Legendary New York DJ honored one year after losing battle to COVID-19

Orlando’s Respect the DJ’s podcast creators host vigil in downtown Orlando’s The Nash

Harlem native and Orlando local DJ Kered with attendees at the DJ Kay Slay Vigil in downtown Orlando at The Nash. Monday April 17th, 2023. (Samara Cokinos, WKMG)

Orlando – One year after legendary New York DJ Kay Slay (born Keith Grayson) loses his months-long battle with COVID-19, local DJ, producers, and artists pay homage to hip-hops dominant figure holding a vigil in front of a recently painted wall mural in downtown Orlando.

Graffiti mural in downtown Orlando's The Nash honoring legendary hip-hop DJ Kay Slay one year after losing his battle to COVID-19 created by local artists NZ and Wie. (WKMG)

The prolific Harlem native battled the virus four long months before passing away from complications on April 17, 2022 at the age of 55.

Local DJ and podcast creator Junebuhg, co-host DJ Kered, alongside sound engineer Kevin, recently worked with two local artists to create a wall mural honoring DJ Kay Slay at The Nash in downtown Orlando.

“I met him through a mutual friend of mine over 20 years ago and he actually put me on his team 15 years ago.” recalls Junebuhg. “Our podcast team has so much respect for him and he meant a lot to us and to the hip-hop culture, we wanted to keep his name alive and we thought this was the perfect way to honor him.”

Born and raised in East Harlem’s East River, the rap mixtape innovator started out as a b-boy and graffiti artist in his teen years becoming known as Dezzy Dez, even making an appearance in the 1983 hip-hop documentary “Style Wars.”

Candlelight vigil held Monday April 17th in downtown Orlando, honoring the "Drama King" DJ Kay Slay who passed away due to COVID-19 complications April 17th, 2022. (WKMG)

Local graffiti artist and Queens native, NZ, told News 6 he – alongside long-time friend and artist Wie – that it was important to create the mural reflecting who Kay Slay was in every level of his iconic career.

Local artists NZ and Wie creating mural to honor DJ Kay Slay who lost a four month battle to COVID-19 in April 2022. (DJ Junebuhg)

“I got chills when Junebuhg asked me to co-create this piece,” NZ said with a big smile. “As a little kid, I looked up to Kay Slay as a king”.

The mural took 16 hours from start to finish. The two artists worked on tall ladders in the heat of the day until night fell, and flood lights shined brightly on the wall so the duo could finish their work.

NZ reflected on the importance of seeing the art and telling the history of music for the youth. “We didn’t have a place like this when I was a kid,” said the artist who moved from Queens to Central Florida in 1994. “Kids need this, they need to see it and never let it die. The story of Hip-Hop will never be forgotten, especially with art and music to tell the story for generations to come”.

Local artist Wie working on the portrait of hip-hop's iconic DJ Kay Slay on a wall at The Nash in downtown Orlando. (DJ Junebuhg)

After a brief incarceration for drug charges in 1989, DJ Kay Slay started making mixtapes from his home studio, quickly rising to one of New York’s biggest DJs by the mid-90s, often breaking new artists and providing street value to rap artists that sought placement on his creations.

Kay Slay’s Renegades pt. 3.5 mixtape is regarded as part of hip-hop history premiering “Ether,” the most well-known diss track by Nas, aimed at Jay-Z catching the eyes and ears of millions following the murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G.

Harlem native, now Orlando local Respect the DJ's podcast cohost DJ Kered with attendees at the DJ Kay Slay Vigil in downtown Orlando at The Nash. Monday April 17th, 2023. (WKMG)

Labeled the “Drama King” for his fiery commentary, the Hot 97 radio DJ known for his Streetsweeper albums, helped contribute to the success of numerous hip-hop artists featuring their rap battles and then debuting them on the Hot 97 show – “The Drama Hour,” which he hosted for more than two decades.

Collaborating with Columbia Records, The Streetsweeper “Vol. 1, released” in May 2003, quickly rose to No. 22 on the billboard 200 album chart in June the same year, featuring collaborations with artists such as Black Rob, Fat Joe, the Lox, Mobb Deep, Raekwon and Scarface, and 8Ball & MJG among several others.

Kay Slay’s second successful major-label album “The Streetsweeper Vol. 2: The Pain From The Game,” released in 2004 featuring never-heard-before tracks by 50 Cent, G-Unit, Twista, Eminem, Cam’ron, Joe Budden, and Grafh to name a few.

Candlelight vigil held in downtown Orlando at The Nash for DJ Kay Slay one year after he lost his battle to COVID-19. Pictured left to right: Respect The DJ's podcast team: sound engineer Kevin, hosts DJ Junebuhg and DJ Kered. (WKMG)

With a total of seven studio albums, 27 mixtape albums and more than 500 mixtapes, the New York Times dubbed “Hip-Hop’s One-Man Ministry of Insults”, Kay Slay embodied the five pillars of hip-hop culture: lyricism, DJing, b-boying/b-girling, graffiti, and historical knowledge of the movement, bridging hip-hop generations for over three decades.

His legacy, DJ Kered says, will bridge many more in the future.

“It’s about keeping his name alive, his legacy, and respecting the journey along the way,” Kered said. “No matter the genre of music you play, it doesn’t matter who you are, what you are, new DJ or old DJ, none of that matters and we want to keep that going.”

“Hip-hop started with the DJ, without the DJ, there was no hip-hop and keeping that respect going through generations is important for the future” said Kered, hopeful the mural serves as a little piece of New York hip-hop history in the heart of Central Florida.

Hear and see more footage from the vigil on the “Respect The DJ’s” podcast available on YouTube and most podcast streaming platforms.

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About the Author:

Emmy Award Winning Meteorologist Samara Cokinos joined the News 6 team in September 2017. In her free time, she loves running and being outside.