20 Rappers Who Died Too Soon

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu
These rappers may be gone, but they'll never be forgotten. For this list, we'll be examining the careers and legacy of beloved emcees that were taken far too soon. Our countdown includes Guru, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Pop Smoke, Eazy-E, XXXTentacion, and more.

20 Rappers Who Died Too Soon

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be taking a look at 20 Rappers Who Died Too Soon.

For this list, we’ll be examining the careers and legacy of beloved emcees that were taken far too soon. We’ve tried to include as many notable figures as we can, but sadly too many rappers fit into this category.

Which of these rappers passing hit you the hardest? Let us know in the comments.

#20: Guru

For those who appreciate hip hop as an artform, Guru is their Picasso. Along with DJ Premier, Guru founded “Gang Starr,” one of the most revered rap groups in history. His brilliant lyrics and stylish delivery complemented Premier’s unique jazz samples and distinctive mixing. This combination made “Gang Starr” a truly original force in hip hop. Guru also had a successful solo career, and his singular sound permeated the underground scene for many years. In 2010, Guru lost his battle with cancer, cutting his life unreasonably short at the age of 48.

#19: Adam Yauch (MCA)

He’s not the most recognizable person on this list, but his music certainly is. Adam Yauch was one-third of the Beastie Boys, a group whose popularity in the 80s was staggering. With Yauch at the helm, the Beastie Boys reinvigorated hip hop with their humorous, punk-inspired riffs and high-energy delivery, not to mention breaking down barriers for white artists in the rap industry. After 30 years in the business, 50 million records sold, and a rock and roll hall of fame induction, MCA succumbed to cancer at the age of 47.

#18: Nate Dogg

In the ‘80s, this vocalist formed a lifelong bond with Snoop Dogg and Warren G. Later known as 213, the crew reached the mainstream after hooking up with Dr. Dre; and it was Nate Dogg’s vocals and lyrical flow that became synonymous with G-Funk. Though he did release several solo albums, Nate achieved fame for his guest spots on ’90s classics like Warren G’s massive “Regulate.” He wasn’t just a trendy artist, either, as he collaborated with top artists through the mid-2000s. Then, in 2011, rap lost an icon when Nathaniel Hale passed away in his native Long Beach at age 41.

#17: Capital Steez

In 2012, this Brooklyn rapper dropped his first mixtape, “AmeriKKKan Korruption.” It wasn’t just any mixtape, though, as Capital Steez attracted an all-star list of producers for the event, and it was a hip-hop event. He was a spiritual person; a young entrepreneur who created his own movement by founding the rap collective Pro Era with fellow underground rapper and friend Joey Bada$$. But this uplifting story turned tragic as Courtney Dewar, Jr. – only 19 and one of rap’s most promising talents – took his own life by jumping from the rooftop of a Manhattan building. R.I.P.

#16: Prodigy

When this Mobb Deep member passed away in 2017, he was unsurprisingly remembered as a hip-hop legend. Prodigy had life-long health issues – in his case, sickle cell anemia. Albert Johnson, aka Prodigy, was still a teenager when he and Havoc released their 1993 debut, and their 1995 single “Shook Ones Part II” was famously featured in the Eminem film “8 Mile.” With his gritty flow, Prodigy inspired a new school of New York MCs, but he tragically died at age 42 after reportedly choking while in the hospital for anemia-related complications.

#15: Ol’ Dirty Bastard

Ol’ Dirty Bastard is one of rap’s most beloved but also controversial figures. ODB battled through legal problems, drug problems, and domestic problems, and spent his life in and out of institutions, yet none of these blemishes overshadowed his musical output. With Wu-Tang Clan and as a solo artist, ODB produced a number of monstrous hits, and their success had much to do with his extremely offbeat style and unflinching lyrics. He was the magic ingredient added to a generic soup. This magic could only last so long, however, as his demons came to collect when he died of an overdose at age 35.

#14: Phife Dawg

In the ‘80s, this Queens native formed a rap group that would alter the course of hip-hop history. As A Tribe Called Quest, Phife Dawg and his buddy Q-Tip mixed old school funk with comedic rhymes to inform listeners of their daily realities. Malik Taylor, The Five-Foot Assassin, was known for his comedic wordplay and delivery; a perfect complement to Q-Tip’s own distinctive style. In Michael Rapaport’s 2011 documentary about Tribe, Phife’s health issues were discussed, along with their effect on the group. In 2016, at age 45, the self-proclaimed “funky diabetic” sadly passed away from his disease.

#13: Nipsey Hussle

Hailing from Crenshaw, Los Angeles, Nipsey Hussle followed in the footsteps of West Coast greats like Snoop Dogg. Coming from gang life, Nipsey carved out his own lane for success, determined to create wealth and opportunities not only for himself but also the community that brought him up. First gaining attention in the late 2000s for his series of mixtapes ‘Bullets Ain’t Got No Name’, he became known for his insightful and calculated lyrics that came from the heart. Years of honing his craft through mixtapes culminated in his first and only full length album, 2018’s Grammy-nominated ‘Victory Lap’. Then, in 2019, he was shockingly gunned down while standing outside his Marathon Clothing store in South LA.

#12: Proof

Few did more to elevate Detroit’s status as a rap powerhouse than Proof did. Born in the Motor City in the early 70s, Proof grew up with Eminem and the two honed their abilities in the underground scene. He helped develop the rap battle circuit, which showcased local talent and was immortalized in the Eminem biopic “8 Mile”. He also founded D12 with Eminem, and the group attracted mainstream notice that would launch both their careers. With slick flow and authentic lyrics, Proof’s talent was undeniable, but his career was cut short at 32 when he was shot and killed during a bar fight.

#11: Lil Peep

This heavily-tattooed rapper, real name Gustav Åhr, appeared to be on the verge of pop culture superstardom. For some, Lil Peep was already there, given his massive popularity, influence and eclectic, emo-influenced style. But just months after releasing his debut album, “Come Over When You're Sober, Pt. 1,” Lil Peep was found dead in his tour bus during a stop in Tucson, Arizona. An overdose was the cause of death for the 21-year-old, a fate that is sadly too common in the hip hop world and one that has taken other icons as recent as Fredo Santana and those from previous generations like DMX and Pimp C.

#10: Pop Smoke

New York has birthed countless movements in hip hop, and Pop Smoke was at the forefront of one it’s most recent. Emerging in 2018, this Canarsie native would come to define the sound of Brooklyn Drill with his breakout hits “Welcome to the Party” and “Dior”. His deep and smoky delivery made him instantly recognizable, catching the attention of industry giants like Travis Scott and 50 Cent. Pop’s arrival to the rap world felt like the start of something special; he had nowhere to go but up. However, all this momentum came to a screeching halt when he was viciously attacked and murdered in a Hollywood Hills home invasion in 2020. No matter how short his career was, he’ll forever be a king of New York.

#9: Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes

Lisa Lopes was a founding member of the widely-popular girl group TLC. As a rapper by nature, Lopes infused TLC with hip hop elements, cultivating a uniquely diverse sound that crossed over genres. Her fierce mic technique and dynamic verses could be heard in many of their songs, and helped to earn TLC four Grammys and make it the best-selling female group in U.S. history. Although her life was often a troubled one it was a simple car accident that claimed Lopes at 30. After swerving to avoid another vehicle Lopes lost control of her car and died shortly after from the resulting trauma.

#8: Mac Miller

When we posted a list of rappers gone too soon on September 7th 2018, no one could have predicted the loss of Malcolm “Mac Miller” McCormick on that exact day. The Pittsburgh rapper and producer was a hometown hero who started out as somewhat of a ‘party rapper’, but quickly matured into an expressive and talented emcee. With plenty of radio hits like “Donald Trump” and “Best Day Ever” already tucked under his belt, Mac released 2018’s “Swimming” to rave reviews from fans and critics, who applauded his growth as an artist, and his vulnerability in talking about his own mental health struggles. His tragic death would come only a month later, when Miller died suddenly of a drug overdose. He may be gone now, but to this day we’re still thinking about the kind and beautiful soul that was Mac Miller.

#7: Eazy-E

Thanks to “Straight Outta Compton”, Eazy-E’s story is well known. From small-time gangster to rap superstar to the fixture of a cause of death conspiracy theory, his life—and afterlife—is indeed colorful. He founded N.W.A. and pioneered gangsta rap, helped launch the careers of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and a multitude of others, and had the coolest, most captivating delivery a rapper has ever owned. His life ended at 30 due to complications from AIDS, leaving behind an untouchable legacy, a wife, and seven children.

#6: Juice WRLD

Born Jarad Anthony Higgins, Juice WRLD took the music ‘world’ by storm in 2018 with his infectious single, ‘Lucid Dreams’. This 9-times-platinum track showcased his dark and melodic style of emo rap that hadn’t really been heard before. Combined with the musical accompaniment and aesthetic of his debut album “Goodbye & Good Riddance”, Juice blended elements of rap, emo, punk rock and metal seamlessly. His music resonated with a new generation of rap fans, and his raw success on the chart is a testament to that, with more gold and platinum certifications than we can keep track of. He was a ridiculously talented rapper and artist with heaps of potential, making it all the more heartbreaking when he died suddenly of a drug overdose in 2019.

#5: Big Pun

The name perfectly describes the artist. A man bigger than most with a penchant for clever wordplay, Big Pun took the rap industry by storm in the mid-90s. With verses that knew no lyrical bounds, he released two chart-topping albums, one of which went platinum and earned Pun the distinction as the first Latino solo artist to do so. At 698 pounds Pun's weight ultimately led to his death by heart attack at just 28 years of age. Despite his early death, Big Pun is still considered by many to be one of the greatest MC’s of all-time.

#4: XXXTentacion

It was thanks to a stint in juvenile detention for gun possession charges that this Florida-born rapper was inspired to turn to music. After clicking with fellow inmate and rapper Ski Mask the Slump God, Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy released his first official song under XXXTentacion during his mid-teens. However, Onfroy's short life would be marred by controversy, including an arrest, concert violence, a provocative music video and more. Then on June 18, 2018, the 20-year-old was shot to death in a suspected robbery attempt. Fortunately, his musical legacy, which includes two Top 2 studio albums and a chart-topping single, as well as plenty of posthumous releases, ensure he won't soon be forgotten.

#3: Big L

After making his bones in the underground scene, Big L was signed by Columbia and released his first album in 1995. It showcased an incredible talent; a lyrical prodigy who could weave rhymes, metaphors, and allusions with the best of them. He was in the process of signing with Jay Z’s Roc-A-Fella label when he was killed in a drive-by shooting at age 24. An album and a few singles were released posthumously, so at least we caught a glimpse of what could have been, but his inimitable sound was never exposed to the mainstream audience.

#2: 2Pac

A poet from the streets, 2Pac explored the issues of impoverished and oppressed individuals, and treated them with a maturity and acuteness that could not be ignored by society. Being an artistic, literary man who explored philosophical themes, he legitimized rap as an important medium, and caused many intellectuals to rethink their position on its merits. He also delved into subject matter that was stigmatized in the black community, and became the voice for those too afraid to speak out. A fearless artist who died from his refusal to bow down, Tupac was just 25 when he was killed in a drive by shooting.

#1: The Notorious B.I.G.

There was no bigger presence in rap history. Biggie Smalls smashed through the industry and sat alone upon the ruins, and there was nobody who dared to—or could have—stopped him. He possessed a distinctive, commanding voice and a flow so smooth that it produced auditory goosebumps. He released only one album in his lifetime—which has gone quadruple platinum—and that was enough to earn his place amongst the greatest rappers of all-time. But just like 2Pac, and in an undoubtedly related event, Biggie was shot dead at the age of 24.