DJ Kay Slay, Fiery Radio Star and Rap Mixtape Innovator, Dies at 55

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DJ Kay Slay, who served as an important bridge between hip-hop generations, creating from a teenage B-boy and graffiti author into an modern New York radio persona identified for his pugnacious mixtapes that stoked rap beefs, broke artists and helped change the music enterprise, died on Sunday in New York. He was 55.

Slay had confronted “a four-month battle with Covid-19,” his household stated in an announcement confirming his dying.

Few figures in hip-hop might hint their continued presence from the style’s earliest days to the digital current like he might. In late-Nineteen Seventies New York, Slay was a younger avenue artist often known as Dez, plastering his spray-painted tag on constructing partitions and subway vehicles, as chronicled within the cult documentaries “Wild Type” and “Type Wars.”

Then he was the Drama King, a.okay.a. Slap Your Favourite DJ, internet hosting the late-night “Drama Hour” on the influential radio station Sizzling 97 (WQHT 97.1 FM) for greater than twenty years earlier than his sickness took him off the air.

“Cats comprehend it’s no holds barred with me,” Slay instructed The New York Instances in 2003, when the paper dubbed him “Hip-Hop’s One-Man Ministry of Insults.” Along with offering a hoop and roaring encouragement for battles between Jay-Z and Nas, 50 Cent and Ja Rule, Slay gave an early platform to native artists and crews just like the Diplomats, G-Unit, Terror Squad and the rapper Papoose, each on his present and on the mixtapes that made his title as a lot as theirs.

As mixtapes developed from selfmade D.J. blends on precise cassettes to a semiofficial promotional instrument and underground economic system of CDs bought on avenue corners, in flea markets, document shops, bodegas and barber outlets, Slay superior with the occasions, ultimately releasing his personal compilation albums on Columbia Data. As soon as illicit and unsanctioned, mixtapes now signify an important piece of the music streaming economic system, with artists and main labels releasing their very own album-like official showcases that prime the Billboard charts.

“You have been actually the primary to carry the persona to the mixtape,” Funkmaster Flex, a fellow Sizzling 97 D.J., as soon as stated to Slay throughout a radio interview. “That was very uncommon. We have been simply used to the music and the exclusives.”

Slay, who turned immersed in medication and hung out behind bars earlier than making it in music, responded, “I needed to discover an angle and run with it.”

He was born Keith Grayson in New York on Aug. 14, 1966, and raised in East Harlem. As a baby, he was drawn to disco, dancing the Hustle; when early hip-hop D.J.s started turning breakbeats from these songs into proto-rap music, he traveled to the Bronx to look at and take part within the rising tradition.

“I needed to see what was happening and produce it again to my borough,” he instructed Spin journal in 2003. “So I used to hop on the 6 prepare and go as much as the Bronx River Middle [projects] to see Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation rock.”

He quickly took up the affiliated artwork types of breakdancing and graffiti, even casually rapping together with his associates. “Each factor of the sport, I participated in,” Slay instructed Flex. However avenue artwork turned his chief ardour, first underneath the tag Spade 429 and later Dez TFA, which he shortened to Dez.

“I wished a pleasant small title that I might stand up in all places and do it fast with out getting grabbed,” he stated on the time. “You’re telling the world one thing — like, I’m anyone. I’m an artist.”

Amid the town’s crackdown on graffiti, Dez took on the title Kay Slay (“After a when you get uninterested in writing the identical title,” he stated of his street-art days) and developed a fascination with turntables. “Boy, you higher turntable these books,” he recalled his disillusioned mother and father saying. However in want of cash and with little curiosity in class, he quickly turned to medication and stickups.

In 1989, Slay was arrested and served a 12 months in jail for drug possession with intent to promote. On getting out, he instructed Spin, “I began noticing Brucie B, Child Capri, Ron G. They have been doing mixtapes, doing events and getting paid beautiful.” He bought T-shirts, socks and denims to purchase D.J. gear and labored at a Bronx facility that assisted folks with H.I.V. and AIDS.

“I can’t rely the variety of folks I noticed die,” he instructed The Instances of that interval. “Working there actually made me start to understand life.”

Within the mid-Nineteen Nineties, Slay discovered the skilled music enterprise nonetheless unwelcoming, and he started to name out, in colourful language on his releases, these label executives he considered ineffective. “I instructed myself I’d be so huge that at some point the identical folks I used to be begging for information can be begging me to play their information,” he stated.

It was that irascible spirit that helped endear him to rappers who had their very own scores to settle. In 2001, Slay had a breakthrough when he premiered “Ether,” the blistering Nas dis of Jay-Z that revitalized headline hip-hop beef following the murders of Tupac Shakur and the Infamous B.I.G. His radio slots and mixtapes turned a proving floor, and he later began {a magazine} known as Straight Stuntin’.

“He’s just like the Jerry Springer of rap,” one D.J. instructed The Instances. “All of the fights occur on his present.”

Slay’s gruff method and mid-song shouts would go on to affect his contemporaries, like DJ Clue, a one-time rival, and those that adopted, like DJ Whoo Child and DJ Drama. Alberto Martinez, the Harlem drug seller often known as Alpo, who was killed final 12 months whereas in witness safety, even hosted a Slay tape from jail.

“The sport was boring till I got here round,” Slay stated.

He’s survived by his mom, Sheila Grayson, alongside together with his finest pal and enterprise supervisor Jarrod Whitaker.

In Slay’s on-air dialog with Funkmaster Flex, the opposite D.J. marveled on the creativity of Slay’s boasts and threats — “For those who cease the financial institution, then I’m gonna rob the financial institution!” — and requested his colleague if he ever regretted the surprising issues he’d bellowed.

“I stated some foul issues, man, on some mixtapes once I was not in full contact with myself,” Slay replied. “However I’m not indignant at myself for doing it, as a result of the boy that I used to be made the person I’m immediately.”

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