After its seeds were planted in the ’70s to its explosion into the mainstream in the ’80s, rap became one of the defining musical genres of the 20th century and will continue to be an unstoppable force with its massive influence on culture, fashion, and every other musical genre. Rap is and always will be woven into the fabric of America — just ask Chance The Rapper. "Rap music is a combination of many different arts to make something new," the artist told Vanity Fair in 2017. "There’s always been a stigma that its existence would be short and only appeal to a certain group — but it’s the biggest music in the world."
Unfortunately, from Tupac Shakur to Nipsey Hussle, some of rap’s biggest stars have been taken from us too soon over the years. And 2020 is turning out to be no different. From a New Orleans icon who defined a city’s sound to a Minnesota native whose star didn’t get the chance to shine its brightest, the rap world has sadly lost many voices this year. Although their lives were cut short, these rap artists have left behind legacies and instantly streamable music that will never be forgotten by their legions of fans.
Let’s take a look and memorialize the rappers who tragically passed away in 2020.
On Jan. 1, 2020, rapper Lexii Alijai was found dead in a downtown Minneapolis hotel room, the Star Tribune reports. She was 21. Less than a month later, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office revealed that her cause of death was due to an accidental overdose of drugs and alcohol. According to Fox News, the press release stated, "This individual died due to mixed fentanyl and ethanol toxicity."
Per the Star Tribune, the rap artist, whose real name was Alexis Alijai Lynch, was an ascendant star with over 100,000 SoundCloud streams and was also featured on the song "Jealous" from Kehlani’s 2015 Grammy-nominated album, You Should Be Here. Mourning the loss on Twitter, Kehlani called the news the "weakest saddest way to start a new year." She added, "I’m off this happy new year please please please please be safe out here love on your people please."
Jessica Owen, Lexii Alijai’s mother, told the Star Tribune that the young rapper was scheduled to work in the studio on the day of her death and had planned some upcoming releases, including a collaboration with Wale and a new album.
5th Ward Weebie
5th Ward Weebie, a pioneer of New Orleans bounce music, died in the hospital due to complications related to surgery for a ruptured artery on Jan. 9, 2020, The Times-Picayune reports. He was 42. In addition to an appearance on Drake’s 2018 hit "Nice for What," Weebie (real name Jerome Cosey) was a local legend with songs like 2005’s "F**k Katrina" and 2014’s "Let Me Find Out."
A member of the city’s hip-hop sub-genre bounce music from the late ’90s on, the rapper-dancer’s death, which was mourned by countless fellow rappers like Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne, even rattled City Hall. Saying that his passing "broke [her] heart," New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell wrote in an emotional Instagram post: "He was an iconic personality, a New Orleans legend and a beloved friend. He was the bounce king who showed us how to move, how to love and how to bring passion and humanity to everything we do. New Orleans has lost a cornerstone of our culture. Our city will not be the same without his voice and his spirit."
Meanwhile, Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond said Weebie "embodied the soul of New Orleans" in an official statement. "A legend gone far too soon, I’m grateful his legacy will be ingrained in New Orleans culture for years to come," he continued. "I offer my support and condolences to Jerome’s family during this difficult time."
Rapper Tre Koast (real name Lucious Treadwell) was killed in a shooting while parked on his family’s street in North Phoenix, Ariz. on Jan. 17, 2020, Fox 10 reports. He was 21. The up-and-coming rap artist’s body was found inside his Dodge Charger, which had been "riddled with bullets." Per police, prior to "someone [firing] between 20 and 30 rounds" inside the vehicle, "an SUV was seen chasing" the rapper’s car. In April 2020, police arrested Udith Karanath Joby and charged him with first degree murder in connection with Treadwell’s death. Per ABC 15, a witness claimed Joby was the future target of Treadwell "and three other subjects," who plotted to rob Joby at some point.
The young rapper had released three lead singles in 2019 (per Apple Music): "This Year," "Safe Around," and "Got It in Send It Out." Most recently, he was featured on SoundCloud rapper Ki’s "Gifted" that September. When asked for a comment on Tre Koast’s untimely passing, the rapper’s father told Fox 10, "I’m not even ready for a memorial. I’m not ready to make any kind of statement. I’m sorry." Meanwhile, Kennedy Bennett, Tre Koast’s girlfriend of nearly two years, told ABC 15, "Lucious was the love of my life, he was my best friend, my go-to." She added, "Music was his motivation, being in the studio was like his safe haven almost."
Rapper Dee Dave was fatally shot outside an apartment building in Baltimore, Md. on Jan. 24, 2020, The Baltimore Sun reports. He was 29. Dee Dave, who’s real name was David Leroy King Jr., is survived by his girlfriend and 10-year-old son.
During an interview with Stop the Breaks in 2014, the late rap artist, whose most recent music release was "No More Humble" in December 2019, listed the likes of J. Cole, Drake, Dom Kennedy, Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, Hov, Jadakiss, Curren$y, and Joey Bada$$ as rap artists who "make great music" and help him "with ideas." However, he revealed how he felt "like hip-hop ain’t breathing the right way" and jokingly added, "It’s on life support … so much garbage music being polluted."
Having also worked as a Baltimore Gas & Electric contractor, the rapper had been planning to head out to Atlanta mere hours after his untimely death to play a show that may have been his "big break," his family explained to The Baltimore Sun. Police later arrested Calvin Krasheen Fogg and charged him with first-degree murder and attempted murder in what The Baltimore Sun says was "a case of mistaken identity." Fogg had reportedly shown up to confront an associate of King over a woman the two both dated. Somehow, King was shot and killed shortly before his associate was also shot, but survived. Fogg has maintained his innocence and is awaiting trial, as of this writing.
Washington, D.C. rapper Big Booda was shot and killed while sitting in a vehicle on Feb. 1, 2020, Fox 5 reports. According to police, the rapper later died at a nearby hospital. Big Booda, whose death comes just months after the loss of his mother, was 24 and is survived by his one-year-old son.
With an impressive "local following," Big Booda’s (real name Donelle Hodges) untimely passing came "shortly after" his fourth mixtape, Slide 2, dropped in late 2019. According to one of his associates, Big Booda "truly wanted to get his life right and leave the area."
Mourning his friend and business partner’s death on Instagram, Rundwn Shard criticized the senseless violence in the D.C. area. "Unfortunately this morning I got the call I lost my good man [and] business partner BOODA! At one point in time I used to be proud to say I was from [Southeast, D.C.]! I no longer am," he wrote in part. "I have been blessed to survive and punished at the [same] time to watch one single area and also a city rob me of 90 [percent] of the people I grew up with and loved."
Brooklyn-born rapper Pop Smoke died in the early morning hours of Feb. 19, 2020, after being shot in the Hollywood Hills, Calif. home he’d reportedly rented, TMZ reports. He was 20. According to law enforcement sources cited by the publication, the artist (real name Bashar Barakah Jackson) had been attending a party when "[two] men wearing hoodies and masks broke into a house … [and] fired multiple shots" before fleeing the scene. Pop Smoke was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The Los Angeles Times reported that police later charged "two teenagers and two adults" with murder, citing robbery as the motive.
Per the Los Angeles Times, "[His] death came days after his second mixtape, Meet the Woo 2, landed at No. 7 on the Billboard Top 200 list." This was a sequel to his "breakthrough mixtape," 2019’s Meet the Woo, which has garnered 280 million global streams and featured the rapper’s hit, "Welcome to the Party." It was later remixed with Nicki Minaj.
Many of rap’s luminaries spoke out following Pop Smoke’s untimely passing. "Rest Up Pop Smoke, you were too young. God Bless and comfort your family. What a crazy trajectory you were on man smh," Chance The Rapper tweeted, while Redman wrote, "Dnt Make No DAM Sense !! Pop Smoke was On His Way to Greatness..!! I was a Fan !! R.I.P Bashar Barakah Jackson ! My Condolences to Jackson Family !!!" Nicki Minaj wrote on Instagram, "The Bible tells us that jealousy is as cruel as the grave. Unbelievable. Rest In Peace, Pop."
Chynna Rogers, model and rising rap star out of Philadelphia, Pa., died of an accidental drug overdose, Page Six reports. She was 25. "Chynna was deeply loved and will be sorely missed," her family said in a statement.
According to Billboard, Rogers signed with Ford Models at age 14. She then became friends with A$AP Mob founder A$AP Yams, who inspired her to pursue a career in music. "I tweeted them pictures I took at the show. I wanted to A&R and I was inspired by the way [A$AP Yams] went about molding [A$AP] Rocky’s career," the "Selfie" singer told the publication in 2017.
Rogers struggled with an opiate addiction that she examined on her 2016 mixtape Ninety. She also discussed her drug dependency with Vibe in 2018. "I felt crazy. I didn’t want to be a statistic. I didn’t want to go out that way and people be like, ‘I told you so,’ or glamorize it [drugs] because I don’t feel like that," she said. "It was nerve-wracking to be open, but when you see how many more people who are dealing with the same thing, it’s good to have some kind of example of someone you didn’t expect to be going through it."
Brooklyn rapper Nick Blixky, real name Nickalus Thompson, was shot and killed outside a building near Prospect Park, the NYPD told NBC News. He was 21. According to the report, Blixky "was shot in the torso and buttocks" and was found "unconscious and unresponsive" by emergency personnel. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. A parolee named Caliph Glean was later named as the lead suspect in Thompson’s death, based on eyewitness accounts and surveillance footage that identified him as the shooter, according to the Daily News.
A representative for Blixky, Nakim Garrison, confirmed the rapper’s death in an email. "He was signed to me as an artist, and after working with him he became family," Garrison said, adding, "Very great young man I highly respected, and I don’t respect that many young men in today’s society." The rising hip hop star had a single titled "Drive The Boat" with more than 2 million views on YouTube. Hours before his death, Blixky announced on Instagram that his first mixtape, "Different Timin" was set to be released next month. ""JUNE 3RD‼️ I’m dropping my first Tape ever," he wrote, captioning the cover of the mixtape cover. "LOCK IN THE DATE. DIFFERENT TIMIN."
22gz, one of the artists with whom Blixky frequently collaborated, took to Instagram to offer his thoughts. "One of the realist and most loyal homies i got," he wrote, adding, "id never forget you bro & imma miss you. … sleep easy bro and watch over us I love you save me a spot up there ya legacy could never die bro."
Mac P Dawg
On April 6, 2020, Los Angeles rapper Mac P Dawg, real name Joshua Andrade Galvez, was shot and killed in Koreatown, the LAPD told The Wrap. He was 24. An unidentified female victim was in stable condition at a local hospital at the time of the report. "The suspect approached on foot, fired multiple rounds, striking both victims," LAPD public information officer Norma Eisenman said, adding, "The suspect fled in a vehicle in an unknown direction."
Mac P Dawg is best known for his song "Let Me Know," featuring Ohgeesy, and his collaborations with Shoreline Mafia on tracks like "Half N Half" and "Breakdown," among others. "On behalf of R Baron Group and The Machine Works, we are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Mac P Dawg," a rep for Shoreline Mafia said in a statement (via XXL). "He was an inspirational voice for new artists emerging out of Los Angeles with a magnetic energy and a promising talent that was just beginning to blossom."
Shortly after Mac P Dawg’s death, his friend and Shoreline Mafia member, Fenix Flexin, released a track called "RIP Mac P Dawg" to honor the fallen rapper. "From the start of their friendship as it transformed into a brotherhood bond, this tear-jerking, heartfelt tribute truly captures the current state of mind out West, as they grieve on the passing of the ‘little brother,’" the press release read, in part (via Hypebeast).
Brooklyn rapper KJ Balla (real name Kennedy Joseph Noel) was shot in the chest in the borough’s East New York neighborhood on May 22, 2020, the New York Daily News reports. He was later pronounced dead at Brooklyn University Medical Center. He was 23. As of this writing, no arrests have been made in Noel’s murder case, however a man who was "wanted for questioning" (per the Daily News) was shot and killed the following month in a drive-by shooting, with one of Noel’s friends named as the driver of the getaway car.
"He’s never coming home," KJ Balla’s mother, Valencia Smith, told the media outlet. "He was my only son!" Calling the drive-by shooter "cowardly," she went on to say, "Jealousy and envy overtook your hearts and took a very important piece of my heart. I’m so heartbroken. It’ll never be the same for me."
According to the Daily Mail, KJ Balla was best known for his songs, "Switch the Game," "Strangers," and "Cookin’ Up." His latest single, "Back To Back," was released just a month before his death. Per the New York Daily News, the rising rapper had over 800,000 streams on Spotify at the time of his passing, and was also a co-founder of From Nothing Records. Speaking about her son’s musical aspirations, Smith said that KJ Balla was "very charismatic" and started performing at an early age. "He used to dance on the trains when he was little. Then he started rapping," she explained. "He was really into his rap career, waiting for it to take off." A number of fans and fellow rappers alike have since paid tribute to KJ Balla on social media.
On Nov. 6, 2020, Chicago rapper King Von was shot and killed outside the Monaco Hookah Lounge in downtown Atlanta, AJC reports. He was 26. According to the Atlanta Police Department, King Von (real name Dayvon Daquan Bennett) was shot in the parking lot after a fight between two groups of men escalated to gunfire. Two off-duty officers, who were working security at the club, intervened.
"At this time, our investigators believe Mr. Bennett was shot during the initial shootout between the two groups of males, prior to police responding and attempting to stop the shooting," Atlanta police spokesman Officer Anthony Grant said. "Additionally, Mr. Bennett was not located at the scene, but arrived at a hospital shortly after the shooting, via private vehicle." It took just three days for police to arrest and charge Timothy Leeks with Bennett’s murder. Leeks was also hospitalized with "a gunshot wound" at the time of his arrest, according to AJC. "The homicide of Bennett is closed with [Leeks’] arrest]," Atlanta police spokeswoman Marla Jean Rooker told the outlet.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that King Von had just released his third studio album, "Welcome to O-Block," a month prior to his death. "He was a devoted father, a deeply loyal friend, and a man who took care of his people before himself," his publicist said in a statement, adding, "We are heartbroken for his family, his friends, his team, and his fans. Long live King Von."
On Nov. 11, 2020, Dallas rapper MO3 was shot and killed during an altercation on Interstate 35. He was 28. TMZ reported that both MO3 (real name Melvin A. Noble) and his assailant were "traveling northbound" at the time of the fatal shooting. Dallas PD reported that MO3 "was shot multiple times by the unknown Black male suspect who fled the scene in a dark color sedan." A CBS affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth reports that MO3 "got out of his vehicle and began running southbound on the freeway" when the gunman approached and was killed after "suspect chased the victim and fired multiple rounds at him." A bystander was also shot. MO3 was transported to the hospital where he later died. At the time of this writing, the suspect remains at large.
"Empire has lost a member of our family today — Dallas’ own MO3," the late rapper’s label said in a statement on social media. "We share this horrible loss with MO3’s family, team and fans. His infectious personality and unrivaled talent brought joy and therapy to his legions of followers across the country. We can only hope to continue his legacy and push forward with the same energy that MO3 shared with the world. Long Live MO3."
According to CNN, Noble’s debut album Shottaz Reloaded was released in 2016, and his fifth album, Badazz MO3, was released in 2020.
San Francisco rapper Lil Yase (real name Alexander Mark Antonyyo Jr.) was shot "multiple" times over Thanksgiving weekend near the East Dublin BART station and died at the hospital, authorities told local Fox affiliate KTVU 2. He was 26. "I don’t believe that this is just a random act, an act that we have somebody out there that the public needs to worry about," Dublin police Capt. Nate Schmidt said. At the time of this writing, there are no suspects.
"We appreciate all the love and support. Yase loved his fans, he worked every day for y’all. We have hundreds of songs coming for you," his label, Highway 420 Productions, wrote in an Instagram post. According to USA Today, the rapper’s biggest hit was the single "Mad" with Shoreline Mafia that "racked up more than 2.1 million streams on Spotify and nearly a million YouTube views."
TMZ reports that the up-and-coming rapper’s body was found "an hour away" from where he was last seen by his friends after he left a Marin County recording studio and told them "he’d be right back." The outlet states that "Yase’s inner circle are dumbfounded" over the killing as "he had no known enemies and had done nothing they can see leading to something like this."
Braxton ‘Brax’ Baker
On Nov. 5, 2020, Braxton "Brax" Baker’s mother, Letricia Loftin Russell, announced that the Virginia-based rapper and social media influencer had passed away at the age of 21. The specific date and cause of her death is not known. "Our angel, Braxton Blue.B Baker has ascended," her mother wrote in the touching Instagram post. "At the time of her ascendance she laid in sacred form. There were no scratches, there were no bruises, her internal and external being was completely pure. It was a spiritual release. God retrieved the angel He loaned us."
Her mother went on to say that at the time of her death, Baker "was in spiritual retreat" and in the process of "composing two albums and three novels." In a 2018 interview with S, Baker spoke about what she hoped to achieve as an artist, saying, "My role is to create art straight from my heart. For I know that art will be pure, poetic, powerful, and healing. All I want to do is help the world heal. That’s when things will begin to shift."
According to Billboard, Baker rose to fame with her 2017 mixtape VERSE(atility), which included the tracks "Lil’ B***h" and "Don’t Deny." She also collaborated with rapper Lil Peep, according to The Focus.
John ‘Ecstasy’ Fletcher
John "Ecstasy" Fletcher, a member of the iconic Brooklyn-based hip hop group, Whodini, passed away on Dec. 23, 2020, at his home in Atlanta, The New York Times reports. He was 56. At the time of his writing, no cause of death has been determined.
Known for his trademark Zorro-esque hat and unique rapping style, Fletcher conquered the airwaves with Whodini in the ’80s with such groundbreaking rap classics like "Freaks Come Out At Night," "Friends," and "One Love." As Fletcher admitted to the Los Angeles Times back in 1987, "I can’t sing. But I heard somebody rap one day and I said to myself, ‘I can do that.’ I rap in pitch. I try to be unique. I have my own style."
The news of Fletcher’s passing rocked the hip hop world, with many other rap legends flooding social media to offer their condolences. "One Love to Ecstasy of the Legendary #Whodini. This man was legendary and a pivotal member of one of the most legendary groups in hip hop. This is sad man," Questlove of The Roots wrote on Instagram. Meanwhile, producer Jermaine Dupri, who got his start as a dancer for Whodini, tweeted: "My God, this one hurts me so bad, I can’t even believe I’m posting this, Ex you know I love you." Alongside prayer hands emojis, Dupri added, "Thank you for every word, every conversation every good time, may your soul Rest In Power #whodini."
MF Doom aka Metal Face Doom, the cult underground rapper known for his intricate rhymes and signature mask, passed away at the age of 49. At the time of this writing, no cause of death has been released.
Born Daniel Dumile in London, hip hop’s self-professed "supervillain" died on Oct. 31, 2020, but his wife and management team didn’t announce his passing until New Year’s Eve. "The greatest husband, father, teacher, student, business partner, lover and friend I could ever ask for. … Thank you for teaching me how to forgive beings and give another chance, not to be so quick to judge and write off," his wife, Jasmine Dumile wrote on Instagram.
MF Doom made his debut in 1989 on the 3rd Bass track "The Gas Face" as part of the group KMD, then went on to release six solo albums and "five collaborative LPs" between 1999 and 2018, per The New York Times. Speaking with The New Yorker‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates in 2009, Dumile likened his impossibly complex flow to "comedy standup." Another writer at the same publication said that Dumile described his rhymes as having "no deeper meaning," that they were simply "a series of left turns to throw off the devil’s pursuit."
But Doom fans and colleagues across genres felt there was so much more, like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, who called him "a massive inspiration," and A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip, who described him as "your favorite MC’s MC." But perhaps actor Riz Amed summed it up best, tweeting, "REST IN PEACE MF DOOM. Pioneer, poet, mad scientist, supervillain. One of a kind."