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Hip-hop star DJ Kay Slay dies at 55 after four-month battle with COVID-19

A DJ spinning records on a stage
DJ Kay Slay died Sunday at age 55 after a lengthy battle with COVID-19.
(Johnny Nunez / WireImage)

Influential disc jockey and music executive DJ Kay Slay died Sunday evening after a four-month battle with COVID-19, his family confirmed Monday in a statement. He was 55.

“Our hearts are broken by the passing of Keith Grayson, professionally known as DJ Kay Slay. A dominant figure in hip-hop culture with millions of fans worldwide, DJ Kay Slay will be remembered for his passion and excellence with a legacy that will transcend generations” the statement read.

“In memory of DJ Kay Slay, our family wishes to thank all of his friends, fans, and supporters for their prayers and well wishes during this difficult time. We ask that you respect our privacy as we grieve this tragic loss.”

The hip-hop star — known to fans, friends and contemporaries as the “drama king” — was also mourned Monday by Hot 97, the New York City radio station and home to Kay Slay’s “Drama Hour,” which he hosted on Fridays from 1 to 2 a.m. Additionally, the musician deejayed for SiriusXM’s Shade 45, an “uncensored” hip-hop channel created by rapper Eminem.

“Hot 97 is shocked and saddened by the loss of our beloved DJ Kay Slay,” the station said Monday in a statement.

“We cherish the many memories created through the twenty-plus years he dedicated to the ‘Drama Hour.’ A cultural icon, 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. Our hearts go out to his family, friends and fans worldwide and we will always and forever celebrate The Drama King’s legacy.”

In January, Kay Slay’s younger brother, Kwame Grayson, told HipHopDX the DJ was on the mend after being hospitalized with COVID-19. At the time, Grayson dispelled rumors that his brother was placed on a ventilator, but said he was hooked up to some kind of “machine that was helping him breathe.”

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Late last year, Kay Slay released his final album, “Soul Controller,” featuring Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Ghostface Killah, Shaqueen, Dirti Diana and others.

“It’s DJ Kay Slay, the drama king, the soul controller,” the radio luminary says on the record’s intro track.

“It was a time that I had stepped away from the culture. I was soulless and confused with life. But in 1990, I decided to return, and the culture helped restore my soul. Hip-hop saved my life. So just know, when I say I’m doing it for the culture, it’s not business. It’s personal.”

Where lawyers see piracy, talent scouts see potential. It’s the hip-hop mix tape.

According to his biography on Hot 97, Kay Slay grew up in Harlem, where he ascended the musical ladder by refereeing MC battles via his “Streetsweeper” mixtapes. Up-and-coming rappers attained fame by entering Kay Slay’s orbit, while established artists collaborated with him to stay fresh and relevant.

“For those artists that can’t get on MTV, those artists that can’t get on the radio or don’t have a major label to put them on the road to perform and expose themselves to the public, they have the mixtapes,” Kay Slay told the Los Angeles Times in 2003.

“They send their songs to the DJs and say ‘Please put this on your mixtape next month.’ ”

In 2003, Kay Slay released his debut album, “The Streetsweeper Vol. 1,” featuring 50 Cent, Nas, Eminem and other major hip-hop stars. The following year, he dropped “The Streetsweeper Vol. 2,” which included verses from Scarface, E-40 and LL Cool J.

The initiative aims to amplify and multiply the conversation on hip-hop culture across artistic disciplines.

On top of his musical endeavors, Kay Slay was also the chief executive of Straight Stuntin’ Magazine, a quarterly publication spotlighting interviews with models and hip-hop musicians.

“We lost one of the most SOLID MFs in HipHop,” rapper Ice-T tweeted Monday. “I’ve been checking in on him his whole struggle in the Hospital. I honestly thought he was gonna pull through. This truly Hurts… F Covid. RIP to the Drama King #Kay Slay.”

In December, Kay Slay posted a motivational message on Instagram that read, “Strangely, life gets harder when you try to make it easy. Exercising might be hard, but never moving makes life harder.

“Uncomfortable conversations are hard, but avoiding every conflict is harder,” he continued. “Mastering your craft is hard, but having no skills is harder. Easy has a cost.”


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