The 2011 Playback: The Year In Memoriam


One of the most difficult year-end pieces to write is the one that reflects on those who we lost in the previous 12 months. From a legendary songwriter to a technological genius to a rapper just beginning his ascent, 2011 was a year of love and loss. In this article, pays respects to those who have gone on before us. “The way they reminisce over you/ My God…”

Nicholas Ashford (August 22, 2011)

One half of the songwriting and performing duo, Ashford & Simpson, Nick Ashford, along with his wife Valerie, penned many of Motown’s biggest hits, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and “You’re All I Need to Get By,” (a song which later remade became a Hip-Hop classic). Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002, Ashford & Simpson also scored a mega-hit of their own with “Solid” and owned a restaurant and live entertainment venue, Sugar Bar, in New York City. The Nicholas Ashford & Valerie Simpson Songwriter of the Year Award was added to the Soul Train Awards in 2011 and awarded to Marsha Ambrosius. As an actor, Ashford also appeared as Reverend Oates in the movie, New Jack City.

Clarence Clemons of The E Street Band (June 18, 2011)

A prominent member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and an amazing musician and actor in his own right, Clarence Clemons was a tenor saxophonist with a career that spanned almost 60 years after being given a saxophone by his father at the age of 9. Attending college on football and music scholarships, Clemons had a prospective NFL career that was sidelined by a serious car accident, although he had been scouted by the Cleveland Browns. Clemons and Springsteen met and began performing together in the early 1970s, and he contributed solos to some of Springsteen’s biggest hits. He also contributed his talents to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way album. As an actor, Clemons appeared as community leader, Roman, in two episodes of “The Wire.”

Nate Dogg (March 15, 2011)

If there was a sound that could define the West Coast’s rap domination of the 90s, it would probably Nate Dogg’s soulful voice. From his debut on The Chronic to his timeless hit, “Regulate,” with Warren G, Nate Dogg provided Hip-Hop music and culture with some of its most classic hits and memorable lines. While his solo career was less than stellar, Nate Dogg brought out the best in other artists that he collaborated with. During his career, Nate Dogg was nominated for four Grammy awards for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and Best Rap Performance by Duo or Group, including one for “The Next Episode,” the song that bred his most memorable line, “HeyyyeyyyeEYEYyyyEYYYY….smoke weed everyday!”

Joe Frazier (November 7, 2011)

International Boxing Hall of Famer “Smokin Joe” Frazier, is the only American to win a boxing Gold-medal at the Olympics. He fought as a World Champion during a career that lasted close to a decade and resulted in some of, if not the, greatest fights the sport has seen, many of which came when he faced Muhammad Ali. The two would meet three times in the ring with the first match being dubbed the “Fight of the Century” and saw Frazier crowned the winner by a unanimous decision. The third and final time that Frazier and Ali met was four years later, in 1975, for the infamous “Thrilla in Manilla” match that took place in the Philippines where Ali beat Frazier. “Smokin Joe’s” final boxing record came in at 32-4-1 with 27 of his wins coming from knockouts.

Mario “Slim Dunkin” Hamilton (December 16, 2011)

Born in Detroit, Slim Dunkin was raised in Atlanta, where he was just beginning his rap career as part the Brick Squad Monopoly crew, which includes Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame. 24-year-old Hamilton was killed just days ago on December 16, during a weekend which included filming for the video “Push Ups” by Gucci Mane and V-Nasty for their album, BayTL. Despite witnesses, no arrests have been made in the murder of Slim Dunkin.

Heavy D (November 8, 2011)

Dwight Arrington Myers, more famously known as Heavy D, is the man credited with helping launch the careers of both Mary J. Blige and Sean “Diddy” Combs, as well as inspire the Hip-Hop culture in ways many that people do not even realize. He was the first “sexy big man” as many referred to him, and his style has been duplicated for years but never replicated. Throughout his two-and-a-half decade career, Heavy D released nine albums, won two Soul Train Music Awards, was nominated for four Grammys, and starred in over 10 television shows and films. Hip-Hop and more importantly the world is united by the fact that there will never be another Heavy D.

Gilbert Scott-Heron (May 27, 2011)

The iconic musician, poet, and, author, who released more than 25 albums during his lifetime, was one of the year’s deepest losses. Often heralded as one of the greatest influences within Hip-Hop by the likes of Eminem, Lupe Fiasco, Chuck D, and many more, the sometimes tumultuous life of Scott-Heron was filled with more highs than lows. He has truly left a permanent imprint on a culture that is constantly changing and expanding.

Steve Jobs (October 5, 2011)

In 2011, the world lost Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the personal computer and the businessman who introduced the iPod to the masses. Not only is Jobs responsible for the now famous music player, he is one of the few people credited with forever changing the musical landscape by popularizing digital media. The co-founder, chairman, and C.E.O. of Apple was also, at one point, chief executive of Pixar Studios, the billion dollar animation studio that is now owned by Disney. Some his greatest creations came in the past few years when Apple introduced the MacBook Air, the iPhone, and the iPad – three devices that have already and forever will change the way we as human beings interact with technology and each other.

M-Bone of Cali Swagg District (May 16, 2011)

Rocketing to fame with their tribute single, “Teach Me How to Dougie,” Cali Swagg District was just gaining leverage when Montae “M-Bone” Talbert was shot twice in the head while sitting in his car. Born in Inglewood, M-Bone was known among his group members as a practical joker with a passion for tattoos. While “Dougie,” was a platinum-selling dance single, M-Bone often declared that they were not “dance rappers,” but serious lyrical artists. Their debut album, The Kickback, was released by Sony/RED two months after M-Bone’s death.

Patrice O’Neal (November 29, 2011)

The Boston native with New Jersey roots was most known for his often times controversial, but witty and hilarious style of comedy. The stand-up comedian landed memorable roles on a number of hit TV shows like “Chappelle’s Show,” “Arrested Development,” “Tough Crowd,” and even created his own animated show for Comedy Central, “Shorties Watchin Shorties.” O’Neal was also one of the standout comedians who took place in the annual Comedy Central Roasts, where he paid homage in humorous ways to a number of personalities like Hugh Hefner, Flavor Flav, and most recently, Charlie Sheen. Artists like Talib Kweli, Nick Cannon, and The Roots’ Questlove all felt the impact of his death and posted messages in honor of one of their friends and favorite comedians.

Geronimo Pratt (June 2, 2011)

A high-ranking Black Panther member, Geronimo Pratt was falsely imprisoned for a murder he did not commit and was eventually freed in 1997. He maintained his innocence for all 27 years that he was held in prison. Pratt was also the godfather of Tupac Shakur, a man and icon that many believe is the greatest rapper of all time. He was a human rights activist for most of his life, and worked on behalf of wrongfully incarcerated men and women up until his last moments.

Randy Savage (May 20, 2011)

Best known for his long career with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), “Macho Man” Randy Savage was a staple of Saturday mornings for the Hip-Hop generation. Named “Greatest Champion of All Time,” by World Wrestling Entertainment, Savage won six world heavyweight championships during his WWF and WCW career. His distinctive raspy voice and signature catch phrase “Oh Yeah!” made him one of the most enigmatic characters in wrestling. Randy Savage was also known for his eclectic relationships with his managers, including his first, Miss Elizabeth, who was also his wife, and for his memorable feuds with other wrestlers. Savage was also an actor appearing four films and dozens of TV shows.

Charles “Bubba” Smith (August 3, 2011)

A defensive end for the NFL for nine years, Smith was the first selection in the 1967 NFL draft after playing for Michigan State University, where he earned All-American honors and participated in the 1966 Michigan State -vs- Notre Dame game which was called “The Game of the Century.” Smith played for the Baltimore Colts (where he won his only Super Bowl), Oakland Raiders, and Houston Oilers during his NFL career. However, the Hip-Hop generation may best know him for his acting. Bubba Smith played Moses Washington in all but the seventh Police Academy movies, where he was known for his super-human strength.

Karryl “Special One” Smith (December 10, 2011)

A Bay-area native, Special One, and her rhyme partner, CMJ, represented for female rappers in the early 90s as the Conscious Daughters. The duo reached success in 1993 with the single, “Something to Ride (Fonky Expedition),” and brought a female perspective to the gangsta music of the West Coast. Special One was known for holding her own against their male counterparts for four albums before the duo disbanded.

Amy Winehouse (July 23, 2011)

Her voice was timeless, and her lyrics reflected such depth and personal angst that she became a superstar in America with her second album, Back to Black, which won five Grammy awards. Back to Black featured the platinum-selling single, “Rehab,” a song about her refusal to enter treatment for alcohol abuse. There was perhaps not another singer in our generation who was so plagued by drug and alcohol abuse; her demise became a question of not, “If,” but, “When.” Amy Jade Winehouse died at the age of 27, contributing to the myth of the “27 Club,” a group of rock and roll stars who died at that age. A posthumous compilation of unreleased material, “Lioness: Hidden Treasures,” was compiled by long-time producers Mark Ronson, Salaam Remi, and Amy’s family, the album was released on December 5, 2011.