With the recent losses of Nipsey Hussle and Mac Miller, it’s been a tragic time for young rappers. The losses of these magnificent artists is not only a time to grieve, but a time to reflect on the powerful work they left behind that will live on for eternity. Here are six rappers we lost too soon and the legacy they leave behind.
This one is fresh on all of our minds, but it’s not just the recency that makes Nipsey’s death so sad. Long a street legend, Nipsey was on the cusp of blowing up on a more pop-friendly level. His most recent release, Victory Lap, debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard charts. But Nipsey was much more than an artist: he was an embodiment of what it meant to be from Los Angeles. He used his influence and wealth not to leave his city behind, but in an attempt to elevate his hometown of Crenshaw. Tragically, he was shot and murdered outside of a store he’d opened in Crenshaw on March 31, 2019 at the age of 33.
The oft-troubled Mac Miller, whose combination of pop, orchestral sounds, and lush beats made for a singular listening experience, died from an accidental overdose on cocaine and fentanyl on September 7, 2018 at the age 26. Miller was upfront about his demons: often rapping about his depression, his proximity to death and his fear that drugs would end up being his demise. Miller was known for his transition from “frat rap” to high artistry, with his Blue Slide Park going No. 1 on Billboard. He received a posthumous Grammy for Best Rap Album for his record Swimming.
Controversial rapper XXXtentacion’s brief career was dogged by allegations of abuse and general cruelty. But there was a certain magic to his music, which fused emo melodies with crooning guitars, hard bars with swooning vocals. As a young rapper, XXXtentacion was at the forefront of a new sound that was taking over hip-hop. His 2017 debut album, 17, debuted at No. 2 on Billboard, promising a career of sustained success. However, the Floridian rapper was shot to death on June 18, 2018 at the age of 20. Since his death, several posthumous records have been released to great success.
The Beastie Boys came at us live for over 20 years. Mixing irony, goofiness and an uncanny ability to write songs, the Brooklyn locals paved the way for white rappers, made record sampling a complicated, ingenious knot, and brought a sense of punk-playfulness to a genre that is often self-serious. Sadly, founding Beastie Boys member Adam Yauch aka MCA passed away on May 4, 2012 at the age of 47 following a battle with cancer. Yauch left behind an unparalleled musical legacy that includes the bonafide classics License to Ill, Paul’s Boutique and many others, plus an outspoken politic that called for intercultural unity.
No list like this can exist without mention of Tupac Shakur. One could write a million words on the West Coast warrior: he was a rapper, a poet, a peacemaker, a lover, a fighter, and, above all else, he could write the hell out of some music. Shakur’s life was one haunted by violence and paranoia — his political affiliations made him a target of the FBI and of gang warfare. His 1996 album All Eyez On Me became one of the bestselling records in the United States. Often misunderstood by the general public, his famous acronym THUGLIFE wasn’t a form of championing gang-banging but instead an analysis that said The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everybody. Tupac, Mr. Los Angeles personified, was shot and killed in New York City on September 13, 1996 at the age of 25.
It’s hard to mention Tupac without bringing up Biggie. Once friends, then enemies, these two represented the philosophies of their respective coasts, made records that get clubs moving to this day, and found themselves caught in an escalating game of violence and contempt that ended up taking them from the earth early on. Both Tupac and Biggie spent the end of their lives involved in a vicious feud that expanded to incorporate both West Coast and New York gangs.
Known for his intricate rhymes, smooth voice, explicit lyrics and fearlessness, no one was quite as skilled on the mic as Biggie. A hulking figure at 6’3 and some 300 pounds, Biggie was all presence. His posthumous album Life After Death is one of the few hip hop records to ever go diamond. Notorious B.I.G. was murdered in a drive-by shooting on March 9, 1997 at the age of 24.