Lovebug Starski, Rap Pioneer Who Popularized 'Hip-Hop' Term, Dies at 57

Kevin Smith, aka Lovebug Starski, a DJ and rapper who is widely credited with coining the term hip-hop, died of a heart attack Thursday in Las Vegas, his manager says. He was 57.

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(Photo: Instagram / @lovebugstarski)

Born in 1960 in the Bronx borough of New York City, Starski was a key member of the 1970s hip-hop movement along with Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash. As Starski recounted it to music journalist Peter Scholtes, 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 at parties where he DJ’ed, and it was then adopted by the Sugarhill Gang on their groundbreaking 1979 single “Rapper’s Delight,” which is considered to be the first modern hip-hop recording.

Starski was the house DJ at Disco Fever, the club portrayed in the 1985 film Krush Groove, until the late 1980s.

Starski would eventually release the early singles — under the name Little Starsky at the time — "Gangster Rock" and "Dancin' Party People."

Chuck D, head of Public Enemy, described Starski to HipHopDX as "the first double trouble threat in hip-hop and rap music."

“Lovebug Starski was A DJ, MC and innovator,” Chuck told DX on Thursday. “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.”

Starski preceded the big paydays that artists would later begin to earn from the culture he helped to pioneer. But his name still rang out in rhymes well into the '90s; he's forever immortalized in the opening verse to Notorious B.I.G.'s popular 1994 single, "Juicy."

"Who ever thought that hip-hop would take it this far?" Biggie raps in a line, underscored with unintended irony, before giving props to some of New York's seminal DJs. "Peace to Ron G, Brucie B, Kid Capri, Funkmaster Flex, Lovebug Starski."

Reactions to Starski's death poured in from the hip hop community.