DJ Kay Slay, an influential member of the New York hip-hop scene whose raucous mixtapes became legendary, has died from Covid-19 complications.
Kay Slay, whose real name was Keith Grayson, was a DJ at HOT 97. But he had been a star of the genre since the early 1990s, when mixtapes he produced featured up-and-comers and superstar rappers like Jay-Z and later, Eminem.
A young Kay Slay appeared in the seminal 1983 documentary "Style Wars," which explored New York's burgeoning hip-hop scene. Then an East Harlem graffiti artist primarily using the name Dez, he tagged the sides of subway train cars, calling himself the "king of the number three train."
His depth of experience as a young artist growing up during the rise of Grandmaster Flash and the Sugarhill Gang, and later as a producer in his own right, introduced him to major artists. He released over 500 mixtapes in 10 years since his first in 1994, per previous reports, featuring artists going tit-for-tat with each other on tracks rarely found on the radio.
The mixtapes Kay Slay executive produced reverberated far outside New York. In 2003, the New York Times said that "high-profile hip-hop beef in the last three years ... began or ended on a Kay Slay tape," including tiffs between Nas and Jay-Z. Kay Slay took to calling himself "The Drama King" because of the years-long feuds that began (and later, sometimes, ended) on his tapes. His debut album, 2003's "The Streetsweeper, Vol. 1" was the first marketed to a national audience. It featured 50 Cent, Nas and Eminem, among many others, performing songs primarily produced by other artists, along with its followup. He also worked closely with the artist Papoose, with whom he left Jive Records to record independently. 'The game was boring until I came around," he told the Times in 2003. "I brought the controversy back. I brought the game back to life." For years, Kay Slay hosted "The Drama Hour" on HOT 97, on which he interviewed countless hip-hop stars and aired out (or inflamed) beef between rappers. In January, Kay Slay's family announced he was in the hospital with Covid-19. His brothers later told HipHopDX that he had a "long time" to go before he could start his recovery. Talent manager Wack 100, who called Kay Slay his "brother, friend, business partner & mentor," said the two had been friends for 20 years. For months, he updated followers on Kay Slay's health and progress in the hospital. In a statement on its website, HOT 97 said it was "shocked and saddened by the loss of our beloved" Kay Slay. "A cultural icon, The Streetsweeper Kay Slay was more than just a DJ, to us he was family and a vital part of what made HOT 97 the successful station it is today," the station said.