Hip-hop and death have held hands since the late ’80s, when the great DJ Scott La Rock was killed in the middle of trying to break up a fight. Since then, death has been one of the greatest promotional tools for rappers, yet the public has been very selective in their nostalgia. Tupac, Biggie, Big Pun, Big L – these are rappers we memorialize year after year, as if their international starpower alone merits our memory of them.
In truth, tons of other rappers have met the Grim Reaper (even Grym Reaper) before their due time. This list is an attempt at bringing some of those talented artists to light.
Note that we left off a couple crucial rappers – Subroc, Apache, Fat Pat, Blade Icewood, MC Trouble, Big Hawk, to name a few. Their exclusion is not meant to diminish their legacies, as this list is only a taste of the large pool of deceased talent that never deserves to be forgotten.
Big Mello (August 7, 1968 – June 15, 2002)
Cause of death: car accident
Houston’s Big Mello was one of the best rappers to ever grace the sprawling Rap-A-Lot roster, and he proved it with his 1992 debut album Bone Hard Zaggin. His ’94 follow-up Wegonefunkwichamind wasn’t quite as good, but with a nearly orchestral line-up including producers Mike Dean and Crazy C, the LP still had standout cuts like the one above.
Mello had this warm voice that sounded woven into his production. In 2002 he lost control of his car and wrapped it around a concrete pillar, ending his life. In Scarface’s new book Diary of a Madman, Face describes his close relationship with the Hiram Clarke rapper:
“Losing Mello hurt like a motherfucker. I’ve lost a lot of friends, but his death fucked me up more than anything ever has. I still can’t shake that one. Curtis wasn’t my best friend, he was my brother, and I just knew when it was all said and done, he was going to be right there with me, sitting on the porch drinking a cold one and talking about these days right here, making music. I dedicated The Fix to his memory.”
Charizma (July 6, 1973 – December 16, 1993)
Cause of death: murder
Cali MC Charizma was only 16 when he met 19-year-old Chris Manak, known to many now as Peanut Butter Wolf. Together they goofed off and only made the hip-hop they wanted to make – quirky, weird, and off the wall. Despite signing to Hollywood Records, the label never released any of their music, leading to the two eventually being released from their contract.
Charizma was shot and killed at a traffic light on December 16, 1993. Some dude rolled up and tried to jack his car, and when Charizma resisted, the mugger shot him. In the Stones Throw documentary Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton, Wolf says he shopped Charizma’s records around after that, but when no one wanted to put them out, Wolf was determined to get his dead friend’s music heard, so he started his own label. Stones Throw was born thanks to the beauty of Charizma’s music.
Half A Mill (January 25, 1973 – October 24, 2003)
Cause of death: suicide
As one of the most skilled rappers to ever come out of New York, Half A Mill’s shadow still lingers over the five boroughs today. He ran with the likes of AZ and Nature and was able to rattle off rhymes about Five Percent ideology and American history. Despite having cold, hard talent, he was still mixed up in the streets when he died in 2003.
Months ago, we wrote an appreciation post with a bunch of dope Half A Mill freestyles. The sole documentary about the MC, Player Hating: A Love Story, claimed he committed suicide, but when we published our piece, DJ Scratch reached out and said Half A Mill did not kill himself. It seems to be known, however, that the rapper born Jasun Wardlaw did in fact take his own life.
Seagram (April 13, 1969 – July 31, 1996)
Cause of death: murder
Bay Area rapper Seagram Miller was well known before his tragic death. He was the first West Coast rapper signed to Houston’s Rap-A-Lot label, but he was from the 69 Ville housing projects on the violent East Side of Oakland. As legend has it, he once showed up to DNA Lounge in San Francisco with a DAT in hand alongside Houston rapper Mike G, demanded to perform despite not being on a bill, and went on to rock the best performance of the night.
Seagram was best known for the single “The Vill” from his debut album The Dark Roads in 1992, as well as for his innovative use of the izzle slang that Snoop Dogg later popularized. The following year, there was a failed assassination attempt on his life, allegedly ordered by an Oakland drug kingpin who was angered by a song Seagram made about a rival gang. Saddest of all, when Seagram met his demise in 1996, many reported that the assailant was aiming for the person he was with, Gangsta P, and Seagram died trying to shield his friend from the bullets.
Big Moe (August 20, 1974 – October 14, 2007)
Cause of death: heart attack
Big Moe is the only guy who could be crowned the Nate Dogg of the South, besides Ronnie Spencer. He was a better rapper than the West Coast crooner, but it was his hooks that made him a versatile star. The Screwed Up Click founding member released his classic debut album City Of Syrup in 2000 on Wreckshop Records, forever influencing generations of rappers after him not only with his emphasis on drank, but also his sing-song style. “(Big Moe) was the godfather of sipping drank, or making it what it is on record,” said Crisco Kidd, a Houston DJ.
In 2007, Big Moe suffered a fatal heart attack. Heavy use of codeine was never reported to be a cause of his death, but seven years prior DJ Screw, another heavy lean sipper, also died of a heart attack.