In 2023, Hip Hop culture celebrated a significant milestone: 50 years since its genesis at a back-to-school jam hosted by the iconic DJ Kool Herc at 1520 Sedgwick & Cedar in the Bronx. But while the year was marked by triumphs, it was, as is often the case, marked by some tragedies too.
As Hip Hop continues to evolve, the loss of influential figures remains an inevitable, yet always difficult, reality for fans to confront. This is particularly true when such losses are startlingly untimely. While we celebrate the best of the year with our Hip Hop Awards 2023, every year we take a step back to memorialize the lives of those who made an impact on music culture but are no longer with us to celebrate.
From golden era legends and new school upstarts to musical icons who shaped the culture long before it became a global phenomenon, HipHopDX takes a reflective look back at those we lost this year.
Trugoy The Dove (De La Soul)
The legendary MC had been suffering from congestive heart failure for years. The greatest tragedy of all, though, is that the 54-year-old MC never got to fully bask in the glory of his groundbreaking group’s catalog finally being made available on streaming platforms.
The battle to gain control of their music was a long and frustrating one that, in essence, prevented the seminal group — widely considered a milestone in alternative Hip Hop — from properly carrying their legacy over into the contemporary digital landscape. In an age of algorithmic discovery, this is akin to being erased.
The silver lining is that with De La Soul’s complete discography finally freely available to stream, Dave’s contributions to the culture can now be fully absorbed by a whole new generation of listeners looking for fresh air.
Virginia MC Melvin “Magoo” Barcliff passed away on August 13, 2023, as a result of cardiac arrest. The late rapper played Robin to Timbaland‘s Batman; their musical history dates back to their teenage years, later joining DeVante Swing‘s Swing Mob, alongside acts like Missy Elliott (and her then group Sista), Ginuwine and others.
It was post-Swing Mob that the duo, officially billed as Timbaland & Magoo, released their platinum-selling debut LP Welcome to Our World, giving the world their first taste of the VA native’s insanely distinct cadence.
Much like De La Soul, the group’s legacy (as a duo) was largely hampered by politics with their label Blackground Records, owned by the late Aaliyah‘s uncle, which kept their catalog off streaming services.
Unlike Aaliyah, who was a superstar, and Timbaland, who remains an inimitable pillar, Magoo’s brand was tied to the duo’s three albums. However, the group’s music did eventually get a grand digital re-release in August of 2021.
2023 started on a sombre note with the unexpected January 1 loss of Lola “Gangsta Boo” Mitchell who died of an accidental overdose in her mother’s Memphis home.
The pioneering female MC first rose to fame as a member of southern horrorcore legends Three 6 Mafia, having been discovered by DJ Paul at the age of 14. She was a fixture in the group before leaving in 2001.
As a solo act, her career took off in 1998 when her debut LP Enquiring Minds peaked at no. 46 on the Billboard 200, due in part to her signature hit “Where Dem Dollas At!?” Most recently, she joined GloRilla on Latto’s “FTCU” and had been working on a brand new LP that was set to be titled The BooPrint. She was 43 at the time of her death.
Milton “Big Pokey” Powell — an original member of the late DJ Screw’s Screwed Up Click — was pronounced dead in a Texas hospital on Sunday, June 18, 2023, hours after he collapsed from a heart attack while performing at a local bar.
With his distinctive style, Pokey helped bring the chopped-and-screwed movement to national acclaim and, until the day he died, was considered a legend in the Houston rap scene. His death even garnered a tweet from the mayor, who noted that “he was somebody [who] got a whole community that loves him.”
Pokey had been active for the better part of the past two decades, amassing a massive solo discography. Though he hit his first commercial apex in 2005 with a feature on Paul Wall’s hit single “Sittin’ Sidewayz.”
The 45 King
Mark the 45 King, a legendary producer responsible for helping catapult the career of Queen Latifah, passed away on October 19, 2023; while no cause of death was immediately available, a report noted that he had been in the hospital the week leading up to his death.
His career could rightfully be called a rollercoaster; the genesis of his notoriety was the release of “The 900 Number,” which stands as one of the greatest breakbeats in Hip Hop history. While the release and success of 1989’s All Hail the Queen (Latifah’s debut) may have helped him earn a lucrative production deal with Warner Bros. Records, a drug addiction ultimately saw him lose it. However, that wasn’t the end of his story.
Mark’s legacy was solidified on a wider scale when he produced JAY-Z‘s “Hard Knock Life,” a song that pushed Jay into a new stratosphere; his most culturally significant contribution being “Stan,”Eminem‘s 4x platinum (in the US alone) transcending single.
He was 62 years old at the time of his death.
C-Knight (Dove Shack)
Member of the Long Beach group Dove Shack, Arnez Blount, better known as C-Knight, passed away on November 7, 2023, weeks after suffering a stroke while receiving dialysis to treat his diabetes, then going into cardiac arrest and later being resuscitated and placed on life support.
C-Knight first rose to fame in 1995 alongside fellow Dove Shack MCs Bo-Roc and 2Scoops, appearing on Warren G‘s 3×platinum debut Regulate… G Funk Era. The group later released their debut, This Is the Shack, which spawned the group’s most well-known single, “Summertime in the LBC,” which peaked at No. 54 on the Billboard Hot 100.
C-Knight was 52 at the time of his passing.
William Perry Jr., professionally known as DJ Casper (or Mr. C the Slide Man), died following a long battle with kidney and liver cancer on August 7, 2023 at the age of 58.
He had previously noted in an interview in 2019 that he had (at that point) beaten the cancer. His legacy though will live on forever through the cross-generational cult classic “Casper Slide Pt. 1” — more widely known as the enduring party staple “Cha Cha Slide.”
The song was first crafted for Casper’s nephew, who was a personal trainer at Bally Total Fitness; from grass-roots beginnings, the song grew massive legs, eventually being picked up by Universal.
Former Jermaine Dupri protégé, Young Capone (aka DopeBoy Ra) reportedly passed away on August 15 — days after he was said to have been reported missing in Chicago. The “What It Iz” rapper, signed to So So Def, released projects such as Look Who’s Talking (2010) and Paper and Politics (2011).
Prior to connecting with Dupri, Ra first made noise working with legendary MC/producer Daz Dillinger. He also collaborated with T.I.‘s Grand Hustle, appearing on the imprint’s 2017 compilation We Want Smoke. Capone’s final release, SlumMade 2.0, was released in December 2022. He was 35 years old at the time of his death.
Chico Del Vec (Junior M.A.F.I.A.)
While far from one of the M.A.F.I.A.’s most notable members, his roots and influence within the group was undeniable; in a memorium on Instagram, groupmate Lil Cease referred to the late Brooklynite as a legend, noting that he was the one who ultimately inspired The Notorious B.I.G. to get off the stoop and find a way to transcend the ills of Fulton St.
Del Vec’s legacy lives on through his contributions, most famously on the group’s 1995 debut LP Conspiracy, which peaked at No. 8 on Billboard’s Hot 200.
Acclaimed Detroit musician Joseph “Amp” Fiddler, a one-time mentor to the late J Dilla — having introduced the producer to the revolutionary Akai MPC60 and famously connected him to Q-Tip — passed away on December 17, 2023, at the age of 65.
Throughout his career, Amp released eight full-length projects and worked with inimitable icons like George Clinton, serving as a member of Parliament-Funkadelic from 1985 until 1996, and the late Prince.
Amp had been suffering from an undisclosed health issue leading up to a surgery in 2022; at that time, a GoFundMe was set up to help him cover medical expenses. His road to recovery had been a long one, and a fundraiser (again, to help cover medical expenses) took place in his hometown of Detroit just seven days prior to his death.
Bobby Caldwell, known for his classic R&B hit “What You Won’t Do for Love,” passed away at the age of 71 on March 14, 2023.
Getting his start playing guitar for the late Little Richard in the 1970s, his career took off after he released his eponymous debut, which sold over two million copies in the US. Spanning R&B, soul, jazz, and adult contemporary, the singer-songwriter and musician dropped 16 subsequent albums, his final being 2015’s Cool Uncle. Not to mention, he wrote songs for artists like Natalie Cole, Al Jarreau, and Roberta Flack.
According to reports, he died peacefully in his home in Great Meadows, New Jersey, in the arms of his wife, Mary Caldwell.
“Day-O” singer Harry Belafonte, a legendary musician and activist, passed away on August 25, 2023.
As an artist, he released 30 studio albums and eight live albums and achieved massive critical and commercial success. Though his career was largely earmarked by his activism, the one-time confidant of Martin Luther King Jr. was infamous for using his fortune and notoriety as a platform for social change. It’s something he once criticized JAY-Z and Beyoncé for not doing nearly enough.
Harry was also an early proponent of Hip Hop culture, producing the film Beat Street which, alongside Wild Style, is widely credited with helping introduce the culture to a wider audience globally.
His influence and impact are legendary and, frankly, impossible to fully encapsulate in such a small space.
Born Anna Mae Bullock, Tina Turner passed away on May 24, 2023, in her home in Küsnacht, Switzerland, following years of illness. Known as the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, her journey in music started in 1956 with her late husband Ike Turner‘s Kings of Rhythm, eventually rising to fame as a duo, Ike & Tina Turner.
After a tumultuous relationship with Ike (which is putting it lightly), she soared in her solo career during the ’80s. Her groundbreaking hit, “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” not only became a global anthem but also marked her as the oldest female solo artist to hit No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the age of 44.
With over 100 million records sold across the globe and a collection of 12 Grammy Awards, Tina Turner was a true musical force loved and sampled by the likes of Beyoncé, Fat Joe, Childish Gambino and more.
The singer gracefully bowed out of the spotlight in 2009, celebrating her illustrious 50-year career with a farewell tour. At the time of her death, the singer was 83 years old.
Rudolph “Rudy” Bernard Isley, a founding member of the highly influential R&B group the Isley Brothers, renowned for being extensively sampled for some of Hip Hop’s biggest anthems (and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992), sadly passed away on October 11, 2023, after succumbing to a heart attack. He was 84 years old.
Along with his group, Rudy shot to stardom with hits such as “Twist and Shout” and the Motown favorite “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You).” In the 1960s, the brothers established T-Neck Records and achieved considerable success with the Grammy-winning smash “It’s Your Thing” in 1969.
Following the passing of his brother Kelly in 1986, Rudy decided to leave the music industry in 1989, choosing to dedicate his life to Christian ministry.
George Brown (Kool & The Gang)
George Brown, drummer for the legendary Kool & The Gang, passed away after a hard-fought battle with lung cancer on November 16, 2023.
Brown kept rhythmic time for a group that created some of the most memorable pop songs of the 1970s. Kool & the Gang’s impact on Hip Hop was immense, with their groovy, soulful rhythms and catchy hooks inspiring a generation of producers to sample their work — prominently, for artists like JAY-Z, Madonna, Nas, N.W.A., Janet Jackson, Beastie Boys, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest. Whosampled notes close to 2000 songs that have sampled the group.
Nicknamed “Funky,” George Brown was one of the longest-serving members of Kool & The Gang alongside the group’s leader Robert “Kool” Bell; in fact, just months before his death, he produced the entirety of the group’s 26th studio album People Just Wanna Have Fun. Brown was 74.
Paul Costict (B-Rock And The Bizz)
Rapper and producer Paul Costict, professionally known as B-Rock from the ’90s group B-Rock And The Bizz, passed away in his Norfolk, Virginia, home on October 23, 2023. His death was unexpected, however, as numerous outlets had reported, he had been sick — though in relatively good spirits.
B-Rock And The Bizz’s lone successful hit, “My Baby Daddy,” which peaked at No. 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 back in April of 1997, ultimately secured the group Gold certification from RIAA. Despite the success, the group faced drama with their label while making their debut album Porkin’ Beans & Wienes, their only collective effort.
Perhaps the most maddening losses for respective fan bases are those that happen long before their time — sometimes just as an artist was beginning to see the fruit of their labor. Below are some of the bright careers stateside and overseas that were tragically cut short in 2023.
As announced by rapper Afroman, Madsodi “Lil Sodi” Simpson passed away on August 4, 2023, after being involved in a fatal car accident. The LA rapper had just — 24 hours earlier — released what would become his final project, Too Good for Hell, Too Bad for Heaven. The rapper leaves behind a nine-year-old son, Ja’Zay.
Florida MC 350Heem was pronounced dead after being shot outside of a Lakeland, Florida lounge where he was celebrating the release of what would ultimately be his final non-posthumous mixtape, Taking Chances 3. The shooting took place in the early morning of July 29; Heem was just 25 years old.
Nigerian MC Oladips, who first rose to prominence by winning the Nigerian music competition The King Is Here, succumbed to what his team described as years of “personal battles,” and his passing was announced via social media on Tuesday, November 16, 2023. Sadly, the announcement of his death came just days before the release of his first posthumous release Superhero Adugbo (The Memoir).
South African “Lemons (Lemonade)” MC, AKA (real name Kiernan Forbes), and a close friend were shot and killed on February 10, 2023, outside of a popular restaurant in the coastal city of Durban. Reports indicated that the rapper’s bodyguard was also shot, though not fatally.
Def Jam affiliated singer-songwriter August 08 — known for penning hits with the likes of Justin Bieber, DJ Khaled, Quavo, and Chance The Rapper — passed away on August 29, 2023, at the age of 31. An early member of the famed 88 Rising artist collective, his final release was 2022’s Seasick.
Rising L.A. rapper Sirtanky‘s body was discovered on July 31, 2023, inside of a metal barrel that washed up on the shore of Malibu Lagoon State Beach, California. The 55-gallon container was first discovered by a lifeguard who brought it to shore and opened it because its weight was “suspicious” to him.
Mexican MC Lefty SM was shot and killed, as confirmed by his record label, on September 3, 2023. Lefty had been on a long overdue incline; in fact, just days earlier, he had set the stage on fire at a sold-out show. His career had begun to take off after his YouTube channel went viral back in 2017.
Considered next up on the Tennessee Hip Hop scene by many, Casino Jizzle was tragically shot in northeast Memphis, as confirmed by his manager on July 4, and subsequently pronounced dead at the scene. Sadly, he was just starting to gain traction, with over 10 million streams on Apple Music, and 46 million views on YouTube.
Arkansas MC Coca-Kazi was killed in a stand-off with North Little Rock Police. According to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, NLRPD arrived at a residence on the 4700 block of North Locust Street in North Little Rock around 2:00 a.m. local time on January 18, 2023, after receiving a call of a disturbance.
South African spitter Costa Titch, signed with Akon’s record label Konvict Kulture, was pronounced dead on March 11, 2023, after collapsing on stage during the Ultra Music Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa. After being helped up by fellow background dancers, Costa fell again and was immediately carried offstage.
Acclaimed Nigerian rapper, “KPK (Ko Por Ke)” MC MohBad, died in Lagos on September 12, 2023, after a Tetanus vaccine administered to him was found to be administered by an unlicensed nurse, who was arrested on September 19, 2023, by the Lagos State Police Command. He was 27 at the time of his death.
To remember those we lost from previous years, here are our past articles:
Artwork & Graphic Design by JR Martinez.