Roc Raida, R.I.P.


Renowned turntablist Anthony Williams, better known as Roc Raida, died Saturday. An official cause of death has not been announced. Regarded as one of the best in the world by hip-hop fans and DJ nerds alike, he gained respect as a DMC Champion and original member of DJ collective the X-Ecutioners (a/k/a X-Men); he also served as Busta Rhymes’ tour and Flipmode Squad DJ. It was Busta who announced his friend’s death, via Twitter: “I am sorry 2 say that on this day at 2:05 Sept 19th we lost another incredible life…Dj Roc Raida died 2day my personal Dj is gone…”

The news hit fans hard, as Williams had been reportedly doing well after rumors of his hospitalization for a martial-arts-related injury a few weeks earlier. At the time, the only statement came from a representative on his MySpace blog, thanking his fans for their support but also warning that the “rumors and chatter are not accurate” and asking that they “allow him and his family privacy to deal with the matter.” Following news of his death, a statement from the family called it “unexpected,” explaining that “he had undergone 2 surgeries with great success, he was released to an inpatient physical-therapy facility, and was in great spirits the past few days. This morning he started to have complications and passed. The family asks for privacy at this time.”

Inspired by his father (a member of Sugar Hill Records’ Mean Machine) and Grandmaster Flash, Roc Raida (dubbed “Grandmaster Roc Raida” by his peers) began DJing at the early age of 10. As his passion grew, he joined the X-Men and started competing in DJ battles, taking second place in the U.S. DMC Championships in 1992 and winning the World DMC Champion title in 1995. (He was inducted into the DMC Hall of Fame in 1999.) In addition to releasing six solo LPs (plus another seven with the X-ecutioners) and doing frequent live shows, the DJ also produced for several artists, including Big L, Fat Joe, Ghostface, Black Thought, and Linkin Park. More recently, he created his own battle competition, the Gong Show, based in London and his hometown of New York.

An overwhelming résumé aside, Roc Raida was best known for his creative beat-juggling routines, dedication, and raw talent; his awe-inspiring skill undoubtedly contributed to the elevation of turntablism as an art form. As news of the legend’s death spread, his acquaintances and DJ peers bombarded YouTube, posting videos and letting the live routines speak for themselves. Some called him an inspiration and a genius, while others cited him as the reason they took up DJing. “To me, he was the best DJ on the planet–nobody can tell me different,” says longtime friend Lord Finesse. “Until they do what Roc Raida has done, from body tricks to beat juggling to speed scratching. I mean, everything . . . he made that shit look easy.”