New York-bred Rapper Craig Mack, who broke out in 1994 with Flava In Ya Ear, has died in his adopted home state of South Carolina.
Richard Harvey, the coroner for Colleton County, S.C., confirmed that Mack, 46 , died Monday night at his home in Walterboro, about 50 miles west of Charleston. He said it looked as though Mack died of natural causes.
Mack's debut 1994 single, Flava In Ya Ear, which featured verses from a then-unknown Notorious B.I.G. as well as Rampage, LL Cool J and Busta Rhymes, was one of the first "posse cuts" (a collaboration between four or more artists) to achieve mainstream success, reaching No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and receiving a Grammy nomination for best rap solo performance. In 2013, Complex Magazine ranked the song No. 5 in a list of the top posse cuts in rap history.
Get Down, a follow-up track from his debut album, Project: Funk Da World, reached the top 20.
Mack parted ways with Combs after that first album and did not release a follow-up until 1997's Operation: Get Down, which flopped. He struggled to find another label and didn't put out any more albums.
"Craig Mack, you were the first artist to release music on Bad Boy and gave us our first hit," Diddy said in an Instagram post as well as a statement provided to USA TODAY by representatives from his company, Combs Enterprises. "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. You inspired me, and I will continue to try to keep inspiring others. We will always love you."
He was missing from a 2015 reunion of Bad Boy artists, having left the music industry to devote his life to religion.
In 2016, a man identifying himself as Mack performed a religiously-themed rap in a YouTube video posted by the radio-based Overcomer Ministry, a commune-like group in Walterboro, S.C., whose website focuses on the Book of Revelation and Judgment Day.
Alvin Toney, who produced Project: Funk Da World, told The New York Daily News that he had just seen the rapper last week. Mack was working on a documentary about his life and had invited him to his church for an interview.
“I wanted the world to know the talent he had," Toney told the newspaper, "It was something I wanted people to enjoy, but it was cut short because he was very religious and wanted to go to church.”
Friends, fans pay tribute
Mack's contemporaries, friends and fans mourned him on social media. And one local news team, Atlanta's WSB-TV, honored him on the air, working his rhymes into their morning-show patter on Tuesday.
LL Cool J, who rapped with him on Flava In Ya Ear, wrote, "It was a pleasure to know you & rock with you. You $tepped away from the game & did it your way. I always respected that."
In an Instagram post, DJ Scratch wrote, "I can't believe this dude is gone." He noted that Mack had worked as a roadie on his tours and had recently invited him to participate in his documentary.
Journalist Touré recalled how "Mack’s lisp added something ineffable and ill" to Flava In Ya Ear. "Made it a little more messy and more raw and more hip-hop."
Biz Markie wrote, "He had two perfect singles and the platonic rap remix. That's more than most. May he kick that ol' robotic, futuristic, George Jetson crazy (expletive) in the infinite." He also shared a video of a 1994 interview with Mack, which he said featured "Biggie giving him the greatest eye-rolls of all time."
Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda admitted that his brain "wasn't ready" for Flava In Ya Ear the first time he heard it.
"Craig Mack is doing rap battles in Heaven with 2Pac and Biggie," fan @SlowDownMeow tweeted.
Contributing: Associated Press