It was on a late August night in New York City in 1987, when hip-hop may have first lost its innocence. Almost 14 years to the day after DJ Kool Herc spun the genre into existence with his first-ever block party in the Bronx, Scott La Rock of Boogie Down Productions was shot in the head and neck in the same borough, later dying of his wounds at Misericordia Hospital. He was 25 years old.
La Rock's murder was the first, but certainly not the last hip-hop slaying that has gone unsolved by the police. For a genre of music that is no stranger to discussing the realities of the struggles in the inner cities, hip-hop artists have fallen victim to violence far too often over the years, with authorities largely ineffective in their efforts to find responsible parties.
Consider some of the facts. In the 33 years between Scott La Rock's shooting death in the Bronx in 1987 and Pop Smoke in February of 2020—one of the most high-profile cases of a hip-hop murder—we've documented 87 rappers who have been murdered, about two per year and sometimes more. Of those murders, a little more than a handful have been solved, and others are still under investigation, which means there are more than 40 rappers’ lives that have ended before their time whose murders have never been solved by the police. To put that number in perspective, the clearance rate for murder in the U.S. stands at 54.4 percent, according to stats for 2020 released by Statista, a market and consumer data firm.
Clearly, there's a disconnect somewhere between the national murder "clearance rate" and the one that exists when a hip-hop artist is involved. It's particularly jarring when considering how high-profile some of these cases are; the murders of Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G. and Big L, for example, are all among the unsolved cases, despite each of them occurring more than a decade ago. And it's led to insinuations and backlash against a segment of music that is still growing in influence. "In some respects, rap music and violence seem to go hand in hand," La Rock's manager Scotty Morris told The New York Times almost 30 years ago following his client's murder. "But it's not the music itself, it's the environment. Violence was here long before hip-hop."
XXL takes a look at the current status of the cases of 88 hip-hop murders that have occurred over the past 35 years.—Emmanuel C.M., Miranda J., Roger Krastz, Sidney Madden, Dan Rys and Vanessa Satten; Additional reporting by Paul Thompson