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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 exec known for his all-star Streetsweeper series of studio albums and more than two dozen mixtapes died Sunday evening (April 17) at age 55 after a four-month coronavirus illness, according to a statement from his family and HOT 97.
“Our hearts are broken by the passing of Keith Grayson, professionally known 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 excellence with a legacy that will transcend generations,” read the family’s tribute. “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.”
Grayson, who began his decades-long hip-hop career by making a name under his graffiti moniker “Dez,” released his debut album, The Streetsweeper, Vol. 1, in May 2003. The jam-packed compilation from the man lovingly referred to as “the Drama King” featured 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 hit No. 22 on the Billboard 200 album chart in June 2003 and No. 4 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart, with single “Too Much for Me” with Nas, Foxy Brown, Baby and Amerie peaking at No. 53 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs chart in May of that year.
The Streetsweeper sequel album, The Streetsweeper Vol. 2: Pain From the Game, released in March 2004 on Columbia Records, was another star-stuffed compilation of songs produced by the likes of Swizz Beatz, Kanye West, Clark Kent, Eminem and the Heatmakers, with 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 hit No. 27 on the Billboard 200 album chart in April 2004 and No. 10 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop albums tally with the singles “Who Gives a F—k Where You From” (Three 6 Mafia, Lil Wyte, Frayser Boy) topping out at No. 89 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs chart and “Not Your Average Joe” (Fat Joe, Joe Budden, Joe) hitting No. 63 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs chart in March 2004.
In a statement, the staff at legendary New York hip-hop station Hot 97 also paid homage to the beloved longtime fixture 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 through the 20-plus years he dedicated to the Drama Hour. A cultural icon, Kay Slay was more than just a DJ, to us he was family and a vital part of what made Hot 97 the successful station it is today. Our hearts go out to his family, friends, and fans worldwide and we will always and forever celebrate The Drama King’s legacy.”
Kay Slay’s other albums include 2006’s The Champions: The North Meets The South w/ Greg Street (No. 57 on the Billboard 200 album chart), 2010’s More Than Just a DJ (No. 133 on the Billboard 200 album chart) and a string of mixtapes, beginning with 2003’s The Month of the Bad Guy through June 2021’s Accolades.
A version of this story first appeared on billboard.com.
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