DJ Kay Slay Has Passed Away At The Age Of 55
DJ Kay Slay has died. The man born Keith Grayson passed away yesterday (April 17) after a four-month-long battle with COVID-19. Kay Slay’s Hip-Hop career stems back more than 40 years from his days as a graffiti icon into a leader in music, radio, and street publishing. The bold personality who donned himself “The Drama King” was 55 years old.
“Our hearts are broken by the passing of Keith Grayson, professionally known as DJ Kay Slay,” the Grayson family wrote in a touching tribute published by The New York Post. “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.”
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Many Hip-Hop Heads were introduced to Kay Slay as “DEZ”—his graf tag—when he appeared in the legendary documentary Style Wars. His work also appeared in Wild Style. A New York native from Harlem’s East River Houses, Slay eventually expanded from visual arts to music—though he remained dedicated the graffiti and painting. In 1989, Grayson spent a year in prison following a drug possession conviction (with intent to distribute). Upon release, he worked at the Jose Gonzalez house in the Bronx, assisting those who have HIV and AIDS. “I can’t count the number of people I saw die,” Kay Slay said. “Working there really made me begin to appreciate life,” he told The New York Times 15 years later. In 1994, he began a discography of mixtapes that soared past 500 in total.
In the early 2000s, Slay clashed with top presences of the mixtape scene, including DJ Clue. It was Kay Slay who premiered Nas’ “Ether,” according to a 2021 OnSmash article. The move came during tenuous times between Grayson and JAY-Z, an artist who had worked with him before. “Cats know it’s no holds barred with me,” Kay Slay told The New York Times in 2003. “They know that I’m not going to edit anything. It’s going out the way you gave it to me. No watering down.” His Thursday night Drama Hour radio show on HOT 97, as well as his tapes, made him a destination for diss records. Beefs between JAY-Z and Nas, G-Unit versus Murder Inc., and others transpired and updated through Kay Slay’s platform. He became a star of the early 2000s, following Funkmaster Flex and DJ Clue’s footsteps.
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As an artist, Kay Slay eventually signed with Chris Lighty’s Violator Entertainment before a tenure with Columbia/Sony Records, where he elevated his street mixtapes to Streetsweeper studio albums. Slay appeared on albums by Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, Cam’ron, and others as the hard-nosed, trash-talking personality with a devout love of the culture. In 2004, Kay Slay was also hired by Shaquille O’Neal to be the A&R for his DEJA34 imprint. He also published Straight Stuntin’ magazine.
By the mid-2000s, Kay Slay helped take talented artists from the street scene like Papoose, Red Cafe, Saigon, and others and usher them to label deals. In recent years, he advocated for Locksmith, Mysonne, and others—using his platforms to push their talent.
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After his label tenure, Slay launched Street Sweepers Entertainment and released star-studded albums featuring a cross-section of the industry. Last year, Slay dropped Accolades and The Soul Controller. Fat Joe, Ghostface Killah, Snoop Dogg, Raekwon, The Game, AZ, and Busta Rhymes were some of the featured guests.
Accolades included “Rolling 110 Deep,” a 40-minute posse cut that unified generations, coasts, and rap styles. Grandmaster Melle Mel, Grandmaster Caz, and Ice-T shared the moment with KRS-One, MC Shan, and Big Daddy Kane, who also joined Black Thought, Ransom, Kxng Crooked. Dozens of MCs featured on the video single (embedded above).
Ambrosia For Heads extends condolences to Kay Slay’s family, friends, and fans.