Baba Oje, who served as the spiritual elder to beloved Nineties hip-hop group Arrested Development, died last Friday, October 26th, after a battle with acute leukemia. He was 86.
Arrested Development MC Speech confirmed Oje’s death on social media, while the group paid tribute to him during a performance of their hit “Everyday People” in Toulouse, France over the weekend. On Instagram, Speech said Oje’s family is planning a service for him to be held this Friday, November 2nd.
“Baba was the oldest member of any hip-hop collective and his mere presence in rap spoke volumes for the genre and for a generation looking for symbolic wisdom and answers,” Speech wrote on Instagram. “He was an activist for the homeless, a military veteran, a world traveler, spiritual advisor to the group, strict vegan, dancer, vocalist and avid roller skater.”
Known affectionately as “the oldest man in hip-hop,” Oje was a full-fledged member of Arrested Development, appearing onstage with them and making cameos in their music videos, even though he didn’t play an instrument or rap. On Instagram, Speech recalled meeting Oje when they were both students in college. Even though he was several decades older than many of his classmates, Speech said Oje regularly hung out with the younger kids, and eventually the budding MC worked up the courage to ask him to join his rap group.
“He at first said no,” Speech wrote. “But he later reconsidered when he thought about the fact that a young black man was striving to start a positive rap thing. However, we both found out that this partnership was bigger than we even knew. We both learned later that Baba knew my parents and in fact, was the best man in my mother and fathers wedding way before I was even thought of! That’s the spiritual bond we shared, he was literally like family to me, I will miss him terribly.”
Arrested Development’s longtime dancer and choreographer, Montsho Eshe, also paid tribute to Oje, writing on Twitter, “I will miss our many talks my dear friend. Your energy and fiery spirit will be missed. My dancing partner on stage… the elder of Arrested Development! May your soul rest in power.”