A pivotal bridge between hip-hop generations, DJ Kay Slay went from being a teenage B-boy and graffiti writer to an innovative New York radio personality known for his combative mixtapes that fueled rap beasts, broke artists and helped change the music company, Sunday said. died in New York. He was 55.
Slay had “had a four-month battle with Covid-19,” his family said in a statement confirming his death.
Few hip-hop figures have been able to trace their continued presence from the genre’s earliest days to the digital present quite like him. In late 1970s New York, Slay was a young street performer known as Dez. He stuck his spray-painted label on walls of buildings and subways, as described in the cult documentaries ‘Wild Style’ and ‘Style Wars’.
He then went on to be the Drama King, aka Slap Your Favorite DJ, hosting the ‘Drama Hour’ on the influential radio station Hot 97 (WQHT 97.1 FM) for over twenty years before his illness took him off the air.
“Cats know it’s no use to me,” Slay told DailyExpertNews in 2003, when the paper called him “Hip-Hop’s one-man ministry of insults.” In addition to giving loud encouragement to fights between Jay-Z and Nas, 50 Cent and Ja Rule, Slay gave an early platform to local artists and crews like the Diplomats, G-Unit, Terror Squad and the rapper Papoose, both. on his show and on the mixtapes that made his name as good as theirs.
As mixtapes evolved from homemade DJ mixes on actual cassettes to a semi-official promotional tool and an underground economy of CDs sold on street corners, in flea markets, record stores, bodegas and barber shops, Slay moved with the times and eventually released his own compilation albums. out on Colombia Records. Once illicit and illicit, mixtapes are now an essential part of the music streaming economy, with artists and major labels putting out their own album-style official showcases that top the Billboard charts.
“You were really the first to bring personality to the mixtape,” Funkmaster Flex, a fellow Hot 97 DJ, once told Slay during a radio interview. “That was very unusual. We were just used to the music and the exclusivity.”
Slay, who became immersed in drugs and spent time behind bars before making it into music, replied, “I had to find a corner and run with it.”
He was born Keith Grayson in New York on August 14, 1966 and grew up in East Harlem. As a child he was drawn to disco and danced the Hustle; when early hip-hop DJs began converting breakbeats from those songs into proto-rap music, he traveled to the Bronx to observe and participate in the emerging culture.
“I had to see what was going on and bring it back to my congregation,” he told Spin magazine in 2003. “So I got on train 6 and went to the Bronx River Center [projects] to see Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation rock.”
He soon took on the connected art forms of break dancing and graffiti, even casually rapping with his friends. “I participated in every element of the game,” Slay told Flex. But street art became his greatest passion, first under the tag Spade 429 and later Dez TFA, which he shortened to Dez.
“I wanted a fun little name that I could get anywhere and do it quickly without getting caught,” he said at the time. “You’re telling the world something – like, I am someone. I am an artist†
Amid the city’s crackdown on graffiti, Dez took on the name Kay Slay (“After a while you get tired of writing the same name,” he said of his street art days) and developed a fascination with turntables. . “Boy, you better spin those books,” he remembers his disappointed parents saying. But because he needed money and had little interest in school, he soon turned to drugs and robbery.
In 1989, Slay was arrested and given a year in prison for drug possession with intent to sell. When he got out, he told Spin, “I started noticing Brucie B, Kid Capri and Ron G. They made mixtapes, did parties and got paid well.” He sold T-shirts, socks and jeans to buy DJ equipment and worked at a Bronx facility helping people living with HIV and AIDS.
“I can’t count the number of people I’ve seen die,” he told The Times. “Working there made me really appreciate life.”
In the mid-1990s, Slay still found the professional music business unwelcome, and he began, in colorful language on his releases, to name those label managers he deemed useless. “I told myself I was going to get so big that one day the same people I begged for records would be begging me to play their records,” he said.
It was that irascible spirit that helped endear him to rappers who had to settle their own scores. Slay’s breakthrough came in 2001 when he premiered “Ether,” Jay-Z’s sizzling Nas dis that revived headliner hip-hop beef after the murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious BIG. His radio slots and mixtapes became a testing ground, and he later started a magazine called Straight Stuntin’.
“He’s like the Jerry Springer of rap,” one DJ told The Times. “All the fights happen on his show.”
Slay’s gruff manner and mid-song shrieks are said to influence his contemporaries such as DJ Clue, a one-time rival, and those who followed, such as DJ Whoo Kid and DJ Drama. Alberto Martinez, the Harlem drug dealer known as Alpo, who was murdered last year while in witness protection, even presented a Slay tape from prison.
“The game was boring until I came to,” Slay said.
He is survived by his mother, Sheila Grayson, along with his best friend and business manager Jarrod Whitaker.
In Slay’s on-air conversation with Funkmaster Flex, the other DJ marveled at the creativity of Slay’s boasting and threats — “If you stop the bank, I’ll rob the bank!” – and asked his colleague if he had ever regretted the shocking things he had shouted.
“I’ve said some dirty things, man, on some mixtapes when I wasn’t fully in touch with myself,” Slay replied. “But I’m not mad at myself for doing it because the boy I was made the man I am today.”