Hip hop pioneer DJ Kay Slay has passed away at 55, New York radio station Hot 97 and his family confirmed Monday.
The disc jockey and record executive, whose real name was Keith Grayson, passed away Sunday evening after a four-month battle with COVID-19.
“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,” a statement from his family read. “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.”
Born on Aug. 14, 1966, Kay Slay was well-known for his albums The Soul Controller, The Streetsweeper and Accolades, while he was described as ‘Hip Hop’s One-Man Ministry of Insults’ by the New York Times. He’s worked with some of music’s biggest names like Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, Nas, just to name a few.
As a youth involved in New York’s flourishing hip-hop scene, Keith witnessed firsthand the rise of legendary disc jockeys such as Grandmaster Flash, Grand Wizzard Theodore and Kool DJ Red Alert, in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. “I didn’t so much set out to be a DJ,” he said. “It was just something to do that was fun and that I enjoyed doing.” With the decline of the graffiti movement in the late 1980s, he began dealing with narcotics and consequently ended up in jail in late 1989.
He spent a year in prison and upon his release he spent some time working at a Bronx facility assisting people with HIV and AIDS, while he also returned to DJing. In 1994, he began releasing mixtapes and was determined to make music work.
“I told myself I would be so big that one day the same people I was begging for records would be begging me to play their records,” Grayson told The Times.
He then went on to share numerous other studio albums during his career, including, The Streetsweeper, Vol. 2, More Than Just a DJ, The Big Brother and Hip Hop Frontline. The star’s most recent album, The Soul Controller, was released in 2021.
DJ Kay Slay is believed to have “released over 500 bootleg mixtapes,” Fader reported. The outlet said that he began selling them on street corners in New York’s West Village starting in 1993, and they reportedly featured artists among the likes of Eminem, 50 Cent and JAY-Z.
Nicknamed The Drama King, Slay also took part in hosting “The Drama Hour” on Hot 97 for over two decades.
His career jumped to another level when he found himself in the middle of one of rap’s biggest feuds — Nas vs. Jay-Z — when he became