The number of rappers who lost their lives to gun violence in 2021 is nothing short of deplorable. Instead of settling disagreements with a good old fashioned fist-fight or simply accepting the fact some people are inevitably going to be more successful in life, people callously pull out a weapon and squeeze the trigger like it’s a game of Grand Theft Auto. But the lives taken are somebody’s child, mother, father, sister, brother or friend, and the impact of their deaths will gravely affect their families forever.
At least 20 rappers were fatally shot this year; some hometown heroes, others nationally celebrated artists like Young Dolph. Meanwhile, there were many other rappers and Hip Hop figures who died of drug overdoses, poor health and cancer. From former Bad Boy rapper Black Rob and Kangol Kid of U.T.F.O. to Blackalicious MC Gift of Gab and the lovable Biz Markie, the devastating losses just kept coming.
But the gun violence was unprecedented this year. To illustrate just how dire the situation is, HipHopDX has compiled a list of not just all of the legends we’ve lost this year but also the aspiring local rappers and slightly more established artists who died a violent death — and it’s an unnecessarily long list.
The Hip Hop world shed a collective tear on April 9 when DMX’s life came to an abrupt and tragic end. Just seven days prior, the Ruff Ryders legend had suffered a cocaine-induced heart attack and was rushed to White Plains Hospital in White Plains, New York where he was placed on life support. As X’s family grappled with what always feels like an impossible decision, his friends and fans rallied around the hospital hoping for a miracle. But sadly, medical staff was unable to preserve X’s life and he passed at the age of 50.
In the wake of his death, friend and producer Swizz Beatz finished X’s first posthumous album, Exodus, which arrived on May 28 via Def Jam Recordings, his longtime label. Like the rest of DMX’s catalog, the project was a raw glimpse into what made Earl Simmons human and how much he struggled with drug addiction and mental health. The one solace in DMX’s death is his demons can no longer haunt him — he’s at peace now.
The Clown Prince of Hip Hop passed away on July 16 at a Maryland hospital, bringing his over 30-year career to a premature end. At the same time, his death also partly solved the mystery of his sudden “disappearance.” News the Juice Crew legend had been hospitalized with a “serious illness” started to circulate in July 2020 but as the months dragged on, there was very little information on his condition. That is until December 2020, when HipHopDX spoke to a source close to Biz who was able to confirm the 56-year-old had suffered a stroke at the hospital while recovering from a diabetic episode.
But Biz was never fully able to recover, and his friends, family and fans were forced to say goodbye at a New York City funeral service in August. Fellow Juice Crew member Roxanne Shanté, his DJ Cutmaster Cool V, Montell Jordan and Rev. Al Sharpton were a few who took the podium, while Fat Joe, Ice-T, Erick Sermon, Parish Smith, Redman, Big Daddy Kane, Kid Capri and De La Soul’s Maseo were among the attendees.
As Cutmaster Cool V told DX, “Biz always said when we would get to heaven, we would be able to see the tapes. He’d say, ‘I can’t wait till we get to heaven and see all the tapes of all the funny times, of all the things we did.’ That’s how his mind works. He said, ‘Yo, we see the things, we going to be laughing.’ He would always say that — ‘Wait ’til we see the tapes.’ And nobody knew what he was talking about but me. We were supposed to be watching the tapes together. Now he got the chance to watch the tapes without me. Nobody beats the Biz.”
Much to the shock of the fashion and entertainment industries, fashion designer Virgil Abloh died on November 28 after privately battling cancer. As his family explained in an Instagram post, “For over two years, Virgil valiantly battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma. He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture.”
Abloh, a trained architect, made his foray into international fashion in 2009 with an internship at Fendi alongside Kanye West. Their artistic collaboration ultimately led to Abloh’s own brand, Off-White. In 2011, Abloh was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package for his work on JAY-Z and Kanye West’s celebrated Watch The Throne album.
Then in 2018, Abloh became the first person of African descent to be named artistic director at a French luxury fashion house when Louis Vuitton put him in charge of men’s wear. That same year, he earned the unique distinction of being named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine. In 2019, he was appointed to the board of directors of The Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Abloh was laid to rest in Chicago on December 6 with Rihanna, Lauryn Hill, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Frank Ocean, Kid Cudi, Tyler, The Creator and Kanye West among those looking on. Virgil Abloh was 41 and leaves behind a wife and two children.
Former Bad Boy Records rapper Black Rob had a monster hit in 2000 with “Whoa!” but eventually faded into obscurity. Health problems plagued the veteran rapper and news of his deteriorating condition began to surface in April when DJ Self posted a video of Black Rob in a hospital bed looking skeletal and lethargic.
Black Rob later talked about what he was going through in an Instagram Live video, explaining, “Oh man, I’ve been dealing with this for five years. Four strokes … I don’t know what to tell you man. Shit is crazy. This shit is hard. I don’t got no house to live in — except maybe an apartment. Me and my man be trying to get together. I’m telling you man, this shit is strange. It’s hard, you know what I’m saying? I don’t know what the people want to do, what the people going to say. I need some rest, man. Really, man. I need some rest. My side is killing me.”
Only a few weeks later, Black Rob was gone. Fellow Bad Boy alum Mark Curry confirmed he’d passed away at an Atlanta hospital on April 17 at the age of 52.
Digital Underground MC Shock G was always enigmatic — and had the disguises to prove it. Famous for rocking a fake nose and glasses for “The Humpty Dance” video, the Oakland native built an entire career on a foundation of comedy. But behind closed doors, he wasn’t laughing.
Much like DMX, Shock G battled drug addiction for most of his adult life, and his ongoing party finally caught up to him on April 22 when his body was discovered in a Tampa, Florida hotel room. Hillsborough County Medical Examiner later determined a lethal mix of fentanyl, ethanol (alcohol) and methamphetamine overwhelmed Shock G’s system and he simply couldn’t recover.
Beyond Shock G’s musical contributions to Hip Hop, he also introduced a young Tupac Shakur to the world when he employed the future icon as one of Digital Underground’s backup dancers. In a 2017 interview with Rolling Stone, he talked about their time together, saying, “He was on TNT Records [with us] for four years.
“He was with Death Row for nine months. So do the math. He did five tours with us, including Japan. Over those three or four years that he was around us, we did a lot of touring and a lot of living together on the tour bus and that’s how we know the man.”
Shock G was just 57 at the time of his death. Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s Krayzie Bone, Kehlani and A-Trak were just some of the many famous names paying tribute to Shock G on social media.
Prince Markie Dee
The Fat Boys rose to prominence in the 1980s as one of the first Hip Hop groups to release full-length rap albums alongside Run-DMC, Whodini and Kurtis Blow. The beatboxing Brooklyn trio released seven albums throughout the course of their career, including their Blow-produced self-titled debut (1984) and The Fat Boys Are Back (1985). But 1987’s platinum hit Crushin‘ put them on the map thanks in part to their “Wipe Out” collaboration with The Beach Boys.
Comprised of Prince Markie Dee, Kool Rock Ski and Buff Love, the group also appeared in the 1985 cult classic film Krush Groove and 1987 box office hit Disorderlies, both directed by Michael Schultz. But when Buff Love died of a heart attack in 1995, any hopes for a reunion were squashed.
Prince Markie Dee had already signed a deal with Columbia Records and released a solo album in 1992 called Free, which spawned a No. 1 single, “Typical Reasons (Swing My Way).” Along with Cory Rooney, he formed a production company Soul Convention and wrote and produced tracks for such artists as Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, Craig Mack and Marc Anthony. From 2008 to 2010, he served as the afternoon drive radio host/DJ at 103.5 The Beat WMIB radio in Miami, Florida before moving on to WEDR 99.1 FM.
But on February 18, social media started to explode with condolences for Prince Markie Dee. While no cause of death was confirmed, legendary New York City Hip Hop promoter Van Silk suggested it was congestive heart failure. He was 52.
Gift Of Gab (Blackalicious)
Blackalicious MC Gift of Gab had been on dialysis for an unbelievable seven years when he got the call he’d been waiting for in January 2020. Finally, the Bay Area Hip Hop staple learned he’d be getting a double kidney transplant and would be able to move forward with his life. After a successful surgery, Gab focused on recovery at a rehab facility in Arizona only for the pandemic to hit a few months later. Suddenly sidelined and unable to tour, Gab took great care to ensure he wouldn’t catch the virus.
But in a cruel twist of fate, Gab was found dead at his home on June 18 of natural causes. Thankfully for Gab’s fans, he left behind a treasure trove of solo material as well as multiple Blackalicious projects. Gift of Gab’s first posthumous album, Finding Inspiration Somehow, arrived in September and firmly put his lyrical prowess on display. The album ended with the intriguingly titled “Back To The Light,” which effortlessly communicated his belief in an afterlife and almost made it easier to digest his absence. Almost.
Zumbi (Zion I)
Zion I MC Stephen “Zumbi” Gaines was in the middle of a tour when he tested positive for COVID-19. Seemingly on the mend, the 49-year-old Oakland native was back home when he was taken to Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley after experiencing an asthma attack. He was declared dead just hours later on August 13, leaving his friends, family and fans thoroughly confused. Was it COVID-19? Asthma? As people tried to wrap their heads around his abrupt and unexpected passing, the San Francisco Chronicle soon discovered Zumbi’s death was under investigation by Berkeley police.
Lt. Melanie Turner said police responded to calls at 5:16 a.m. local time from patients and staff at the hospital about a patient involved in a physical altercation with nurses and security officers, who reportedly had him pinned down on the ground. Turner said upon arrival “officers started handcuffing the involved person and determined that he needed immediate medical assistance.” Police began lifesaving measures until Alta Bates staff were able to assist, but “unfortunately and sadly he was pronounced deceased on the scene.”
Zumbi’s family has since hired an attorney as the investigation continues. In the interim, his friends The Grouch, J. PERIOD, Zion I producer Amp Live and frequent collaborator Deuce Eclipse have been keeping his name alive. Shortly after Zumbi’s death, a GoFundMe was launched in his name to help his children. The campaign raised over $166,000, a testament to the lasting impact Zumbi’s positivity and love had on the world.
Eerily, Zumbi dropped a video with Deuce Eclipse and Vinroc called “Back To Life” just a month before his transition in which he spits, “I’ve been on my light path/Blast this to afterlife.” Like Gift of Gab, Zumbi was a spiritual person who believed our physical bodies were simply a vessel and now, his soul is free.
Double K (People Under The Stairs)
Word Double K of the Los Angeles Hip Hop duo People Under The Stairs had died started to travel on January 30. Beat Junkies turntablist and fellow L.A. Hip Hop staple DJ Rhettmatic tweeted he’d passed at the age of 43 but didn’t disclose a cause of death. In fact, details surrounding his passing are still minimal. The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner, however, did confirm his body was found at his home.
Comprised of Thes One and Double K, PUTS dropped their debut album The Next Step in 1998. Over the years, they released over a dozen subsequent projects and were one of several musical artists selected to appear in and remix the main theme song for The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special – In 3-D! On Ice.
Just found out that Los Angeles lost another hero.
Rest In Peace to Crescent Heights very own Dj Double K of @puts. Mike was a good man…#DjDoubleK #PUTS #PeopleUnderTheStairs #LosAngeleHipHop pic.twitter.com/tKOcKaUuxP
— rhettmatic (@rhettmatic) January 31, 2021
In a 2019 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Thes One and Double K explained why 2019’s Sincerely, The P would be their final album and suggested they’d simply outgrown it.
“I think a lot of the people who grew up with us, they still want us to rap about partying, road trips and buying records, and we’re just like, ‘Man, how many times can I say it?’” Double K said at the time. Thes added, “There is no blueprint for Hip Hop musicians to get older gracefully.”
Murs, Immortal Technique, Open Mike Eagle, Z-Trip, Casey Veggies, Dâm Funk and J-Live were among those paying their respects online following his death.
Young Dolph was shot and killed while picking up baked goods for his mother at Makeda’s Homemade Cookies in his hometown of Memphis on November 17. According to witnesses at the scene, the brazen killer(s) pulled up in a white two-door Mercedes-Benz and opened fire, killing Dolph instantly. The father of two had been in town for his annual turkey giveaway ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, making his death even more heart-wrenching.
He’d also just spent time at the West Cancer Center & Research Institute in Germantown, talking to cancer patients and discussing his history with the clinic. “Over the years, I had several family members to come through here and been patients of this clinic,” he said. “So I just really wanted to show up and show them my support, and show them how thankful I am, just for them being there.”
Authorities have yet to make in an arrest, and the feds are relying on informants to come through with pertinent information on the shooting. Meanwhile, the city of Memphis has stepped up to show just how revered Dolph was in their community. On December 15, Young Dolph was immortalized with his own street on Dunn Avenue between Airways Boulevard and Hays Road near the Memphis Depot Industrial Park.
The street in his neighborhood of Castalia Heights is now called Adolph “Young Dolph” Thornton, Jr. Avenue. The City of Memphis also declared November 17 will be a Day of Service due to his philanthropic nature. Dolph was only 34 years old when he was killed but left behind seven studio albums and numerous mixtapes, including April’s Dum and Dummer 2 (with Key Glock).
Drakeo The Ruler
Drakeo The Ruler took his last breaths on December 18, a few hours after he was stabbed in the neck backstage at the Once Upon A Time In L.A. Festival. The 28-year-old rapper was scheduled to perform alongside dozens of act that day, including Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, The Game, Cypress Hill, Ice Cube and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. Snoop Dogg was expected to take the main stage at 8:30 p.m. but by 9:20 p.m., police had swarmed the backstage area.
Public information officer for the Los Angeles Fire Department Margaret Stewart said paramedics responded to a call about a stabbing around 8:40 p.m. local time and one person was taken to a hospital in critical condition. A source with direct knowledge of the incident confirmed Drakeo The Ruler was “attacked by a group of people at the music festival and seriously injured.”
Drakeo’s death came 13 months after he was released from prison. His mother Darrylene Corniel told Rolling Stone her son was trying to get his life back on track. “He took care of those around him because I taught him that, to watch out for everybody,” she said. “People who really know my son knew he was a real individual. He had a genuine heart.”
Corniel plans on suing the festival organizers for failing to keep their musical acts safe. “Your security is supposed to be in place,” she said. “The whole program should have been orchestrated a lot better than what it was. And there should have been more protection. Even if you have metal detectors, even if you pat them down, you let those people come in there. You had more people come in than you were supposed to. And you allowed them to jump my son. You didn’t protect my son.”
Pioneering Hip Hop artist Captain Rock died on May 16, according to Van Silk. Captain Rock’s history in Hip Hop culture dates back to the 1970s when he DJ’ed for Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde under the moniker DJ Ronnie Green. The duo was comprised of Alonzo Brown and the late Andre Harrell, who went on to establish Uptown Records and later spearhead Motown Records. Harrell, of course, is also known for discovering Sean “Diddy” Combs.
Captain Rock was a regular at Harlem World, a club owned by Jack Taylor AKA “Fat Jack.” Taylor also owned Tayster and Rojac Records, which he ran out of Harlem World from 1979 until 1984. They recorded the late Luvbug Starski’s first single produced by David MacDonald nicknamed “Mighty Whitey.” Other acts on the label included Harlem World Crew and Lady Smiley.
U.T.F.O. legend Kangol Kid passed away on December 18, just 10 months after being diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. As a founding member of U.T.F.O., Kangol Kid was responsible for helping erect the early building blocks of Hip Hop culture. In 1982, the group released its quintessential single “Roxanne Roxanne” about a woman who rebuked a man’s sexual advances. The song sparked the “Roxanne Wars” when a 14-year-old Roxanne Shanté fired back with one of the first female diss tracks “Roxanne’s Revenge.”
As condolences poured in on social media, Diggin’ In The Crates Crew legend Diamond D succinctly summed up his impact on the culture with, “Sleep in Peace Legend. Kangol #UTFO Those of us who remember when Roxanne Roxanne 1st dropped can tell you how HUGE that one song was and how fast it blew up In the streets. Part of that reason was its authenticity because it sounded like a park jam with MCs spittin over big beat. Salute Kangol rest in power.”
Kangol Kid kept a smile on his face until the bitter end. In November, LL COOL J visited him at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset shortly after one of his many surgeries. Kangol shared an Instagram photo of himself in a hospital bed shaking hands with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee with the caption, “NEED I SAY MORE???? I stepped out of the recovery-room…and was greeted by this guy. Maybe you’ve heard of him???
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the man, the myth, the legend, Mr. G.O.A.T. himself L.L.COOL J @llcoolj @rockthebells visited me and elevated my healing energies in ways doctors can never duplicate. Thank you Baby Bro. I love you man.”
Jermaine Dupri, Big Daddy Kane, MC Sha-Rock of the Funky 4 + 1, DJ Premier and many, many more mourned his death on social media. He was 55.
The Roots’ Hub
The Roots lost founding member Malik B. in July 2020 and nearly a year-and-a-half later, they had to say goodbye to their longtime bassist Leonard “Hub” Hubbard. Hub had been battling cancer for over a decade at which time he was forced to stop touring with the band. He lost his battle on December 16 at Lankenau Hospital in Philadelphia, his hometown.
The Roots paid tribute on Instagram with a photo of Hub and caption that read, “It is with the heaviest of hearts that we say goodbye to our brother Leonard Nelson Hubbard. May your transition bring peace to your family to your friends to your fans and all those who loved you. Rest in Melody Hub.”