New York DJ Kay Slay (born Keith Grayson) has died after a months-long battle with COVID-19. The legendary record spinner, producer and label executive known for his all-star Sweeper a string of studio albums and more than two dozen mixtapes died Sunday night (April 17) at age 55 after four months of coronavirus disease, according to a statement from his family and HOT 97.
“Our hearts are broken by the passing of Keith Grayson, known professionally as DJ Kay Slay. A dominant figure in Hip Hop culture with millions of fans worldwide, DJ Kay Slay will be remembered for his passion and his excellence with a legacy that will transcend generations,” reads the family’s tribute. “In memory of DJ Kay Slay, our family would like 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 mourn this tragic loss.
Grayson, who began his decades-long hip-hop career by making a name for himself under his graffiti moniker “Dez”, released his debut album, The Sweeper, Vol. 1 in May 2003. The jam-packed compilation from the man affectionately known as “the king of drama” included collaborations with Fat Joe, Raekwon and Scarface, the Lox, 50 Cent, Mobb Deep, Black Rob, Craig Mack, The Diplomats, Eminem and 8Ball & MJG among others. The album peaked at number 22 on the Billboard 200 album chart in June 2003 and number 4 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, featuring the single “Too Much For Me” featuring Nas, Foxy Brown, Baby and Amerie peaking at No. .53 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in May of this year.
the Sweeper sequel album, The Sweeper Vol. 2: The pain of the game, released in March 2004 on Columbia Records, was another star-studded compilation of songs produced by Swizz Beatz, Kanye West, Clark Kent, Eminem and the Heatmakers, featuring features from Ghostface Killah, Scarface, 50 Cent and G-Unit, Memphis Bleek, LL Cool J, Bun B, Three 6 Mafia, D12 and many more. The album peaked at number 27 on the Billboard 200 album chart in April 2004 and number 10 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Top with the singles “Who Gives a F–k Where You From” (Three 6 Mafia, Lil Wyte, Frayser Boy) topped the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and “Not Your Average Joe” (Fat Joe, Joe Budden, Joe) came in at #63 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. in March 2004.
In a statement, the staff of legendary New York hip-hop station Hot 97 also paid tribute to the longtime beloved figure of the city’s rap scene, writing, “Hot 97 is shocked and saddened by the loss of our beloved DJ Kay Slay. We cherish the many memories created over the twenty plus years he dedicated to the dramatic hour. A cultural icon, Kay Slay was more than just a DJ, to us he was family and an essential part of what made Hot 97 the successful station it is today. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and fans around the world and we will always and forever celebrate The Drama King’s legacy.
Kay Slay’s other albums include those from 2006 The Champions: North Meets South with Greg Street (No. 57 on the Billboard 200 album chart), 2010s More than just a DJ (No. 133 on the Billboard 200 album chart) and a string of mixtapes, beginning with 2003 The month of the villain until June 2021 Honors.
A version of this story first appeared on billboard.com