DJ Kay Slay, a pioneer in New York hip-hop, has died at 55 years old.
The longtime fixture on Hot 97 passed away on Easter Sunday, his family confirmed in a statement. Although no cause of death was given, Kay Slay had been hospitalized with COVID-19 for four months.
“Our hearts are broken by the passing of Keith Grayson, professionally known as DJ Kay Slay,” the family wrote. “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. 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.”
In late December, Kay Slay was hospitalized due to complications from COVID. At the beginning of the year, his biological brother Kwame Grayson told HipHopDX that Kay Slay was on his way to recovery. Last week, longtime friend and hip-hop manager Wack 100 said Kay Slay had been taken off an extracorporeal life support machine for a “couple weeks now” and was “still fighting.”
Nicknamed the “Drama King,” Kay Slay was born on August 14th, 1966. He first rose to prominence as a graffiti artist, which led to him being featured in the 1983 hip-hop documentary Style Wars. After getting his start by DJing at local parks and parties, Kay Slay did time in prison and funneled his energy into the craft after being released.
Kay Slay became a huge name in the mixtape scene in the early 2000s, fostering the connections necessary to release his debut album, 2003’s The Streetsweeper Vol. 1, and its follow-up, The Streetsweeper, Vol. 2, one year later on his own Streetsweepers imprint.
Although gathering more than two dozen rappers on the same studio LP was no small feat, Kay Slay’s true impact came with his unofficially released mixtapes, which were sold on street corners. Alongside exclusive previews of music yet to be released, the tapes contained freestyles that established upcoming artists while also fueling prominent feuds through diss tracks.
“Cats know it’s no holds barred with me,” he told The New York Times in 2003. “They know that I’m not going to edit anything. It’s going out the way you gave it to me. No watering down.”
Kay Slay’s mixtapes captured the beef between JAY-Z and Nas that broke out in 2001, as well as 50 Cent and Ja Rule’s extended feud that started a few years later. Kay Slay also hosted a late night show on Hot 97 called The Drama Hour for more than 20 years and later held a slot on Eminem’s SiriusXM channel, Shade 45. His last release was January’s “In My Soul” featuring Papoose, AZ, Mysonne, and Tre Williams.
See Hot 97’s statement below, followed by the hip-hop community’s reactions to Kay Slay’s death.
A Word From The HOT 97 Family: 🕊️
RIP DJ Kay Slay pic.twitter.com/TawxjRSSRh
— HOT 97 (@HOT97) April 18, 2022
R.I.P. 🙏🏾 💔👑🕊@kingdjkayslay
— DJ Premier (@REALDJPREMIER) April 18, 2022
— Crime Rhyme Houdini (@JustBlaze) April 18, 2022
Damn. Rest in peace my man the drama king DJ K Slay. Big loss for NYC and hip hop . 🙏🏽
— Alchemist Type Beat (@Alchemist) April 18, 2022