As the hip-hop world continues to mourn the death of Juice WRLD, his passing sheds a light not just on the drug culture’s influence within the hip-hop community, but also a larger trend of rappers dying untimely deaths- many before their 30th birthdays. If the drug culture plays a pervasive part of rap music, so does violence. While most major rappers have rapped about violence in their lyrics to a certain extent, the vast majority have also said that violence in their music is more of a fantasy than the reality of their lives. However, for some of hip-hop’s biggest names, the violence became too real and ultimately led to their deaths.
Born Lesane Parish Crooks, Tupac Shakur (June 16, 1971 – September 13, 1996), also known as 2Pac and Makaveli, is by far the most famous dead rapper in all of hip-hop history whose death remains a mystery to this day. A pioneer in West Coast and gangsta rap, Tupac was well-known for his complex and deep lyrics as well as touching on social and political issues during a time when it was not common for gangsta rappers to do so. After making a name for himself in Los Angeles’s underground rap scene, he dropped his debut solo album, 2Pacalypse Now. He released four more albums, all to critical acclaim and record-breaking sales. He also had a few acting roles, most notably in Poetic Justice and Above the Rim. However, Tupac and other West coast rappers had developed a feud with many of the East coast’s prominent artists at the time including The Notorious B.I.G. (aka Biggie). Tupac recorded “Hit ‘Em Up”, a diss song toward Biggie, which would only deepen the rift between the two groups. On the night of September 7, 1996, Shakur was shot on the Las Vegas Blvd. following the Bruce Seldon vs. Mike Tyson boxing match at the MGM Grand. While some suspected rivals from the East Coast, others suspected gang members from Los Angeles looking for vengeance. Yet no one was ever formally charged. The murder remains unsolved to this day. Many of Tupac’s recordings were released following his death- again, to strong critical acclaim. As of 2019, Tupac has sold 75 million records worldwide and been posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Although not as famous as his friend and collaborator Tupac, Stretch (August 21, 1968 – November 30, 1995), born Randy Walker, was still an important figure in the early hip-hop and rap scene. Stretch and Tupac met on the scene of the movie Juice. Stretch produced and rapped on two songs from 2Pac’s debut album 2Pacalypse Now and backed Tupac on an episode of Yo! MTV Raps as he performed his single, “If My Homie Calls.” Stretch was murdered in a drive-by shooting in New York city on November 30, 1995. His death remains unsolved. His vocals appeared after his death on the posthumous 2Pac release R U Still Down? In 1997.
Christopher Wallace (May 21, 1972 – March 9, 1997), more commonly known as The Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls, or Biggie, was also one of rap’s greatest legends who died too early. Known for his versatile style and smooth flow, The Notorious B.I.G. was signed to Sean “Puffy” Combs label Bad Boy Records in 1993, appearing on various tracks and making a name for himself. His debut album Ready to Die, was released in 1994 and is considered to be one of the most iconic hip-hop albums of all time. He was shot and killed on March 9, 1997 in Los Angeles. While he was vocal about his beef with Tupac and other West Coast rappers, no one has been charged with his murder and his death remains unsolved. His second album, Life After Death was released two weeks after his death. To date, he has certified sales of over 28 million records and has also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Big L (May 30, 1974 – February 15, 1999), born Lamont Coleman, was an influential rapper and songwriter, well known for his complex lyrics as well as for helping to pioneer the horrorcore genre. On February 15, 1999, Big L was killed in a drive-by in his native Harlem. Shortly after his death, Jay-Z shared in an interview that he was about to sign Big L to his Rocafella label. Rapper Eminem paid tribute to him in his music video for his single, “Like Toy Soldiers” in 2004. While Big L’s childhood friend Gerard Woodley, was arrested for the murder, he was ultimately released due to the lack of evidence. The case remains unsolved. Big L was 24 years old.
Tahliq Raymond Rogers (May 14, 1971 – March 28, 1999), better known as Freaky Tah, was a member of a hip hop group called the Lost Boyz along with Mr. Cheeks, DJ Spigg Nice, and Pretty Lou. He was shot March 28, 1999. He was 27 years old. Kelvin Jones was arrested and pleaded guilty to the murder.
Jason William Mizell (January 21, 1965 – October 30, 2002), aka Jam Master Jay was the DJ of the influential hip hop group Run-D.M.C. and led the group to become one of the biggest hip-hop groups to cross into the mainstream charts. He was shot and killed in front of a Jamaica recording studio on Queens on October 30, 2002. His murder remains unsolved to this day.
James A’Darryl Tapp Jr, aka Soulja Slim, was a New Orleans-based rapper and producer who started his career performing locally and selling his mixtapes independently before signing to the No Limit label and then starting his own label, Cut Throat Comitty Records. In 2003, he collaborated with Juvenile (also based in New Orleans) for the hit song “Slow Motion, which was released on Juvenile’s album Juve the Great. The song, which was released shortly after Soulja Slim’s death, reached the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100, making Soulja Slim the sixth artist ever to have a posthumous number one song. He was shot in front of his parents’ home on November 26, 2003 and pronounced dead at the scene. Police arrested 22-year-old Garelle Smith in conjunction with the murder, but there was not enough evidence to make the charges stick and he was released shortly thereafter. Smith himself was found shot to death on August 13, 2011. Soulja Slim was 26 years old.
Andre Louis Hicks (July 5, 1970 – November 1, 2004), better known as Mac Dre, was a rapper who was integral in pioneering the Bay Area sound, a sound that was described as “fast and confident” with a touch of East coast influence. He was shot and killed outside a concern in Kansas City on November 1, 2004. His case remains unsolved to this day.
Proof (October 2, 1973 – April 11, 2006), born DeShaun Dupree Holton was a Detroit-based rapper and member of the group D12. He was a close friend of Eminem, often serving as his hype man. Proof was shot by Mario Etheridge following a bar fight off of Detroit’s 8 Mile rd. on April 11, 2006. Eminem has dedicated numerous songs to his late friend who is buried at Woodlawn cemetery in Detroit.
Magnolia Shorty (September 30, 1982 – December 20, 2010), born Renetta Yemika Lowe-Bridgewater, was a New Orleans-based rapper and one of the first females signed to the Cash Money record label. Discovered by Birdman, she was known as “the queen of the bounce genre” and collaborated with Juvenile, Soulja Slim, Lil’ Wayne, and more. She was shot in front of her apartment complex on December 20, 2010, along with passenger Jerome Hampton. Two men were charged with the murder, which was thought to be directed at Hampton.
Lionel Du Fon Pickens, aka Chinx, was a Queens-based rapper. Along with rapper Stack Bundles (also deceased), he was a founding member of the Rockaway Riot Squad, later joining French Montana’s Coke Boy Records label. He was most well- known for his appearances on the Coke Boys mixtapes and the Cocaine Riot mixtapes. He was killed in a drive-by shooting in Jamaica, Queens, on May 17, 2015 at age 31. Two men, Quincy Homere and Jamar Hill, were arrested for the murder, which appears to have been the result of a long-standing dispute between the parties.
Travon DaShawn Frank Smart, better known as Jimmy Wopo, was a rapper from Pittsburgh. Along with Wiz Khalifa, he was an affiliate of the Taylor Gang imprint. Following his 2016 breakout single, “Elm Street,” he collaborated on projects with several major rappers including Wiz Khalifa, Sonny Digital, 21 Savage, Mike Will Made It, Rae Sremmurd, and more. He was shot in Pittsburgh on June 18, 2018. He was 21 years old. While the artist was rumored to have strong ties to a local gang, no suspects have been arrested in his death.
Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy (January 23, 1998 – June 18, 2018), better known as XXXTentacion, was a Florida-born rapper, singer and songwriter with strong influences in the trap and emo rap genres. He was fatally shot in a robbery at a Florida motorcycle dealership on June 18, 2018. His attackers stole a Louis Vuitton bag containing $50,000 from before fleeing the scene. Four suspects were arrested and are currently awaiting trial. His single “Sad!” became his highest single on the charts, skyrocketing from number 52 to number one on the Billboard Hot 100, making him the first artist to top the Hot 100 after his death since The Notorious B.I.G., with “Mo Money Mo Problems” did the same in 1997.