Kevin Smith, a.k.a. Lovebug Starski, a pioneering DJ and rapper who is widely credited with coining the term hip-hop, died of a heart attack Thursday in Las Vegas, his manager confirmed to NPR. He was 57.
A native of the Bronx borough of New York City, along with Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash, Starski was a key member of the late 1970s scene that spawned hip-hop. As he told it, the term came about during a farewell party for a friend who was going into the military when he and Keith Cowboy of Grandmaster Flash’s Furious Five were playfully imitating a drill sergeant calling off marching orders.
He later used the term to rock parties where he DJ’ed, and it was co-opted by the Sugarhill Gang on their groundbreaking 1979 single “Rapper’s Delight,” which is considered to be the first modern hip-hop recording. He was the house DJ at Disco Fever, the club immortalized in the 1985 film “Krush Groove,” until the late 1980s.
While he released multiple recordings — including his early singles as Little Starsky, 1979’s “Gangster Rock” and 1981’s “Dancin’ Party People” — Starski did not achieve the widespread fame or acclaim of Grandmaster Flash or other pioneers. Yet many hip-hop fans are aware of his legacy thanks to Notorious B.I.G.’s 1994 single (and de facto history lesson) “Juicy,” which begins with the lines: “You never thought that hip-hop would take it this far … Peace to Ron G, Brucie B, Kid Capri/ Funkmaster Flex, Lovebug Starski.”
Public Enemy’s Chuck D, a hip-hop scholar in his own right, told Hip-Hop DX on Thursday, “Lovebug Starski was A DJ, MC and innovator. A pioneer who excelled before and after the recording line of ’79, the year when rap records began. He was the first double trouble threat in Hip Hop and rap music. He DJ’ed for the great MCs and MC’ed with the great DJs. Besides Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Lovebug Starski was one of the few that took his legendary street records status into the recording world.”