We lost some of our most beloved Hip Hop figures in 2016, from legends to up-and-coming MCs to those who didn’t rap but nonetheless had an immense impact on the culture. HipHopDX takes a look back to honor those we lost.

Afeni Shakur

Shakur died in May at the age of 69 of a suspected heart attack. More than just 2Pac’s mom or even the subject of “Dear Mama,” Afeni Shakur was a revolutionary in her own right. She was a prominent member of the Black Panthers before ‘Pac was even born. After his death, she created the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, which provides art programs for youths.

Phife Dawg

Phife, one-fourth of the legendary A Tribe Called Quest, died in March at 45 from complications due to diabetes. He left a hole in the heart of many Hip Hop fans, though small consolation came in the form of one of the year’s strongest releases, ATCQ’s We got it from Here … Thank You 4 Your service. Phife’s witty rhymes helped ATCQ influence generations of artists including Outkast, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar.


This pop icon passed in April at the age of 57 of a fentanyl overdose, but not before he made a tremendous impact on Hip Hop. Aside from influencing the likes of The Roots drummer Questlove, Prince has been heavily sampled in rap, from 2Pac’s “To Live and Die in L.A.” to Jay Z and Beyonce’s “’03 Bonnie and Clyde.” And who can forget that classic Chappelle’s Show skit? Forget pouring out liquor, eat some pancakes in his memory.

Prince Be

The Jersey City native made up half of the pioneering R&B/Hip Hop hybrid group, P.M. Dawn. Before passing away in June from kidney failure, Prince Be (born Attrell Cordes) helped land the group a Billboard No. 1 hit with 1991’s “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss,” which preceded a Platinum and Gold album, respectively.

Bankroll Fresh

Another life taken too soon. Bankroll Fresh was killed during a shootout at Street Execs Studio in March at age 28. Rapper No Plug stated he shot and killed Fresh in self-defense, and has not been charged by police. Whatever the case, it’s clear a talented rapper was cut down before his prime, as evidenced by records like the catchy “All There” with Jeezy.

Big Syke

I had to post this one! CLASSIC!!!!! A photo posted by Big Syke Thuglife Outlawz (@bigsyke_) on

“I got keyyyys coming from overseas…” on 2Pac’s “Picture Me Rollin’” has to be one of the most recognizable opening lines to a verse in Hip Hop history. Big Syke’s deep, commanding voice made him more than just a homie put on by ‘Pac. Syke, who died at 48 of natural causes on December 5, will be remembered for his contributions to All Eyez on Me, as well as for being a member of Thug Life, which released a gritty self-titled album in 1994.

Billy Paul

Soul singer Billy Paul died in April of cancer at 81. He’s known for his hit “Me and Mrs. Jones,” and his songs have been sampled in Hip Hop by the likes of The Game (“Heavy Artillery”), Fashawn (“Samsonite Man”) and Gang Starr (“Moment of Truth”).

Bill Nunn

Nunn died in September of leukemia at 62. He was a mainstay in Spike Lee joints for years, most notably as Radio Raheem in Do The Right Thing. Aside from one of the most memorable on-screen deaths in cinema history as Raheem, Nunn appeared in New Jack City, Mo’ Better Blues, He Got Game and the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man trilogy.

Curtis Hanson

It’s a shame that Eminem didn’t fully launch a movie career because 8 Mile remains one of the Hip Hop’s best movies to date. Kudos to Curtis Hanson for bringing Slim Shady’s humble beginnings to the big screen. The veteran director passed away in September from natural causes at the age of 71. His other notable credits include The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Too Big to Fail and L.A. Confidential.

David Bowie

Two days after his 69th birthday, the rock legend died of liver cancer in January. The superstar may seem like an unlikely source for Hip Hop samples, but his music was used for rap classics such as Jay Z’s “Takeover,” Public Enemy’s “Night of the Living Baseheads,” and even Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby.”

DJ Official

DJ Official

Photo: Family of DJ Official

The independent rap scene took a major hit when DJ Official passed away in August after a long battle with cancer. As a founding father of Reach Records, the man born Nelson Chu helped Lecrae, Andy Mineo, Derek Minor, Propaganda, Ruslan and many others navigate the waters of weaving faith into their music. DJ Official left his mark as a producer and as Lecrae’s tour DJ, but his contributions were far greater as he served as a mentor to many.

Alton Sterling & Philando Castile

On July 5 and 6, Alton Sterling, 37, and Philando Castile, 32, were both killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, respectively, sending shockwaves throughout the Hip Hop community. In Sterling’s incident, police responded to a call of a man with a gun where Sterling was selling CDs only for a deadly altercation to ensue (with officers suspiciously stating their body cameras fell off).

In Castile’s case, his girlfriend documented their traffic stop on Facebook Live shortly after he was shot after reaching for his wallet. The back-to-back incidents were said to be the catalyst for the equally heinous Dallas police shootings and prompted superstars such as Kanye West, Beyoncé, John Legend and the typically politically mute Drake to speak out on social media.

Ronald “Banga” McPhatter

Troy Ave’s BSB-affiliate Ronald “Banga” McPhatter was killed at 33 in a May shooting at Irving Plaza. Banga, Ave’s bodyguard, was CEO and head trainer at Big Bizz Fitness in Brooklyn. Initially, it was speculated that Ave killed Banga after police found a gun that matched the murder weapon in the vehicle that transported him to the hospital. Ave was cleared in his friend’s shooting but was charged with attempted second-degree murder and four counts of criminal possession of a weapon. He’s currently out on bail, awaiting trial.

DJ Whiteowl

Back when mixtapes were still mixtapes (i.e. physical CDs that didn’t mask themselves as albums) you couldn’t be in the vicinity of a local record shop without seeing some of DJ Whiteowl’s handiwork. The veteran wax technician died back June of undisclosed causes but he was instrumental in helping Lil Wayne feed the streets during his mid-’00s ascension and he also earned the respect of his peers such as Joe Budden and DJ Green Lantern.

Johnny P

This respected R&B singer died in November after declining health had caused him to slip into a coma. He left an indelible impression on Hip Hop, appearing on Scarface’s 1997 hit “Smile,” which also featured 2Pac. He also was featured on multiple Twista and Do or Die hits, including “Po Pimp” and “Playa Like Me and You.”

Jerry Heller

jerry heller ruthless records memoir

Photo: Victor Chavez/WireImage

The notorious music manager died of a heart attack in September at 75. Hate him or love him, Jerry Heller helped bring N.W.A to the world. His alleged shady dealings led to a fallout with the group, but he also oversaw the early success of the likes of The Black Eyed Peas, The D.O.C., Above the Law and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

Big Kap

This renowned New York DJ died of a heart attack in February at 45. He was a member of the supergroup The Flip Squad, and put out The Tunnel, a star-studded collaboration album with Funkmaster Flash, in 1999.


Denise Katrina “Vanity” Matthews died at 57 of kidney failure in February. She was the lead singer of the trio Vanity 6, which was known for the hit “Nasty Girl.” Matthews renounced her Vanity persona and converted to Christianity after overdosing on crack-cocaine and nearly dying of kidney failure in 1994.

Sharon Jones

“The Female James Brown” died of cancer in November at 60. She was the lead singer of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, who earned a Grammy nomination for their 2014 album Give the People What They Want.

Kashif Saleem

Saleem, a renowned R&B singer and producer, died of natural causes in September at age 56. He is widely credited with introducing the synthesizer to R&B, and worked with artists such as Barry White, Evelyn “Champagne” King and Whitney Houston. Janet Jackson sampled “I’m In Love,” which was written and produced by Saleem, on her 2004 song, “R&B Junkie.”

Kimbo Slice

Slice died of heart failure in June at age 42. Kimbo Slice’s street-fighting videos led to a career in MMA, and, later, boxing and professional wrestling. Whether he won or lost, he was always entertaining. And who can forget Dorrough’s line on “Ice Cream Paint Job”: “Trunk hit hard like Kimbo Slice!”

Lor Scoota & Trayvon Lee

Baltimore rapper Tyriece Travon “Lor Scoota” Watson had ironically just left a “Touch the People Pray For Peace in These Streets” charity basketball game and was driving east on Moravia road in Baltimore when he was shot dead in June. Only 23, Lor Scoota was best known for his single “Bird Flu (Remix)” featuring Shy Glizzy, which has more than 1.4 million views on YouTube. Just weeks after Scoota’s murder, his manager, YBS Records CEO Trayvon Lee, was gunned down in Baltimore at age 24.

Mar Brown

#tbt #Aruba?? A photo posted by Mar Brown (@iammarbrown) on

Mar Brown served as Atlantic Records’ senior vice president of urban radio promotion for two years before his untimely death on December 20 from an apparent heart attack. He previously held down various positions at Interscope, Virgin and Warner Brothers over the course of a two-decade career. Upon his death, the likes of Rick Ross, Ty Dolla $ign, K. Michelle, and Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee sent out social media eulogies in mourning.

Maurice White

White died in February of effects from Parkinson’s disease at 74. He was a founding member of Earth, Wind & Fire, and won seven Grammys. Earth, Wind & Fire has been sampled by the likes of Jay Z, Missy Elliott, Masta Ace and Young Thug.

Mr. 3-2

#RIP32 ?????? #HtownLegend

A photo posted by Slim Thug (@hogglife101) on

Once a fixture of the short-lived UGK Records, the Houston rapper made a name for himself inside the group The Convicts (alongside Big Mike) and the Screwed Up Click camp. On November 10, he died at a gas station after being shot in the head. Leads on his murder have yet to be reported.

Boss Goodie

Colorado rapper Boss Goodie was shot and killed in October at 29 before he could make a name for himself in Hip Hop. However, he was able to open for T-Pain a year before his death.

Muhammad Ali

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee/the hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.” Before Hip Hop even existed, Ali delighted fans with his witty rhymes, boasting about himself and cutting down his opponents. He was a battle rapper before battle rap was a thing, predicting the very round he’d take down his foes. Ali also was a three-time heavyweight champion, heroic civil rights activist and beloved sports symbol across the globe. He died in June at 74.

Ricky Harris

Harris died of a heart attack just days before the end of 2016, on December 26 at 54. He had memorable roles in Poetic Justice and Murder Was the Case, and more recently was known for his recurring role in Chris Rock’s coming-of-age comedy series Everybody Hates Chris. His voice also appeared in many skits on Snoop Dogg’s albums.

Rod Temperton

This English songwriter’s impact on Hip Hop is mostly indirect, but it still has been felt tremendously. Temperton, 66, died in October after battling cancer and boasted a career having written multiple songs for Michael Jackson that have been sampled in Hip Hop, including “Thriller” and “Rock With You.” He also has a writing credit on LL Cool J’s “Hey Lover,” which samples MJ’s “The Lady in My Life.”

Shawty Lo

The Atlanta rap stalwart’s life was cut short at 40 after a single-car accident in September. Before that, though, he enjoyed solo and shared success with D4L, most notably with the group’s No. 1 single “Laffy Taffy” and Gold-certified album Down For Life.

Thomas Mikal Ford

The actor who played Tommy Strawn on Martin died at 52 when an aneurysm in his abdomen ruptured in October. Ford brought hilarity to the masses as the straight man to Martin Lawrence’s silliness, earning himself an NAACP Image Awards nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 1996.

Cadalack Ron

Cadalack Ron Michael Marshall

Photo: Michael Marshall
The always-controversial Los Angeles MC and battle rapper Cadalack Ron was candid about his extreme lifestyle and struggles with drug addiction in interviews and his artistic output. He died of an overdose in January at the age of 34.


Check out more of DX’s year-end content below.

The 2016 HipHopDX Year-End Awards

The 20 Best Rap Albums Of 2016

The Best R&B Of 2016

The Best Mixtapes Of 2016

The Most Slept-On Rap Albums Of 2016

The 50 Best Songs Of 2016

The 50 Most Lit Songs Of 2016

The Steve Lobel “We Working” Artist Of The Year

The Worst Rap Albums Of 2016

Remembering Those We Lost In 2016