With each passing year, new artists and industry figures emerge, while so many beloved favorites pass on. This year hit hard with the losses of genre-influencers, rappers, and various rap-related figures. Read on as we toast to their memory.
Fredo Santana, January 19
The 27-year-old elder cousin of Chief Keef died of cardiovascular disease and idiopathic epilepsy. Prior to his death, he cashed in on the drill craze with the likes of Keef and Lil Reese. He released two albums, Trappin Ain’t Dead in 2013 and Fredo Krueger in 2017.
Dennis Edwards, February 1
This member of The Temptations went on to have a solid career in his own right. While not as musically renowned as David Ruffin, Edwards functioned as sort of the MC Ren of the group; his skills were undeniable. His music was sampled by several Hip Hop artists, most notably the 1984 hit “Don’t Go Any Further” which gave Eric B. and Rakim, Biggie and Junior M.A.F.I.A. and 2Pac & The Outlawz career-changing material.
He passed away just two days before his 75th birthday after battling meningitis.
Lovebug Starski, February 8
“Peace to Ron G, Brucie B, Kid Caprio/Funkmaster Flex, Lovebug Starski.”
Millennials (and even some Generation Y-ers) may only know Starski from this immortal The Notorious B.I.G. line on “Juicy.” However, there’s a reason why one of the greatest to breathe on a mic shouted out Lovebug on one of his most successful songs of all time. Starski was a DJ during Hip Hop’s fledgling years in the 1970s, and claims to have coined the phrase “Hip Hop” during a freestyle session with Cowboy of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
Starski went on to have a modestly successful recording career, but it was his time dropping needles on vinyl that made him a true Hip Hop legend. He died of a heart attack at 57.
Reg E. Cathey, February 9
Cathey had a long career as a character actor before landing a role on the greatest Hip Hop culture show of all time: The Wire. As Norman Wilson, advisor to Mayor Tommy Carcetti, Cathey’s deep voice brimmed with equal parts charisma and self assurance. Outside of Omar Little, there was no one who had such an innate sense of the system as Wilson, and Cathey pulled this off by never dipping into sentimentality. Outside The Wire, Cathey had roles on Oz and House of Cards. He died at 59 after reportedly battling lung cancer.
Ensayne Wayne, February 10
Wayne, the older brother of Drumma Boy, was killed in a shootout in Atlanta at age 48. Although not as nationally known as his sibling, Wayne was a platinum-selling producer who cooked up beats for the likes of Scarface, Xzibit, and Three 6 Mafia. Drumma Boy credits his brother with introducing him to beat-making, so without Wayne, we may not have the likes of Jeezy’s “Put On” or Gucci’s signature gutter sound that Drumma Boy helped popularize.
EOM, March 4
Virginia producer EOM (Element of Music) died from complications from scleroderma, an autoimmune disease. Aside from working with longtime friend Wax, EOM was known for crafting beats for Anderson .Paak, Blu, and Chamillionaire, amongst others. He also showcased his MC skills on Danielito, which featured work from him behind the boards as well as in front of the mic.
Craig Mack, March 12
He didn’t have the gargantuan impact of Bad Boys Records labelmate The Notorious B.I.G. but Mack was still a successful MC in his own right. Aside from kicking “Flava In Ya Ear,” he dropped the Gold-selling Project: Funk da World in 1994. He died from heart failure at age 47.
Following his death, Erick Sermon tweeted that he was putting the finishing touches on Mack’s next album.
Yvonne Staples, April 10
Staples was one-fourth of the joyfully soulful group, The Staple Singers. She was a background singer for a group that’s been sampled over and over again in Hip Hop, from Big Daddy Kane’s “I’ll Take You There,” to Disturbing Tha Peace’s “Growing Pains (Do It Again) Remix” a generation later.
Staples died from colon cancer at age 80.
Reginald McArthur, April 19
Reginald McArthur, who died at age 63, led The Controllers with his baritone voice for decades, before their music lived on in Hip Hop lore. Both the East and West coasts celebrated their music, with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Warren G, Busta Rhymes and Buckshot sampling their music. They continue to be embedded in rap’s DNA, as Nipsey Hussle sampled them on “Right Hand 2 God” as recently as this year.
Avicii, April 20
Before Avicii tragically took his own life at age 28, he made a name for himself as a popular Swedish DJ and EDM producer. His eclectic debut album True, released in 2013, featured the single “Wake Me Up” which moved more than four million units in the States. He continued to have success with his critically-acclaimed sophomore album, Stories, released in 2017.
Verne Troyer, April 21
Troyer may have been small in stature, but he loomed larger than life as “Mini-Me” in the Austin Powers franchise. The second movie, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, featured a take of Will Smith’s own take of “Just The Two Of Us,” with Troyer miming to Dr. Evil’s (Mike Myers) raps in all his b-boy glory. However, Troyer’s true 15 minutes of rap fame came in Austin Powers in Goldmember, which featured a spoof of JAY-Z’s “Hard Knock Life.” An incarcerated Mini-Me was miming to some of the funniest verses rap has ever heard.
Troyer’s death was ruled to be a suicide. He was 49.
Charles Neville, April 26
The saxophonist for the legendary jazz group The Neville Brothers died at 79 after battling pancreatic cancer. The Neville Brothers have been sampled by the likes of The Fugees and Bubba Sparxxx, and their cover of “Way Down In the Hole” appeared during the opening credits of Season 3 of The Wire. Is that impact? Oh, indeed.
Ted Devoux, April 29
April was a sad month for Hip Hop. Devoux, one of six brothers who made up 90s rap enforcers Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E., died at age 55. Though the group was known more for its independent following than its chart success, their debut album New Funky Nation made it to No. 33 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart.
John “Jabo” Starks, May 1
Give the drummer some. You know all those drum samples from James Brown records that pervaded Hip Hop’s early years? Give credit to Starks, who served as the drummer for The Hardest Working Man In Show Business. A list of songs sampling Starks’ drumming would fill an entire article on its own. “Funky Drummer” alone was sampled on Dr. Dre’s “Let Me Ride,” Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power,” and Jaz’s “Originators” featuring a young JAY-Z. Starks’ and Brown’s influence proved you just can’t stop the funk.
Starks battled leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes before his death at age 79.
Demba “Boundzound” Nabe, May 31
He may not have been known well in the United States, but Demba Nabe was the frontman for the Berlin band Seeed. On his own, the rapper-singer released a self-titled album under the alias Boundzound, which reached Germany’s Top 20 best-selling albums. He died at 46.
Clarence Fountain, June 3
There have been many takes of Tom Waitts’ “Down In the Hole,” but The Blind Boys of Alabama’s rendition may be the most famous of all. The song was used in the opening credits of Season 1 of The Wire, and is still hum-worthy to this day. Fountain, the lead singer of the gospel group, died at 88 due to complications of diabetes.
Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, June 14
Nuriddin was a member of The Last Poets, whose streetwise spoken-word over percussion earned him the title “The Grandfather of Rap.” Nuriddin lent his vocals to The Last Poets’ self-titled debut album and their follow-up, This Is Madness, before he busted out solo on the highly influential Hustlers Convention. Nuriddin died at age 74.
XXXTENTACION, June 18
No matter how you felt about him in life, it’s nevertheless tragic when someone so young dies. The 20-year-old XXXTENTACION was the victim of a random robbery-turned-shooting while he was shopping for a motorcycle. The two albums released while he was alive, 17 and ?, both went Platinum. A third album, released posthumously and titled Skins, dropped December 7.
Jimmy Wopo, June 18
Overshadowed by the death of XXXTENTACION the same day, and another famous Pittsburgh MC later in the year, Wopo’s death was no less tragic. He was reportedly just about to sign with Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang imprint before he was gunned down in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood at age 21. Before his death, Wopo went from criminal to motivator, and was beloved in the Hill District.
Joe Jackson, June 27
Make no bones about it; Joe Jackson could be an absolute terror. However, he still brought the world Jackson 5, which led to Michael Jackson’s own invincible musical career. The Jackson 5 have been sampled in rap over and over, most notably on Naughty By Nature’s “O.P.P.” and Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).”
Jackson died at age 90 of pancreatic cancer.
ProKid, August 8
The beloved South African rapper died at age 37 after suffering a major seizure. Before his death, he became an influential South African artist who released chart-topping albums such as Heads and Tales, Dankie San, and Snakes and Ladders. He garnered hardware such as South Africa’s HYPE Award and Channel O Music Video Award.
Aretha Franklin, August 16
The Queen of Soul has been copiously sampled throughout Hip Hop history. Franklin, who died at 76 of pancreatic cancer, had a legendary career in R&B that needs no introduction. However, her influence on Hip Hop is worth a mention. Franklin notably was sampled on Mos Def’s “Ms. Fat Booty,” and again on Kanye West’s “School Spirit.”
Franklin, with roots in gospel, would only allow Yeezy to sample her if he cut out the cuss words, so he backmasked them throughout, providing a novelty feel amidst his chipmunking of Franklin’s sweet, sweet soulfulness.
Danny Pearson, August 17
Soul singer Danny Pearson only released one album in his lifetime. However, Pearson’s Barry White Presents Danny Pearson remains memorable enough for continuous samples in Hip Hop. Rappers as varied as Sticky Fingaz and Skyzoo have borrowed from Pearson’s sonics to create their music, proving that brevity can still produce impact. Pearson died at age 65 after a bout with liver cancer.
DJ Ready Red, August 24
You know that hard-edged sound that put da south on the map? That punch-you-in-the-mouth music that backed Scarface, Willie D, and Bushwick Bill? Thank DJ Ready Red for that. “He gave us our sound,” Willie D told Billboard upon Red’s passing. He died of a heart attack at age 53.
Mac Miller, September 7
As if 2018 hadn’t broken our hearts enough, Mac Miller died of a drug overdose at age 26. Miller wasn’t just arguably the best white rapper since Eminem. He was one of the best MCs of his generation. Just ask Kendrick Lamar, who name-checked him as worthy competition on Big Sean’s “Control” in 2013: “I’m usually homeboys with the same niggas I’m rhymin’ with/But this is Hip Hop, and them niggas should know what time it is/And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale/Pusha T, Meek Millz (sic), A$AP Rocky, Drake/Big Sean, Jay Electron’, Tyler, Mac Miller…”
Each of Mac Miller’s five albums reached the top five of the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart. His latest, Swimming, garnered a posthumous Grammy Awards nomination for Best Rap Album.
Marty Balin, September 27
The co-founder/singer/songwriter of Jefferson Airplane (and later, Jefferson Starship) died at age 76. Balin’s music was sampled by the likes of Public Enemy, De La Soul, and Boogie Down Productions, as well as The Diplomats and Mickey Factz a generation later.
Gilbert Izquierdo (Toker of Brownside), October 10
Toker, of Brownside, was many things: a pioneer amongst Mexican-American MCs, an activist for prison reform, and a philanthropist. He died suddenly at age 51, but not before making a name for himself in Hip Hop. He and the group were signed to Eazy E’s Ruthless Records, and he helped make “Gang Related” and “Eastside Drama” hit singles in the ‘90s. He’s also known as one of the first rappers to alternate between spitting in English and Spanish.
Nick Breed, October 23
Another year, another prematurely deceased Baltimore rapper. Breed was shot to death at age 24. The up-and-coming B’more spitter collaborated with the likes of Young Moose and YBS Skola, and released Last of a Dying Breed the same year he died. Just one month before his death, Breed tweeted a plea to decrease Baltimore’s homicide rate. “I wanna see the murder rate in Bmore drop,” he said. “Words worse than bullets spread that message Rt if you agree if ppl mind their business they a live (sic) longer.”
Hip Hop Pantsula, October 24
Jabulani “HHP” Tsambo died unexpectedly at age 38. Before his death, he popularized South African Hip Hop by rapping in multiple languages and refusing to conform to the styles of the day. His song “Mpitse” won an MTV Africa Music award in 2009 for Best Video.
Baba Oje, October 26
Every group needs a little guidance. That’s exactly what Baba Oje provided as the spiritual elder, or advisor, to Arrested Development. Whatever advice he gave his fellow group members, it worked: Arrested Development went four-times Platinum on its debut album, 3 Years, 5 Months, and 2 Days In the Life Of… and won a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1993, becoming the first rap act to win one of the major four Grammy awards.
Young Greatness, October 29
Young Greatness was shot and killed outside a Waffle House in New Orleans at age 34. Before his death, his 2015 single “Moolah” charted on the Billboard Hot 100. He performed the song on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and had inked a deal with Quality Control Music and Motown.
Stan Lee, November 12
X-Men. Spider-Man. Black Panther. The Avengers. Iron Man. When Ghostface Killah, one of the greatest MC’s of all time, crafts an alter-ego out of one of your comic book characters, you know you have a gargantuan impact. Marvel guru Stan Lee died at 95 after going into cardiac arrest, but not before he gave joy to millions with his characters and inspired rap lyrics from the likes of Public Enemy, Q-Tip and JAY-Z.
Kim Porter, November 15
The world bade farewell to model, actress, and love interest to Diddy, Kim Porter, this year. She died after reportedly a weeks-long battle with pneumonia at age 47. Porter starred in the 2001 movie Brothers alongside D.L. Hughley and Morris Chestnut, and placed Violet Walker in the TV series Wicked Wicked Games.
“We were more than best friends,” Diddy wrote in an Instagram tribute. “We were more than soulmates. WE WERE SOME OTHER SHIT!! And I miss you so much. Super Black Love.”
Devin Lima, November 21
Lima was one-third of the late ‘90s pop group LFO, and enjoyed the success of the band’s smash single “Summer Girls.” Ironically, the mellowed-out threesome collaborated with hardcore Hip Hop group M.O.P for the song “Life Is Good.”
Lima died at age 41 after battling cancer.
Nancy Wilson, December 13
This Grammy-winning jazz legend died at 81 after a lengthy illness. The Girl With The Honey-Coated Voice was never duplicated, but often sampled amongst various genres. Everyone from Gangstarr to M.O.P. to A$AP Mob borrowed from her sonics to craft music. Now that’s influence.
Joe Osborn, December 14
Osborn died of pancreatic cancer at 81. Osborn was a session bass guitarist for classics such as the legendary “California Dreamin’” by The Mamas and the Papas and “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In” by 5th Dimension. The former was borrowed multiple times in Hip Hop, while the latter was sampled on the Beastie Boys’ “Finger Lickin’ Good.” Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park,” on which Osborn was a session musician, was sampled by The Wu-Tang Clan on “The Second Coming” featuring Tekitha.
Penny Marshall, December 17
The director of the classics Big and A League of Their Own, as well as the actress who played Laverne on Laverne & Shirley died at 75 due to complications of diabetes. Marshall, a native of Bronx, N.Y., received gushing tributes from the likes of film director Ava DuVernay, DJ Premier, Snoop Dogg, Pete Rock, and Bow Wow. The legendary Crazy Legs of the Rock Steady Crew posted on Instagram that Marshall told him once he had a script ready about the crew, she’d consider directing it. Mark Wahlberg called her a “wonderful, funny and talented lady.”
Speakerfoxxx, December 23
The Atlanta-based DJ served as the official turntablist for acts such as Yelawolf, Rittz and Three 6 Mafia’s Gangsta Boo and pumped well-received energy into the city upon her death at age 35.