A death shroud over hip-hop: a 2021 reflection

TheGrio examines how the unprecedented number of rappers who died this year affects the hip-hop community on a local and national level

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The year 2020 was a somber year for hip-hop. The community lost many important people. The loss of Whodini’s Ecstasy, MF Doom, Pop Smoke, and others dimmed the light of hip-hop during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Unfortunately, 2021 gave it a run for its money as hip-hop experienced no less than 12 deaths:

DMX thegrio.com
DMX performs onstage during the Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour at The Forum on Oct. 4, 2016 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Live Nation)

Prince Markie Dee – Feb. 18 (congestive heart failure)
DMX – April 9 (cardiac arrest)
Black Rob – April 17 (unknown illness)
Shock G – April 22 (accidental overdose)
Lil Loaded – May 31 (suicide)
KTS Dre – July 10 (homicide)
Biz Markie – July 16 (complications of diabetes)
Money Mitch – July 23 (suicide)
Young Dolph – Nov. 17 (homicide)
Slim 400 – Dec. 8 (homicide)
Kangol Kid – Dec. 18 (colon cancer)
Drakeo The Ruler – Dec. 19 (homicide)

Despite the fact that they all passed at different ages and of various causes, the one thing that links them is that all the deaths felt untimely. 

Among them are legendary rap acts that weren’t able to make it to their 60th birthday. Grammy winner DMX, 50, died after suffering a heart attack that put him on life support for nearly a week. Platinum-selling rapper/DJ Biz Markie, 57, succumbed to complications of diabetes.

Fat Boys member and hit-making songwriter Prince Markie Dee, 52, passed suddenly of congestive heart failure. And most recently, U.T.F.O. rapper/dancer Kangol Kid, 55, passed after battling cancer. 

The shadow of death hasn’t been limited to hip-hop veterans, sadly. Young stars and up-and-comers are being lost as well, and many of them to violence. Young Dolph, 36, was gunned down in his home city in November.

Biz Markie in recording studio during #TBT Night on Jan. 25, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Mastercard)

Chicago’s KTS Dre was shot 64 times in front of a relative, and victim of a driveway ambush Slim 400 of Compton, was shot dead two weeks ago. Fellow Los Angeles rapper Drakeo The Ruler was stabbed to death backstage at a concert in December.

Each of these deaths are tragic individually. Their respective families and loved ones will be forever altered. But on top of that, the many deaths within the community are quite startling and puzzling. 

Granted, it cannot be overstated that each of these deaths, while varied in the causes, represents that the Black man in America is subjected to a myriad of literal and figurative pre-existing conditions; obesity, cancer, addiction, violence, and mental illness. Money, fame, adoration and notoriety can’t protect him from such internal and external threats.

With all that, this avalanche of death in hip-hop also puts a microscope on the culture and music itself.

The murder of Young Dolph leaves a void in the city of Memphis that is beyond measure. Dolph was a great example of independent success and ownership in hip-hop; a self-sufficient entrepreneur and artist who invested in himself and his community.

When someone like him is murdered – when another man decides that a man with the cachet and philanthropic nature of Dolph needs to die – it undermines all other independent artists. It undermines the fact that most hip-hop is defined by the local regions of homegrown MCs serving their respective communities.

We got to see just how much DMX meant to his community of Yonkers, New York, from the candlelight vigils during his hospital stay through to his funeral procession.

The loss of Markie Dee, Biz, and Kangol speaks to the generational void that has now widened even further in hip-hop. Pioneers such as these were important ambassadors for the culture.

Young Dolph thegrio.com
Young Dolph performs during the 2017 BET Experience at Staples Center on June 24, 2017 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET)

Markie Dee wasn’t only a successful songwriter/producer, but a popular Miami radio host. Biz was a world-renowned DJ and personality who used rap as an education tool for kids via shows like Yo Gabba Gabba. Kangol lent his time and voice to advance the community on GED’s and breast cancer awareness.

Like Dolph, they were able to use their fame and resources as tools to help their people, young and old. Not only that, but these were also keepers of the history of hip-hop.

Knowledge of the past often gets lost as time goes on, and when these men leave us with so much more to do, it diminishes the opportunity for important stories to be told.

Lastly, the never-ending prevalence of mental illness still lingers among our young rappers. Both Lil Loaded and Money Mitch died at their own hands via suicide. Cardi B expressed months ago that so many rappers who “wanna die” were making depressing music, as theGrio reported. Well, with cases like these, it’s understandable why.

The music of acts like Lil Uzi Vert, Kid Cudi, Juice Wrld, Kanye West, and so many others have been rhyming about the pitfalls of mental illness and suicidal contemplation.

The pressures of fame piled onto the pitfalls of growing up Black in America as well as individual traumas are a lot for young men to confront and fight with. We can only hope that more attention to mental health can be paid to prevent more of our rappers from killing themselves, be it accidentally or premeditated.

It’s unfortunate that of all the genres of music in America, hip-hop and rap are going through such mortal turmoil. More work needs to be done on how we can do better to introduce healthier lifestyles, encourage self-care and therapy, discourage gang culture, and provide youth with constructive alternatives that don’t lead to dealing/using drugs or using guns on each other.

Meanwhile, we have to understand that rap is more important to local communities than to the mainstream. Most rappers principally reach their neighborhoods, states, and coasts, and it’s that niche that makes them loved and rich. That tradition must be preserved and protected. Mainstream fame isn’t for everyone.

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