Last Saturday (April 17), the hip hop world suffered a tremendous loss with the death of rapper Black Rob, who passed away at the age of 52. The news, which came days after video surfaced of the former Bad Boy Records artist sending his condolences for DMX, was a shock to many.
Born Robert Ross, and bred in East Harlem, Black Rob caught his break after inking a deal with Bad Boy Records during the mid ‘90s, first popping up on the remix to 112’s 1996 release “Come See Me.” Following that debut up with appearances on remixes alongside Total (“What About Us”) and Faith Evans (“Love Like This), as well as rap albums by Cru, Ol Dirty Bastard, Channel Live, The Madd Rapper, Benzino, and Tony Touch, Rob took the world by storm with his 2000 solo debut, Life Story, which earned him a platinum plaque. While legal troubles and health complications resulted in the occasional setback over the years, the artist displayed his perseverance throughout and went on to release three more studio albums, The Black Rob Report (2005); Game Tested, Streets Approved (2011), and Genuine Article (2015). He also evolved as a businessman and launched his own independent label, Box in One, in 2011.
In a genre in which artists create imagery and evoke emotions with their words, Black Rob cast himself in a unique light by creating riveting songs akin to scenes from a motion picture, which is one of many reasons he’ll forever be loved.
In celebration of his music and legacy, check out 11 of Black Rob’s most memorable musical moments below.
1. “I Love You Baby”
Black Rob put the rap world on notice with this contribution to Diddy’s No Way Out album, which established him as a riveting orator and the latest hot prospect to join the Bad Boy family. Spinning a tale in which he nearly gets clipped by the opposition, Rob vows revenge on the uptown shorty who led him into the supposed deathtrap that he escaped in a blaze of glory. From the classic nod to the Dyckman section of Washington Heights on the intro to the plush production crafted by Havoc, Diddy, Jay Garfield and Ron “Amen-Ra” Lawrence, “I Love You Baby” served as a grand coming-out party for the East Harlem native.
2. “24 Hrs To Live”
After his standout showing on No Way Out, Black Rob upped his profile even further with his presence on this blockbuster posse-cut from Ma$e’s Harlem World alongside his label’s all-star roster of talent. Featuring Diddy, The LOX, and DMX, and built around the premise of how each would spend their last day alive, the song finds Rob choosing violence among his last wishes — deciding to settle old scores before spending quality time with his immediate family. Produced by Nashiem Myrick, Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie and Carlos “6 July” Broady, “24 Hours to Live” was a moderate hit, reaching No. 72 on the U.S. Billboard Hot R&B Airplay chart, and serves as Rob’s first hit record as a Bad Boy.
3. “Can I Live” featuring The LOX
Rob teams up with former labelmates The LOX on this beloved heater, which finds producer Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie reworking a sample of “Within the Sound” by Rasa. Lending his gruff tenor to the song’s hook and anchoring the proceedings with an explosive stanza of his own, this cut, which was initially intended for The LOX but was ultimately tacked onto Black Rob’s debut, is regarded as one of the late spitter’s superior performances.
4. “I Dare You”
Bad Boy executive Harve Pierre makes his debut as rapper-singer Joe Hooker on this blistering one-off with Rob, who brandishes his arsenal of firepower while giving fair warning to all comers looking to infiltrate his empire. Initially released in 1998 to capitalize Rob’s hot streak on the feature circuit, “I Dare You” increased anticipation for his solo set to a fever pitch. Stating his piece atop guitar licks lifted and other riffs lifted from “Under the Influence of Love” by Love Unlimited, he turns in a tour de force with this Young Lord produced banger.
In 2000, Rob shook up the game in a major way with “Whoa!” — a thunderous song that would gain favor from the club to the streets, and the world of pop culture. On this outing, the East Harlem native finds himself caught up with yet another uptown shorty, however, with his newfound status as one of the hottest rappers of the game, his focus extends to exotic whips, loads of cash, and his evasion of the powers that be. Produced by Buckwild, “Whoa!” thrust the rising star onto the mainstream radar and was his first solo single to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 by peaking at No. 43. It is widely regarded as Rob’s definitive record to date.
6. “Life Story”
Adding onto Bad Boy’s tradition of explosive album openers from its roster of talent, Rob wastes no time getting listeners in tune with his rise to glory, setting the scenery with this titular track from his debut album. Powered by production by Jay “Waxx” Garfield and Nashiem Myrick, who outfit Rob’s biographical tale with a solemn backdrop, this selection includes additional vocals from Racquel and Cheryl Pepsii Riley, and stands as one of the more lauded deep cuts in the Bad Boy’s catalog.
7. “You Don’t Know”
Pierre plays double-duty with another standout appearance alongside Black Rob on this hard-boiled salvo. Under surveillance by the authorities, Rob evades their attempts of his capture via excursions across the border and various aliases, painting a cinematic tale of governmental espionage in light of his alleged criminal empire. Flexing his knack for storytelling and detailed imagery, the rapper delivers yet again with this memorable offering that’s stood the test of time.
8. “Espacio/Spanish Fly”
Produced by Pierre and Mario Winans, this sleeper cut from Life Story finds Black Rob talking greasy alongside Lil Kim over a jittery soundscape tailor-made for the clubs. Opting for idle threats over reveling in his riches or superstar status, he keeps true to his gruff nature on this single, which was accompanied by a music video bookended by a short clip for “Spanish Fly.” Featuring a guest spot from Jennifer Lopez, this track is another dance-floor friendly ditty that showed the late rapper’s versatility.
9. “Let’s Get It”
Remnants of Al Green’s classic ‘72 cut “Love & Happiness” are found in producer Yogi’s construction of this pulsating backdrop, over which G Dep, Diddy, and Black Rob run roughshod over while giving insight into their respective lifestyles. With Dep batting lead-off and Diddy following up, Rob cleans up on the last verse by spewing bars about a lover’s quarrel between himself, a Latin King and his queen. The lead single from Dep’s 2001 debut solo album, Child of the Ghetto, as well as Diddy’s The Saga Continues...., “Let’s Get It” dominated radio airwaves and video countdown lists, peaking at No. 5 on the U.S. Hot Rap Songs chart.
10. “Bad Boy For Life”
Rob joins forces with Diddy and Mark Curry on this runaway hit from Diddy’s third studio album, which saw the trio basking in the label’s continued dominance in the face of adversity. Produced by Megahertz, the song finds Rob’s verse sandwiched in between that of his co stars, as he turns in an efficient and infectious verse. Peaking at No. 33 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, “Bad Boy For Life” saw the late star playing a major role in one of Bad Boy’s most pivotal hits of the new millennium.
In 2005, Black Rob returned in full force with his long-awaited sophomore album, The Black Rob Report, which arrived five years after his acclaimed debut. Led by this upbeat number, on which Rob kicks flows about cowardly rappers flanked by bodyguards and a renewed focus on his cash-flow, the album was a refreshing long-player and reasserted the star as one of the pillars of the Bad Boy family. Garnering considerable airplay on mixtapes and radio playlists alike, this Scram Jones-produced street banger showcases the uptown representative’s carefree nature and makes it one of his more enjoyable contributions.