It was the morning of Christmas Eve, 2012, when news slowly began spreading across the Internet that Capital STEEZ, promising up-and-coming rapper and first lieutenant for Brooklyn’s Joey Bada$$-led Pro Era crew, was dead. It was shocking, jarring—another young rapper dead, this one to a reported suicide—but, unfortunately, not new to a world that has lost too many for a genre of music too young. From Biggie and ‘Pac to Big L and Jam Master Jay, Proof and Lil Phat to Soulja Slim and Scott La Rock, and numerous more, sudden and sad deaths have abounded throughout hip-hop’s history.
This December, that same feeling crept in over and over again in a particularly sad month for hip-hop. Three 6 Mafia’s Lord Infamous, Grand Hustle’s Doe B, Jersey rapper E-9 and Waka Flocka Flame’s younger brother Kayo Redd all died suddenly and tragically, casting a pall over the normally-relaxed holiday season. For the second year in a row, things ended on a low note.
Lord Infamous had died in his sleep, slumped over his kitchen table some time in the early hours of December 21, apparently out of nowhere. The 40-year-old crunk pioneer had a heart attack at 40 years old—this after a heart attack and stroke back in 2010 that left him walking with a cane. His newly-reformed Da Mafia 6ix with all of Three 6′s original members (minus Juicy J) had been gearing up for a forceful comeback, with an album still on track for a March 2014 release, according to DJ Paul.
The week that followed wasn’t much better; E-9 was shot and killed, allegedly over a dispute at a barbershop near his hometown, while Kayo Redd died of an apparent suicide in Atlanta, according to both Waka Flocka and his mother Deb Antney’s since-deleted tweets.
And then there was Doe B, the 22-year-old spitter from Alabama who was next up to blow from Grand Hustle, with calls for him to be a 2014 Freshman and a debut album on Grand Hustle/Interscope on lock for 2014. Alarmingly, he was shot while performing on stage in his hometown, with another girl, 21-year-old Kim Johnson, also falling in the line of fire, the second fatal shooting at a hip-hop show that week after a fan, 24-year-old Jeremiah Frazier, was killed at a Rich Homie Quan show in Columbus, Ohio Dec. 23.
Which sucks, and it sucks because of the young talent lost, and also because hip-hop is at its healthiest, violence-wise, in years. “This is a violent country, and because hip-hop is the music of today, it gets blamed,” Killer Mike told XXL Magazine in our October/November issue. “But times have changed. The gangstas behind the rappers want to keep the peace.” In the same article, RZA referred to current times as “the diplomatic era of hip-hop.” Freddie Gibbs, one of the better street rappers of his generation, chimed in too, saying, “It ain’t cool to be the street dude right now. The regular guy is king.”
But the violence—self-inflicted or not—persists. Lil Snupe, the 18-year-old, Louisiana-based Meek Mill protegé, was shot and killed this June; Trill rapper Lil Phat was gunned down the same month a year before. In the past year and a half, KayO, STEEZ, Tyga affiliate Freddy E and longtime Violator management chief Chris Lighty all died by their own hand. French Montana and Rick Ross were both the targets of shootings this calendar year, the former which left a 27-year-old man dead, the latter which caused Ross to crash his car into a building. It’s still there—especially when the likes of Chief Keef are talking about “raising the murder rate” with his next mixtape—but when it’s in isolated incidents, it can be easier to brush under the rug.
As hip-hop has grown up and grown bigger, the number and percentage of these instances have dropped, for the good of everyone. Still, another year goes by where the holidays are less full of peace than they should be. Here’s to a healthier and happier 2014. —Dan Rys (@danrys)