Robert Ross, the rapper who performed as Black Rob and scored his biggest hit with 2000’s “Whoa!”, died Saturday afternoon at the age of 52 at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital. His death was confirmed by friend and fellow rapper Mark Curry, who was with Ross at the time of his death. In an interview on Sunday, Curry added that Ross was hospitalized on Saturday and the cause of death was cardiac arrest caused by a rare kidney disease.
The rapper had a history of kidney failure and diabetes and had suffered several strokes in past years. Curry said he had been on dialysis for the past five years and was hospitalized last week. Following the death of DMX last week, Ross’ friend DJ Self posted video from a hospital bed of a frail-looking Ross mourning the rapper and adding of his own condition, “I don’t know, the pain is crazy, man. It’s helping me out though, it’s making me realize I got a lot to go.” While Ross was discharged from the hospital shortly after, he said that he was near homelessness and battling various health ailments. “Oh man, I’ve been dealing with this for five years,” he said. “Four strokes … I don’t know what to tell you, man. Shit is crazy. The shit is hard.”
“He was very concerned in getting his life together health-wise,” Curry tells Rolling Stone. “He didn’t have any vices. He was walking the good life and his spirits were good. A true inspiration. A great heart. A kind spirit. He’s gonna be missed all over.”
“A story teller. An MC. a gentleman every time I saw him. Rest in power my brother,” LL Cool J wrote on Twitter. “I’m stuck. I’m processing. I’m praying. I’m staring at the wall. Condolences to your children & family,” added Pharoahe Monch.
The Bad Boy rapper’s long relationship with the label began in 1996 when he appeared on 112’s remix to their hit “Come See Me” alongside other remixes and memorable guest verses. He released his debut album Life Story four years later, where it quickly went platinum, reached Number Three on the Billboard 200 and spawned the rapper’s biggest hit “Whoa!”
“He coasts through his debut release like a cocky veteran, spitting grim confessions (‘Life Story’) and baller mantras (‘PD World Tour’) without breaking a sweat,” Rolling Stone said of Life Story in 2000. “The Bad Boy production team performs respectably, churning out the kind of hook-heavy cuts that get request lines jingling.”
“RIP one of the greats. A mix of Biggie storytelling with a twist of Slick Rick truly being missed, especially in this realm of hip-hop,” “Whoa!” producer Buckwild said. “Thank you for penning a timeless classic to my production. May the universe guide your spirit to a place of eternal peace where your soul feels welcome.”
Ross would go on to release three more albums — 2005’s The Black Rob Report, 2011’s Game Tested, Streets Approved and 2015’s Genuine Article — though a four-year prison stint in connection with a grand larceny charge stunted his ability to maintain the momentum of his early success. The rapper left Bad Boy in 2010, releasing Game Tested, Streets Approved through Duck Down before forming his own label.
Curry said that Bad Boy founder Sean Combs, who signed Ross, spoke to him on Friday and that the pair made amends after past differences. “Before Rob passed, he said, ‘One thing I was going to do before I leave this Earth is make sure we all speak to each other again,'” Curry says. “It’s always great to see when people are growing and learning to forgive.” (A rep for Combs did not respond to a request for comment.)
Last week, Ross’s friends set up a Gofundme to help defray the rapper’s medical costs. “This Gofundme is to help him find a home, pay for medical help and stability during these trying times,” Curry and rapper-producer Mike Zombie wrote. “We’ve lost a lot [of] legends and we can’t afford to lose anymore.” “He’s a legend and losing him is the worst part about this but the second-worst part is that it took so long for someone to help,” Zombie tells Rolling Stone. Zombie and Curry said the money raised from the Gofundme, which as of Sunday afternoon was nearly $30,000, will go to Ross’ family.
“When we came to the fans in his time of need, they immediately responded,” Curry says. “It was incredible for him to see how many people loved him and donated.” Curry says the Gofundme will remain active and that Ross’ family is planning an upcoming vigil in New York City.
“His album was called Life Story,” says Curry. “In life, I believe he had another story that I wish we all got to know about: the struggles and life of a man who was trying to live his life, feed his family and spread love.”