Craig Mack, known for first putting Sean "Diddy" Combs's Bad Boy record label on the map with his iconic single "Flava In Ya Ear," died Monday at the age of 46.
Craig Mack, you were the first artist to release music on Bad Boy and gave us our first hit. You always followed your heart and you had an energy that was out of this world. You believed in me and you believed in Bad Boy. I will never forget what you did for hip-hop. pic.twitter.com/qvnxRTcdXv
"God bless my friend," his producer Alvin Toney told the New York Daily News, which first reported the news of Mack's death of heart failure.
Mack died around 9 p.m. Monday in Walterboro, South Carolina, Colleton County coroner Richard Harvey told the Associated Press.
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The New York rapper's summer 1994 single became an instant hit and turned into a must-play classic and hip-hop anthem.
The subsequent remix included a breakout guest verse from Notorious B.I.G., whose "Ready to Die" album dropped a week before Mack's full-length debut, "Project: Funk da World." LL Cool J, who appeared on the popular "Flava In Ya Ear" remix, wrote a tribute on Twitter:
Mack was signed to Bad Boy after Diddy heard him freestyle outside of a Manhattan club.
"Craig is hip-hop's George Clinton, because his stuff is really off the wall," Diddy told the New York Times in 1995. "He does what's from his heart, which is where it starts for him. But his energy comes from somewhere else."
The rapper ended up leaving Bad Boy and releasing his second album, "Operation: Get Down," in 1997, before departing from the music industry altogether to devote his life to religion.
But he apparently was working on some new projects. Erick Sermon of rap group EPMD, who knew Mack since his breakout, tweeted that Mack was working on new music.
Mack also had been participating in a documentary about his life, including his decision to leave music and focus on his faith. Toney told the Daily News he saw Mack last week at his South Carolina church to film the documentary.
"Nobody got to understand his story," Toney told the outlet. "I wanted the world to know the talent he had. It was something I wanted people to enjoy, but it was cut short because he was very religious and wanted to go to church."
DJ Scratch wrote on Instagram that Mack had "just reached out a couple of weeks ago for me to speak on his documentary about his life." Mack was Scratch's tour roadie, helping set up and break down his turntables each night.
"I just got a disturbing phone call. I cannot believe this dude is gone," Scratch wrote early Tuesday morning. "Rest In Peace Lil Bro."
During Toney's visit, the producer said, Mack told Toney that he had been sick for a long time and knew he wouldn't live long.
"He was prepared for whatever comes, to go home to the Lord," Toney told the Daily News. "He wasn't scared. He was ready."
Word of his death spread across the hip-hop world Tuesday, which in recent years has mourned the early passing of other pioneers: Prodigy of Mobb Deep, who died in June at 42 from sickle cell anemia-related complications, and Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest, who died in 2016 at 45 from complications of diabetes.
"To be In hip hop culture & live past the age of 50 is a fight to the finish for real," Questlove wrote on Instagram, adding that "Flava In Ya Ear" was freestylers' first "viral instrumental choice."
"We cannot forget one of the greatest hip hop single debuts in the culture. That song was the gym routine mc's brushed their skills on."