Lovebug Starski, far right, on November 6, 2014 in Las
Vegas, Nevada. The DJ and rapper died Thursday, Feb. 8
2018. With him, from left, are fellow hip-hop pioneers
Doug E. Fresh and Grandmaster Caz. Isaac Brekken/Getty Images
for BET
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Isaac
Brekken/Getty Images for BET

Lovebug Starski, far right, on November 6, 2014 in Las
Vegas, Nevada. The DJ and rapper died Thursday, Feb. 8
2018. With him, from left, are fellow hip-hop pioneers
Doug E. Fresh and Grandmaster Caz.

Isaac
Brekken/Getty Images for BET

Pioneering DJ and rapper Lovebug Starski, who helped develop
the nascent form of hip-hop in the Bronx in the late ’70s, died
Thursday afternoon of a heart attack at his Las Vegas home, his
manager has confirmed to NPR. He was 57.

In a genre built on catchphrases, Lovebug Starski is often
credited with creating the most enduring of them all. The
rapping DJ from the Bronx helped coin the phrase “hip-hop” when
the culture was still in its infancy, during the late ’70s.

Along with early DJ partner DJ Hollywood, Kevin “Lovebug
Starski” Smith pioneered party-rocking and rapping, while
simultaneously DJing, at such Bronx hot spots as Disco Fever,
long before hip-hop would become a household word.

YouTube

In 2006, Starski
recounted
to music journalist Peter Scholtes how he helped
originate the phrase that would come to describe what is now
the nation’s most-consumed genre. During a party night fueled
by malt liquor and marijuana, a send-off for a friend heading
off to the military, Starski began teasing him, chanting in
drill sergeant fashion while marching: “hip, hop, hip, hop,
hip, hop.” He and Keith Cowboy of Grandmaster Flash and the
Furious Five began a call-and-response: “I’d say the ‘hip,’
he’d say the ‘hop.’ And then he stopped doing it, and I kept
doing it.”

It became a party-starting rhyme Starski would employ to move
the crowd: “hip, hop, hippy to the hippy hop-bop.”

The phrase “hip-hop” would later be popularized by the first

hit
record of the genre, 1979’s “Rapper’s Delight” by The
Sugarhill Gang.
Sylvia Robinson
, who ran the label, Sugar Hill Records,
that The Sugarhill Gang was signed to, had initially pursued
Lovebug Starski. At the time, he was already committed to a
recording contract with .

Starski would eventually release the early singles — under the
name Little Starsky at the time — “Gangster Rock” and “Dancin’
Party People.”

Amongst the many tributes posted on social media by legends in
their own right, Chuck D, head of Public Enemy, described
Starski
to HipHopDX
as “the first double trouble threat in hip-hop
and rap music.”

Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg posted a live Funkmaster Flex DJ set,
above, from a 1993 party that features Starski handling hosting
duties. Sounding like he hadn’t lost a step despite being
nearly two decades away from his hip-hop heyday, Starski can
heard teasing partygoers on the mic while warming up the crowd.

Like all of the genre’s pioneers, from DJ Kool Herc to
Grandmaster Flash, Starski preceded the big paydays that
artists half a generation later would begin to earn from the
culture he helped birth. But his name still rang out in rhymes
well into the ’90s; he’s forever immortalized in the opening
verse to Notorious B.I.G.’s popular 1994 single, “Juicy.”

“Who ever thought that hip-hop would take it this far?” as
Biggie raps in a line, freighted with unintended irony, before
giving props to some of New York’s seminal DJs. “Peace to Ron
G, Brucie B, Kid Capri, Funkmaster Flex, Lovebug Starski.”

Indeed — hip-hop, it don’t stop.

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