Black Rob, the rugged and gritty lyricist who helped carry Bad Boy Records into the new millennium, died on Saturday at age 52. He passed away reportedly due to kidney failure, encouraging his friends and fans to share two GoFundMe pages to raise money for his funeral and medical expenses. (You can donate to them here and here.)
Black Rob was recognized in the mainstream as the rapper behind “Whoa!” but he was so much more than that. Signed to Bad Boy in the mid-’90s, he started as a songwriter on the label, penning lyrics for his label boss Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs—Biggie shouts him out on “Victory”: “Black Rob joined the Mob, it ain’t no replacin’ him.” His appearances as a featured artist started with on Bad Boy remixes by 112, Total, and Faith Evans. Even if he didn’t get as famous as other Bad Boy artists, he remains a legend in Harlem and a respected name that deserves his flowers.
Here are 10 essential songs you need to hear from Black Rob, a sampling of his greatness and why he was loved by many.
Mase, “24 Hrs. to Live” feat. The Lox, Black Rob, and DMX (1998)
Puff Daddy asks Mase, Jadakiss, Sheek Louch, Styles P, DMX, and Black Rob to contemplate what they would do on their final day. This was the posse cut of all posse cuts. Black Rob comes in after Jadakiss, hoping to get with a “bare Spanish mami” before taking out some people that wronged him and attempting one more robbery on some rich folks. With DMX and Black Rob no longer with us, the song is a time capsule of Black Rob standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of the best.
Black Rob had the clubs jumping when “Whoa!” first played in New York City. The initial reaction to the single signaled a turn of good fortune for Bad Boy after struggling with album sales and the loss of their marquee artists: Biggie, who passed away, and Mase, who announced his retirement. “Whoa!” is the biggest single of Rob’s career. Produced by Buckwild of Diggin’ in the Crates Crew, the song appeared on his debut album Life Story and peaked at No. 43 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2000. To this day, “Whoa!” is talked about as a defining song of New York rap, a certified Tunnel banger.
“Can I Live” feat. The Lox (2000)