Unfortunately, yesterday Heavy D was added to that list of premature musical passings when he died of as-yet unknown causes at the age of just 44.
The outpouring of condolences for the rapper by his fans and peers was swift, but sadly for music lovers, not all that unprecedented. Here are five other hip-hop stars who left us too soon…
1. Tupac Shakur: Long heralded as one of the best MCs of all time (a title shared with the Notorious B.I.G., his rival and apparent fellow victim of the East Coast-West Coast rap wars), the "California" rapper was gunned down in a drive-by shooting on Sept. 7, 1996 at the age of 25. The chart-topper, who had survived a similar attack just two years earlier, was shot 12 to 13 times while driving through Las Vegas and died six days later of internal bleeding. His murder remains unsolved, and while speculation has long centered on Biggie's involvement, the rapper's family has vehemently denied those claims. Nonetheless, Tupac's legend lives on: despite his truncated career, he's been named the best-selling rap artist of all time by the Guinness Book of World Records, with more than 75 million albums sold worldwide.
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2. The Notorious B.I.G.: Like Shakur, the man born Christopher Wallace left an enormous influence (befitting his name) on the music scene after his murder at the age of 24. Biggie, who collaborated with Diddy (then Puff Daddy), Mary J. Blige and LL Cool J before his death, had just one (albeit massively influential) album under his belt at the time of his death—1994's eerily titled Ready to Die. Biggie's death came three years later, and just six months after Tupac was gunned down, irrevocably linking the two rappers for posterity. Like Shakur, Biggie was also slain in a drive-by shooting. His was targeted in Los Angeles on March 9, 1997, when the car he was riding in was hit while stopped at a traffic light following a Soul Train Awards after-party. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, but did not survive.
3. Nate Dogg: After years of deteriorating health, the LBC native passed away at the age of 41 on March 16, 2011 due to complications from multiple strokes. The four-time Grammy nominee may not have reached the same marquee status as those he came up with—Snoop Dogg and Warren G, among others—but he was a major participant in the West Coast G-Funk sound and contributed hooks to a number of chart-topping hits, including Warren G's "Regulate," Dre and Snoop's "The Next Episode," Ludacris' "Area Codes" and Eminem's "Shake That."
4. Proof: Known as Eminem's best friend and protégé (who appeared in 8 Mile as Lil Tic, the rapper who trounced Em in an early battle) and member of the Detroit rap outfit D12, Proof was shot to death in the early morning hours of April 11, 2006, on his hometown's infamous Eight Mile Road. The 32-year-old MC, whose real name was Deshaun Holton, was shot in the head after a fight broke out at a local bar, reportedly over a game of pool. He was rushed to a hospital, but pronounced dead on arrival. The man who shot him, Keith Bender Jr., said he had acted in self-defense. Sometimes going by the name Big Proof, the rapper was a founding member of D12—with whom he recorded two chart-topping albums—a mainstay on Detroit's hip-hop scene and had, less than a year before his death, released his solo debut, Searching for Jerry Garcia. He also served as best man to Eminem and was due to begin work on his third D12 album just a month after his death.
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5. Ol' Dirty Bastard: ODB was no stranger to the wild side. The Wu-Tang Clan cofounder, born Russell Jones, died unexpectedly on Nov. 13, 2004—just two days shy of his 36th birthday—at a New York recording studio. Toxicology tests showed that he died of an accidental drug overdose from a fatal cocktail of cocaine and prescription painkillers. Paramedics were called to the scene after he collapsed, but were unable to revive him. Like his fellow died-too-young artists, however, ODB's legacy lived on, and not just thanks to his collaborations with both rappers and mainstream artists like Mariah Carey, who attended his funeral. The "Got Your Money" singer's mother and manager teamed up to release a posthumous album, Osirus, just a few months after his death.