Famous New York hip-hop icon DJ Kay Slay has died after a four-month-long battle with covid-19. He was 55.
An influencer and graffiti artist, DJ Kay Slay was a staple on New York’s WQHT radio station Hot 97 for more than 20 years. His family confirmed his death in a statement, the New York Post reported.
“Our hearts are broken by the passing of Keith Grayson, professionally known as DJ Kay Slay,” the statement said. “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.”
“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,” the statement continued.
DJ Kay Slay was hospitalized in December 2021 and put on a breathing machine (some reports say ventilator, but Slay’s younger brother Kwame Grayson said it was not a ventilator but a breathing machine) after experiencing complications from covid-19.
Born and raised in New York City, Kay Slay originally became known as a talented graffiti artist named Dez, according to Forbes. In a 2019 interview, he said being a DJ wasn’t initially a part of his plans.
“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.”
He found the art form after serving some time in prison, noting that he wasn’t a good criminal. “There comes a time in people’s lives where you’ve got to admit that you’re not good at what you do,” DJ Kay Slay said. “I was really wack at doing crimes. I kept getting caught!”
He counted Kid Capri, Ron G., Brucie B and Lovebug Starksi among his inspirations and also witnessed the rise of MCs Grandmaster Flash and Kool DJ Red Alert.
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DJ Kay Slay had a keen eye for spotting great talents before they became world famous. Some of those included Papoose, Kendrick Lamar, Ludacris and 50 Cent.
“As these guys got bigger, it was nothing for me to make a phone call and go, hey I’m working on a project,” Kay Slay said. “That’s what it came from, building relationships.”
The animated radio personality became known as Drama King due to his work hosting the late night “Drama Hour,” according to the New York Times. He was also the “referee” at many rap battles and was dubbed “Hip-Hop’s One-Man Ministry of Insults” by the Times in 2003.
“Cats know it’s no holds barred with me,” Slay said, embracing the moniker. Ond DJ concurred, telling the Times that DJ Kay Slay was “like the Jerry Springer of rap … All the fights happen on his show.”
He was also credited with being the first DJ to start adding personalities to mixtapes by Funkmaster Flex.
“You were really the first to bring the personality to the mixtape,” Funkmaster Flex, a fellow Hot 97 D.J., once said to Slay during a radio interview. “That was very unusual. We were just used to the music and the exclusives.”
Slay responded, “I had to find an angle and run with it.”
Music manager Wack 100 noted in January that Kay Slay wasn’t doing well and put out a call for prayers via social media.
“Pray for my brotha @djkayslay,” Wack wrote in the caption of a photo of Kay Slay on instagram. “It’s not looking good. He might be mad at me for this those that know Slay but he needs all the support he can get … Been 14 days fighting Covid and he’s just be put on a ventilator. Keep him in your prayers Please.”
However, Kay Slay’s brother, Kwame Grayson, refuted those claims. “He’s definitely not going to die,” Kwame told HipHopDX in an article published on Jan. 6. “That right there…I’m not going to lie, I was jumping around. I was definitely happy. Kay Slay is a private dude and he didn’t tell anybody in the hospital who he was, and we was kinda getting average treatment. When they found out who he was, that’s when everybody stepped up treatment.”
Ultimately, Kay Slay did lose his battle with covid. Tributes and condolences poured out online and through social media.
“Hot 97 is shocked and saddened by the loss of our beloved DJ Kay Slay,” the station said in a statement. “We cherish the many memories created through the twenty-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.”
“We lost one of the most SOLID MFs in HipHop.. I’ve been checking in on him his whole struggle in the Hospital. I honestly thought he was gonna pull through. This truly Hurts… F Covid. RIP to the Drama King #Kay Slay,” hip hop legend and actor Ice-T tweeted.
“Wow 🙁 i use to love listening to his mixtapes growing up. He’s who really got me heavy into hip hop. Rip to the drama king,” Twitter user @kizaMiza wrote.
“DJ Kay Slay aka Dez, the legendary graffiti artist turned prolific DJ, reportedly passed away this evening. He’s been an active, vital part of Hip Hop for nearly 40 years,” @checktherhyme1_ tweeted.
Photo: DJ Kay Slay attends the 3rd Annual Global Spin Awards Red Carpet at New World Stages, Nov. 18, 2014, in New York City: mpi43/MediaPunch /IPX