his passing of a heart attack at age 45 on May 9. Rob posted heartfelt condolences to the man he called his “brother.”
The peaceful Ghetto Brothers leader Benjy Melendez succumbed to kidney failure on May 28 at 65. “Yellow Benjy” famously brokered a monumental gang truce between Bronx and Harlem gangs in 1971, and was the subject of the 2015 documentary Rubble Kings. Amir Said, who co-authored Melendez’s memoir, Ghetto Brother: How I Found Peace in the South Bronx Street Gang Wars, spoke to HipHopDX after Melendez’s passing about his impact on Hip Hop culture. “Before the rec center party in 1973, before the park jams — there were the infamous street parties that were held by the Ghetto Brothers in 1971,” Said explained. “And Benjy and his band was the spark for all of that. His message of peace, at a time where street gang turf wars were rampant, made it possible for scores of people to unite and focus on music, dancing, and, as Benjy always said, ‘Having a great time.’”
Educated Rapper a.k.a. EMD
Who knew a B-side could make so much noise? Jeffrey “Educated Rapper” Campbell was a member of UTFO, which released “Roxanne, Roxanne,” the B-side single to “Hangin’ Out.” However, “Roxanne, Roxanne” was the cut that made waves, as U.T.F.O.’s cancellation of an appearance at a show Mr. Magic and Marley Marl were promoting led to the then-shockingly vulgar “Real Roxanne” and about 30-something other answer records being released during the infamous “Roxanne Wars” of the ‘80s. For his part, Educated Rapper was known as an intelligent wordsmith and, along with the rest of the group, was one of the first breakdancers ever to appear on TV. He died on June 3 after a long battle with cancer.
https://www.instagram.com/p/BS0fp7WDV-O/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=8&wp=1000#%7B%22ci%22%3A1%2C%22os%22%3A2253.8150000000005%7DQuentin Hood may not have been a household name across the United States, but he sure was beloved in his hometown of Atlanta. The rapper got his start in the mid-’90s with the Knobodies before releasing three solo albums and two EPs in the ‘00s and ‘10s. He was an associate of Yelawolf’s, collaborated with Killer Mike and released the ATL-favorite “Fuck Dat Hipster Shit,” but perhaps his greatest contribution was influencing the likes of Trinidad James, Key!, and Two-9. He died after a lengthy bout with cancer on June 8.
Grandmaster T.C. Izlam
Hip-Step pioneer and former Zulu Nation Minister of Information Grandmaster T.C. Izlam was killed in Atlanta on June 8 — not long after an interview with Noisey where he said he feared for his life. He said he had received threats from members of the Zulu Nation after stepping down from the organization and criticizing Afrika Bambaataa amid the overwhelming sexual abuse allegations against Bam. Izlam was beloved by many Hip Hop pioneers, including DJ Kool Red Alert, Kurtis Blow, and Grand Mixer DXT. Kevie Kev told HipHopDX that in addition to T.C.’s prowess as an MC, he was “extremely powerful, especially with our youth.”
Bam Bam Carter
https://www.instagram.com/p/BSrLXtUlEeJ/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=8&wp=1000#%7B%22ci%22%3A2%2C%22os%22%3A2258.4900000000002%7DThe day of June 8, 2017 was not kind to Hip Hop. Paul Matthew “Bam Bam” Carter was 32 years old when he was found dead in the trunk of a burning car that day. The Birmingham, Alabama MC had released Street Educated 2: Touching Bases in 2016 and the lamenting single “Cold World” featuring G Child and Murk City. The hook features the words “It’s a cold world, never know when it’s your time.”
All the killas, the $100 billers, hell, even the real ones who got no feelings shed thug tears when Albert Johnson a.k.a. Prodigy a.k.a. P-Dolo died. The primary rapping half of Mobb Deep was initially thought to have died on June 20 at age 42 from complications of sickle cell anemia, a chronic disease he had battled — and mostly overcome — throughout his life.
The cause of death was, of all things, choking on food on while being treated for sickle cell anemia at a Las Vegas hospital. As tragic and frustrating as his death was, that’s how remarkable he made his time on earth. P was one of the most consistent rappers in history, crafting the classic album The Infamous… with Mobb partner Havoc, and going on to make it through beefs with 2Pac, JAY-Z, and even Nas. R.I.P. to a true Hip Hop legend.
Christopher Wong Won a.k.a. Fresh Kid Ice
When people think of 2 Live Crew, Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell is often the first member that comes to mind. But it was Fresh Kid Ice, the Miami Bass Rap pioneer and first prominent Asian rapper (he was part Chinese), who was the only member to appear on all eight of the group’s studio albums. It was the third album,
As Nasty As They Wanna Be, that drew the most controversy, and led to the actual arrest of record store owners for selling it. In spite of — or more likely — because of the controversy, the album sold more than 2 million copies and gave Wong Won and the rest of the crew a permanent place in Hip Hop history. Apart from the group, Wong Won is also known for discovering Flo Rida. He formed his own record label, Chinaman Records, this year, but died of an undisclosed medical condition on July 13.
Before Linkin Park burst onto the scene, Rap-Rock was considered at best a novelty and at worst, a painfully appropriated subgenre of Hip Hop. But even the most staunch purists had to admit that Mike Shinoda’s rhymes, while on the simpler side, were effective and emotional. Bennington was the group’s lead singer, and was the ideal, spastic complement to Shinoda’s low-key delivery. The band transcended angsty tunes when it collaborated with JAY-Z for a genre-melting, six-track EP dubbed Collision Course. Anyone who saw the documentary accompanying the project could see how funny, charming and creative Bennington was. He died by suicide on July 20.
Before his August 6 murder, Yung Mazi had survived being shot before. He was hit with bullets outside a Waffle House in his native Atlanta and lived, tweeting, “God made me bulletproof.” However, the 31-year-old died of gunshot wounds less than eight months later outside a pizzeria in the neighborhood of Kirkwood. His biggest claim to fame including releasing several songs with Kevin Gates, including “Off Cocaine.” Trap-A-Holics put out a mixtape featuring 10 Mazi tracks Do It 4 Mazi: The Tribute Tape Pt. 1 in November to honor the late rapper.
Chicago Hip Hop veteran Payroll was another cultural staple to fall victim to substance abuse. Although it was initially speculated that he was murdered, Payroll’s family informed the public in September that he died of a drug overdose. He recorded music with 40 Gang in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, collaborating with Chicago favorites Triple Darkness, Cap 1, Bump J and EC Illa. Still, he might best be known for beefing with Kanye West after Yeezy gave the hook and instrumental combo to JAY-Z after Payroll had already recorded over it. This led to Payroll recording “Fuck Kanye West” over Nas’ “Ether” instrumental. Now that’s gutsy.
Kanye West has always been lauded for his ability to turn obscure samples into great music. That’s exactly what he did with Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne,” turning it into the vibrant “Champion.” Becker was the jack-of-all-trades for Steely Dan, serving as co-founder, guitarist, bassist and co-songwriter. His work with Steely Dan was sampled all across Hip Hop, from Atmosphere to MF Doom to (of course) De La Soul. Becker died of esophageal cancer on September 3 at age 67.
The Tower of Power singer is not exactly revered, considering he was convicted of killing three men in a drug-fueled haze and served 36 years in prison. However, Hip Hop at least owes homage to Stevens for his music. De La Soul sampled the group multiple times, and Beastie Boys and The Game also dipped into Stevens’ tapestry of sounds for dope music. Stevens died at age 77 of liver cancer on September 5.
https://www.instagram.com/p/-spJyKSN5k/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=8&wp=1000#%7B%22ci%22%3A3%2C%22os%22%3A6123.33%7DThe Shy Glizzy-affiliate 30 Glizzy was gunned down in Baltimore on September 6 at 26. His murder came before his rap career officially took off but he was featured on Shy Glizzy’s songs “Anywhere” and “Going Down,” as well as the 2015 Glizzy Gang mixtape Be Careful. 30 Glizzy’s killing follows those of Lor Scoota, who was murdered in Baltimore in 2016, and YBS Records CEO Trayvon Lee, who was killed in B-More just weeks after Scoota.
It took a long time before Charles Bradley could drop a studio album but his music was so infectious, Hip Hop artists almost immediately began sampling him. The Funk/Soul singer dropped his first album, No Time For Dreaming in 2011 while he was in his 60s. He released two more albums before dying of stomach cancer at age 68 on September 23. His music was sampled by the likes of JAY-Z (“Open Letter”), Cyhi The Prynce (“Huey”), and Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip (“The Abstract and the Dragon”).
When people think of rap music, classic rocker Tom Petty isn’t exactly who comes to mind. Petty and his band, The Heartbreakers, are known in part for their classic song “Free Fallin’,” which was borrowed by Pimp C for “I’m Free,” after he got out of prison in the mid-2000s. Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul also collaborated for the Petty-sampling “Fallin’” in 1993. Chamillionaire also sampled the anthemic record for his ‘09 song “Good Morning.” Petty died on October 2 of cardiac arrest at age 66.
Hip Hop has always borrowed heavily from soul and such practices were no different when it came to the discography of Philadelphia legend Bunny Sigler, who died of a heart attack at age 76 on October 6. His smooth rhythms have been sampled by several rappers over the years, including Pusha T (“Numbers on the Boards”), “Buffalo” by Tyler The Creator, and “125 Part 3 (Connections),” by Joell Ortiz, Ras Kass, Stimuli, Grafh and Gab Gotcha.
https://www.instagram.com/p/BYtXyuFHco_/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=8&wp=1000#%7B%22ci%22%3A4%2C%22os%22%3A6651.41%7D“The Mayor of the Mo” and Doughboyz Cashout member Doughboy Roc was yet another up-and-coming rapper who was fatally shot this year. He died October 9 in Detroit, less than a month after releasing his Roc vs. Balboa mixtape. Doughboyz Cashout was briefly signed to Jeezy’s CTE label in 2013, and on his own, Doughboy Roc released full-length projects Ghetto Testimony in 2013 and Beast Modethe following year.
Antoine Dominique “Fats” Domino Jr. is better known for being a legendary singer-songwriter, exceptional pianist and one of the pioneers of Rock ‘N Roll than for any connection to Hip Hop. Admittedly, the great artist’s connection to rap is thin, but his 1957 song “I’m Walking” was sampled by Will Smith on his 2005 hit single “Switch.” The jovial Domino died on October 24 of natural causes at age 89.
The emo-rapper who attracted millions of plays on SoundCloud also struggled with anxiety, depression, and drug addiction that led to his death at the age of 21. Before dying of a drug overdose on November 15, he managed to make an impact on the music world, releasing his debut album Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 1 in September to kickstart what looked like a career full of potential. Upon his death, Juicy J, Post Malone, Lil Yachty and Travis Barker of Blink-182 paid tribute to him on Twitter.
AC/DC co-founder and guitarist Malcolm Young could absolutely shred on the strings, and Hip Hop producers had an ear for his excellence. His earth-shaking riffs were sampled by other titanic acts, such as Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, and even Eric B. & Rakim. He died at 64 on November 18 of complications related to dementia.
Everybody loved Della Reese, the wide-grinning, gentle soul who made her name as a fantastic Gospel singer and kept it as the tough-edged mother figure on Touched By An Angel. Reese died on November 19 at age 86. In addition to her musical and acting brilliance, she was name-checked in the verse that turned T.I. into a force on Bone Crusher’s Never Scared: “Like Della Reese, they my folk it’s best you just let ‘em be!”
Reggie “Combat Jack” Ossé
Hip Hop is all about talking it how you live it and Reggie Ossé a.k.a. Combat Jack carved out an invaluable niche with his acclaimed podcast, The Combat Jack Show.
The 48-year-old culture figurehead died after a battle with colon cancer on December 20, 2017, and was saluted by a multitude of his peers. Prior to getting into the radio biz, Ossé was a renowned and established entertainment lawyer whose past clients included Diddy and Bad Boy Records, Def Jam Records, Missy Elliott and LL Cool J. He also spent some time as Managing Editor for The Source magazine. His impact on Hip Hop is eternal.
Words by Aaron McKrell with additional contribution from Trent Clark.