Kay Slay, a Harlem graffiti artist-turned-DJ whose work transcended multiple generations of hip-hop culture while others of his era faded, succumbed to Covid-19 on Sunday, according to multiple news outlets. He was 55.
Tributes from multiple hip-hop artists, producers and clothes across the culture were posted to social media late Sunday night and early Monday as word spread of his passing.
Born Keith Grayson, the influential DJ originally gained notoriety in New York’s early hip-hop culture as a graffiti artist under the moniker Dez TFA in the 1980s. His graffiti work in Harlem is renowned, appearing in multiple exhibits and documentaries about graffiti art, including the 1983 cult documentary “Style Wars”.
After a short jail sentence in the late ‘80s, Kay Slay refocused his attention on music. By the early 2000s, he had become one of hip-hop’s most prolific mixtape DJs in an era when DJs competed to break new music by distributing tapes and CDs with exclusives and freestyles from the most popular artists at the time. His Wikipedia page credits him with 27 mixtapes dating back to 2003.
That year in 2003, he released his first and most popular studio album, The Streetsweeper Vol. 1, a 20-track classic that featured Raekwon, Nas, Scarface, Wyclef Jean, the Diplomats, MC Ren, 8 Ball & MJG and Remy Ma. He dropped six more studio albums, most recently The Soul Controller, released last December.
For the last two decades, he also hosted New York radio station Hot 97’s “Drama Hour”—a play on another nickname, the Drama King–which aired Fridays from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. A statement on its website read that, “Hot 97 is shocked and saddened by the loss of our beloved DJ Kay Slay. We cherish the many memories created through the twenty-plus years he dedicated to the ‘Drama Hour.’”
In January, he was hospitalized with Covid-19 and his associates asked for prayers for his recovery over the coming months. As recently as four days ago, music exec Wack 100 posted a picture of Kay Slay to his Instagram feed with the caption, “UPDATE ‼️ @djkayslay still fighting. He’s been off the #ECMO machine for couple weeks now . Let’s continue our prayers as our brother continues to fight 🙏🏾”