Rapper, who recorded several acclaimed albums, died of pneumonia as he was being treated for coronavirus
Ty, the acclaimed UK hip-hop star who was nominated for the Mercury prize for his album Upwards, has died aged 47 after contracting coronavirus.
A fundraiser that was launched in early April said the rapper, born Ben Chijioke, was “admitted into the hospital with medical complications related to Covid-19. Shortly after, he was put in a medically induced coma to temporarily sedate to help his body receive the appropriate treatment”.
His condition improved, however, and he was moved out of intensive care in mid-April. But in an update posted to his fundraising page, organiser Diane Laidlaw stated: “Ty’s condition had been improving but last week while on a normal ward he had contracted pneumonia which worsened his recovery and ultimately Ty’s body couldn’t fight back anymore … close friends, family and fans are devastated of his death.”
Born in London in 1972, the son of Nigerian immigrants, Ty released his debut album Awkward in 2001, showcasing a tangibly British take on the US boom-bap style of hip-hop. Witty tracks like The Tale showed off his talent for storytelling and earned him a cult audience.
He broke through to wider attention with 2003’s Upwards, a brighter, more commercial album that brought him a nomination alongside Amy Winehouse and the Streets for the Mercury prize the following year. The prize was eventually won by Franz Ferdinand.
Ty went on to record three further solo albums, the most recent being A Work of Heart in 2018. He was also a spoken word artist, and an associate of The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company, founded in 2009 by rapper Akala, who tweeted: “Rest In Power brother. We gonna miss you big bro.”
In 2019 he formed a UK hip-hop supergroup called Kingdem with rappers Blak Twang and Rodney P, who performed an acclaimed freestyle on DJ Charlie Sloth’s Fire in the Booth series. Sloth called him “a friend, a role model and a true foundation to UK rap”; Blak Twang wrote that he was “so numb” following Chijioke’s death.
Over the years he also collaborated with De La Soul, Soweto Kinch, Roots Manuva and more.
Ghetts was among the rappers paying tribute, writing on Instagram: “RIP Ty. This ones deep I had a lot of respect for ty one of the first from the older generation to embrace me and show me love fly high ty.” Snips tweeted: “This man did a lot for us. A true London legend. RIP.” Roots Manuva wrote: “Rest my Brother. You did good.”
Producer Hudson Mohawke said Ty’s music “had such a big impact on me at the time, still sounds fresh today”. The author Nikesh Shukla wrote: “Rest in peace Ty. You were one of the nicest people I ever met. Such a huge huge loss … Devastated.”
Speaking to Channel 4 in 2019, Ty explained how, as a young boy, his parents sent him to be raised by a white family in Jaywick, Essex, so they could focus on work and study. “As kids we had no clue why we were here, and then my parents said ‘we’re going now, but you’re staying’,” he said. “So we didn’t know why we were being left here. And just feeling a little bit abandoned really.”
In an interview with PRS for Music in 2018, he outlined his vision for music-making and hip-hop. “Our music is considered ‘unclassic’ by mainstream British culture,” he said. “It’s considered throwaway and vague, and I think we have become comfortable with the name tag and position. I’m not comfortable with this process, art form, culture and experience being relegated to a minor importance, just because it isn’t classical music. A lot of thought and self-analysis goes into making music, let alone hip-hop music, and I wanted to upgrade the perception a little.”