Death is a part of life. As we move forward into 2020, we remember musicians who died in 2019 that influenced or were a part of Hip Hop culture. This year, those we lost included rappers, filmmakers, and R&B artists. Homage is due.
“…’nough respect due/When they reminisce over you, listen.” – CL Smooth, “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”
The silver lining for situations like these is the music left behind by these standout individuals will last more lifetimes than we can imagine.
- Nipsey Hussle, March 31 (Los Angeles – Crenshaw, CA)
- Bushwick Bill, June 9 (Jamica & Texas)
- Wake Self, November 5 (Albuquerque, NM)
- Bad Azz, November 11 (Long Beach, CA)
- Juice WRLD, December 8 (Chicago, IL)
- PHASE 2, December 13 (New York, NY)
Read the Full List Below
Feis Ecktuh, January 1
The Netherlands rapper Faisal Mssyeh was gunned down on New Year’s Day in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, at age 32. He was a mainstay in the nation’s rap scene, and his death was a blow to the country’s Hip Hop scene. “Every rapper in (the Netherlands) grew up with Feis,” musician YS wrote. “We lost a legend.”
Larry Cunningham, January 10
Cunningham, one-fourth of the R&B group The Floaters, died at age 67 after a long illness. The foursome’s 1977 cut “Float On,” was heavily sampled in Hip Hop on songs such as 2Pac’s “It Ain’t Easy” from his classic album Me Against the World.
‘Pac wasn’t the only one who borrowed from The Floaters, though. Everyone from Snoop Dogg to Big K.R.I.T. to Little Brother borrowed from the quartet, proving their influence will float on long after Cunningham’s demise.
Kevin Fret, January 10
Latin trap singer Kevin Fret was fatally shot at age 24. Before his death, Fret broke through with the single “Soy Asi” and was featured on Mike Duran’s “Diferente,” both in 2018. “Kevin was an artistic soul, a big-hearted dreamer,” stated his manager, Eduardo Rodriguez. “His passion was music, and (he) still had a lot to do.”
Detsl, February 3
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Kirill Aleskandrovich Tolmatsky, better known as Russian rapper Detsl, died of a heart attack during a live show at age 35. He broke onto the scene as a teen sensation with Who? You in 2000. Detsl went on to release seven more albums and an EP in his nearly 20-year career.
Cadet, February 9
Photo: C Brandon/Redferns
Blaine Johnson, known as Cadet, was killed in a car crash at age 28. The British rapper was active since 2011 and had two EPs — The Commitment and The Commitment 2 — to his name. He also collaborated with Deno to release the single “Advice” in 2018. The track reached No. 14 on the UK’s Official Singles Chart.
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Ermias Asghedom, better known as Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle, was shot and killed outside his own Marathon Clothing store at age 33. Nipsey was a mixtape master, dropping fan favorites such as The Marathon, Crenshaw and his Bullets Ain’t Got No Name series.
In 2018, he released his official debut album, the critically acclaimed Victory Lap. Known for his entrepreneurial spirit and community activism as well as his art, Nip was beloved in Los Angeles by gang members, police and politicians alike.
“Ermias Asghedom known as ‘Nipsey Hussle’ was an icon and West Coast hero,” Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said in a statement obtained by the Los Angeles Times. “Nipsey’s genuine nature allowed him to be a light to everyone he interacted with from family, friends, fans, and his larger community.”
John Singleton, April 28
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Acclaimed film director John Singleton died of a stroke at age 51. Singleton brought the essence of street life so often detailed in rap music to the big screen with Boyz n the Hood in 1991. The classic film made the then-24-year-old Singleton the youngest director ever to be nominated for an Academy Award of Merit for Directing.
He also was the first African American to be nominated in the category. Singleton went on to direct Tupac Shakur in Poetic Justice, Omar Epps in Higher Learning and Mark Wahlberg and André 3000 in Four Brothers.
Chuck Barksdale, May 15
Chuck Barksdale, a member of the doo-wop-turned-R&B group The Dells, died at age 84. Barksdale was a bass singer for The Dells, who have been heavily sampled across generations and styles of Hip Hop.
Amongst those who have dug into the crates to pull out samples of The Dells’ sonic brilliance include A Tribe Called Quest, Kanye West, 50 Cent, The Game, Black Milk and Skyzoo.
Melvin Edmonds, May 18
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Melvin Edmonds died at age 65. Edmonds was a founding member of the R&B group After 7 and a brother of Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. After 7’s self-titled debut album and sophomore album, Takin’ My Time, went platinum, while the group’s third album Reflections went gold. After 7 co-founder Keith Mitchell said in a Facebook post that Edmonds was “the ‘Soul’ of After 7.”
Willie Ford, May 28
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Willie “Sugar Bear” Ford Jr., the bass vocalist for The Dramatics, died at age 68. The Dramatics have been staples of samples in rap. Their 1971 hit, “In the Rain” alone has been sampled 87 times by Hip Hop artists such as Wu-Tang Clan, GZA, Jadakiss, Beanie Sigel and The Notorious B.I.G.
John Gary Williams, May 28
Photo: GAB Archive/Redferns
John Gary Williams, the lead singer for the R&B group The Mad Lads, died at age 73. The Lads got mad respect from rap acts and were sampled by the likes of M.O.P., Ghostface Killah, LL Cool J and J Dilla. De La Soul borrowed from them multiple times songs such as “Change In Speak” and “Eye Know.”
Dr. John, June 6
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Singer-songwriter Malcolm John Rebennack Jr., better known as Dr. John, died of a heart attack at age 77. He dabbled in various genres, including pop, blues and rock-n-roll. He had a share of music sampled by the Hip Hop community. Most notably, “Right Place, Wrong Time” was borrowed by Ice Cube, Steady B, Canibus and Monie Love.
Photo: Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Geto Boys legend Bushwick Bill died of pancreatic cancer at age 52. Bill was a pivotal element of the pioneering southern rap group’s classic album We Can’t Be Stopped, which featured the haunting “Mind Playing Tricks On Me.”
He overcame the personal turbulence of his early years — he accidentally shot himself in the eye during an argument with his girlfriend in 1991 — to release several solo albums and eventually become a born-again Christian.
Ras G, July 29
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DJ/Hip Hop producer Ras G died at age 40. Ras released a plethora of albums and EPs from 2008-2019, including Back on the Planet in 2013 through Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label.
His experimental sounds earned him the respect of his peers and made him an underground mainstay. “I never went to a music school,” he told The Hundreds. “I never know what you need to know for music, all I know is the feeling of music and how it should be.”
Lashawn Daniels, September 3
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Grammy Award-winning producer Lashawn Daniels a.k.a. Big Shiz was killed in a car accident traveling through South Carolina. Throughout his storied career, he worked in the biggest names in the biz such as Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child, Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Michael and Janet Jackson.
Gru, September 9
Serbian rapper Dalibor Andonov, known as Gru, died in a kitesurfing accident at age 46. “The Serbian Rap Machine” enjoyed massive popularity in Eastern Europe. His sophomore album, Gru 2, sold four million copies. He also acted in movies and television and lent his voice for Serbian dubs of American animated films such as Shrek, Finding Nemo and Kung Fu Panda.
Jimmy Spicer, September 26
Jimmy “Super Rhymes” Spicer died of lung and brain cancer at age 61. Spicer was one of rap’s pioneering recording artists and dropped the hit single “Adventures of Super Rhyme (Rap)” in 1980. Yet, it was the single “Money (Dollar Bill Y’all)” that has been sampled and interpolated often in Hip Hop by everyone from Kanye West to the Wu-Tang Clan.
John Witherspoon, October 29
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Actor John Witherspoon died of coronary artery disease at age 77. He enjoyed a long and fruitful acting career and hilariously voiced Robert “Granddad” Freeman in Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks.
However, he was most well known to Hip Hop heads for his role as Ice Cube’s pops, Willie Jones, in the Friday trilogy. Witherspoon taught us that in life, you win some, you lose some, but you live to fight another day.
Andrew “Wake Self” Martinez died at age 30 from injuries sustained in a car collision after being struck by a drunk driver. The Albuquerque MC had two albums under his belt — Malala and Good Things Happen to Those Who Wake — and was days from releasing another, titled Ready to Live, when he died.
A week before he was killed, Wake Self posted a personal story of his childhood on Instagram and closed it with inspirational words: “Everyday I wake up and give gratitude for this blessing to be alive. I pray a miracle happens to you and changes the way you think and see the world. You gon make it.”
Jamarr Stamps, better known as West Coast rapper Bad Azz, died at age 43. He was in jail at the time for a charge of corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant. Bad Azz, who was affiliated with Snoop Dogg, was a member of Tha Dogg Pound Gangsta Crips.
He was featured on Makaveli’s 1996 cut “Krazy” from The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory and released numerous albums, including 2001’s Personal Business. The album’s lead single, “Wrong Idea” featuring Lil ½ Dead, reached No. 75 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart.
Photo: Erika Goldring/WireImage
Jarad Higgins, better known as Juice Wrld, died at Chicago’s Midway Airport after suffering a seizure. The Chicago rapper was best known for his hit “Lucid Dreams,” which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
“Juice made a profound impact on the world in such a short period of time,” an Interscope Geffen A&M Records representative said in a statement to Complex. “He was a gentle soul, whose creativity knew no bounds, an exceptional human being and an artist who loved and cared for his fans above everything else.”
Lonny Wood, better known as pioneering graffiti artist and flyer designer PHASE 2, died after a battle with Lou Gherig’s disease at age 64. PHASE 2 was an integral part of Hip Hop’s early days, having created flyers to spread the word about park jams held by the likes of Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa.
PHASE 2 is also credited as the originator of bubble lettering. He DJ’d, rapped, was a member of the B-Boy crew Electrified Movement and formed the B-Boy crew The New York City Breakers. “Phase was the purest artist I’ve ever met and a kind, true soul,” El-P tweeted. “Rest in peace, my friend.”
Popa Wu, December 16
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Wu-Tang Clan affiliate and mentor Popa Wu died at age 63. Popa Wu appeared on a number of Wu-Tang tracks, including Raekwon’s “North Star (Jewels)” and Ghostface Killah’s “All That I Got Is You.” He released two compilation albums, Visions of the 10th Chamber in 2000 and Visions of the 10th Chamber Part II in 2008. “Your name will live through all the babies,” YDB said of Popa Wu in an Instagram video. “I got a lot of emotions right now so it’s hard to speak but Popa Wu is a lot to me. Peace king.”