April 17, 2022

Rest In Peace, Black Rob (April 17, 2021, NY Times)

Robert Ross, the rapper known as Black Rob, whose husky, seen-it-all voice powered turn-of-the-millenium hits like "Whoa!" and "Can I Live" for Bad Boy Records, died on Saturday in Atlanta. He was 52. His death, at Grady Memorial Hospital, was attributed to cardiac arrest, said Mark Curry, a friend and one-time Bad Boy artist. He said Mr. Ross had had numerous health problems in recent years, including diabetes, lupus, kidney failure and multiple strokes. He had been undergoing dialysis from Piedmont Atlanta Hospital this month, Mr. Curry said. In a video that was posted online and spread across the hip-hop world, Mr. Ross detailed his ailments and recent struggles with homelessness. "He didn't have a home, but he always had us," said Mr. Curry, who called Mr. Ross "a true poet." He added: "He's known for telling stories, and his music described his life. You can feel it." Last week, Mr. Curry, along with producer Mike Zombie, began promoting a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Mr. Ross -- "to help him find a home, pay for medical help and stability during these trying times," the campaign's description said. The fund-raiser collected about half of its $50,000 goal. Mr. Ross, who was born in Harlem, began rapping around the age of 11, influenced by local artists like Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh, whom he credited with helping him develop his storytelling prowess. Sounding both motivated and weathered even as a young man, he was best known for the hard-hitting 2000 single "Whoa!", which reached No. 43 on the Billboard 100, and a string of electric guest verses on songs by Mase, 112 and Total. Thrust into more of a leading role after the murder of his Bad Boy label mate, the Notorious B.I.G., in March 1997, Mr. Ross became, by the end of the 1990s, another fast-burning star under the imprimatur of the budding hip-hop mogul Sean Combs.

His debut album, the fittingly named "Life Story," was released by Bad Boy in 2000, when he was 31. Already he had spent more than a decade in and out of juvenile detention, jail and prison, and the music reflected that. "It's hell," Mr. Ross said of his past. "Once they get their teeth on you, they keep biting, until they feel like, 'Let's throw away the key on this cat.'" "Life Story" featured intricate street tales of stickups, shootouts and the family struggles that could lead to such things, and it reached No. 3 on the Billboard album chart, eventually becoming platinum. Five years later, "The Black Rob Report," the rapper's second album, failed to find the same success, in part because Mr. Ross was back in prison, having failed to report to sentencing for a 2004 larceny charge. His career never recovered. "Bad Boy left me for dead," Mr. Ross said on his release from prison in 2010. Two subsequent independent releases on different labels foundered. He is survived by his mother, Cynthia; four siblings; nine children; and five grandchildren. Many people on social media offered condolences for Mr. Ross, including Diddy, the entrepreneur Daymond John and the rappers Missy Elliott, LL Cool J, GZA and Styles P. On Twitter, LL Cool J described Mr. Ross as a storyteller, gentleman and an M.C. Ms. Elliott lamented that the death of Mr. Ross closely followed that of another New York rapper, Earl Simmons, known as DMX, who died this month. "It's hard finding the words to say when someone passes away," Ms. Elliott said on Twitter. "I am praying for both of their families for healing." - New York Times (April 18, 2021). Rest In Peace, Black Rob. That's WHOA!