Born in New York City, New York and raised in the East River Projects in Harlem, Keith Grayson (August 14th, 1966—April 17th, 2022) started as a prominent graffiti artist and DJ, then known as DJ KG, and, at the age of 16, was featured in Style Wars, a 1983 hip-hop documentary.
He touched on his come-up during a Rap Radar interview in 2012:
I DJ’d and I did graffiti, I did everything, you know? I have pictures so, you know, some people can talk about it. Everybody really knew me but it was never a thing I did for money.
With the decline of the graffiti movement in the late 1980s, DJ Kay Slay fell into a life of drug dealing and ended up in jail in 1989. After being released in the early 1990s, hip-hop had grown and was now a lucrative endeavor:
I’m like, yo, niggas is getting paid for this? Like, when I did it, we was out in the park. We did the little fifty cent house parties, we did the one dollar tabs, like, you know back in the days, it was two or three dollars to get in Flash parties, our parties. I think that, you know, I could get back into this. And, you know, I deserved to be into it. I still had a lot of my old records, originals, so I went to make mixtapes.
His first venture into the promotional DJ game saw him visiting Bad Boy Records, Puff Daddy’s label, and talking to James Cruz who wouldn’t give him anything unless he could prove that he was an asset. After claiming there was no promotional material to give out, Kay Slay saw Cruz after their meeting:
And I seen [James Cruz] come walking out of Bad Boy with a big handful of records and I just looked and said, yo, man, I'ma get so hot that these mother fuckers is gonna be begging me not to play the records that’s not supposed to be out. And that set a fire in me, that pissed me off.
In 1994, he released his first mixtape, Warning, with a Spanish rapper named Demo from his hood. Soon after, he bought all his DJ equipment, abstained from drug use, and really started to focus on being a DJ.
I had to go at ‘em. It was nothing personal, but I had to go at 'em to get my recognition, for them to understand, yo, man, I’m here and I’m doing it just the way he doing it, if not better.
Kay Slay often had visitors at his crib in Harlem including the likes of T.I., Cee-Lo Green, Cam'ron, Ludacris, Juelz Santana, and Black Rob. He doesn’t want to take credit for making them famous but he did say:
I contributed strongly to a lot of these brother’s success.
In 1999, 50 Cent reached out to Kay Slay to host a mixtape:
He wanted me to host 50 [Cent’s] mixtape. You know, I came in the studio and when I got there, this was like ‘99, he was like, yo, 'I ain’t got no money, Slay.’ And they told me they had had money for me, that’s what Rich [Nice] told me. He said, ‘I ain’t got no money, Slay. If you fuck with me, you won’t regret it.’ So I looked at him and I laughed because I saw it was so clever. I hosted it, it was his sampler. He put that out.
Kay Slay went on to become hugely popular throughout the 2000s and was the go-to DJ to promote up-and-coming artists. He has won countless Justo Mixtape awards and was retired from the category because no one could touch him.
On April 17th, 2022, at the age of 55, Keith Grayson passed away after a four-month battle with COVID-19.