Rapper Craig Mack has died at the age of 46, according to US reports.
The hip-hop star rose to fame in 1994 with the hit single Flava In Ya Ear, and was the first artist to release an album on P Diddy’s Bad Boy Records.
After splitting with Diddy, he released a second album, Operation: Get Down, but eventually left music and devoted his life to religion.
Hip-hop artists Funkmaster Flex, Biz Markie and DJ Scratch were among those paying tribute to the star.
“I just got a disturbing phone call. I cannot believe this dude is gone,” said Scratch on Instagram.
“He just reached out a couple of weeks ago for me to speak on his documentary about his life.
“Craig was my roadie on tour. He would set up & break down my turntables every night… Rest In Peace Lil Bro.”
According to the New York Daily News, Mack died of heart failure in hospital near his home in South Carolina on Monday.
Hailing from Brentwood, Long Island, he cut his first single while still a teenager, under the name MC EZ.
After it failed to make an impact, he worked as an assistant to local hip-hop heroes EPMD. They introduced him to Sean “Puffy” Combs – now known as P Diddy – who put him on a remix of Mary J Blige’s You Don’t Have To Worry in 1992.
Impressed with his contribution, Combs offered him a recording contract and released Mack’s laid-back debut album, Project: Funk da World, in 1994.
The success of the album was propelled by Flava In Ya Ear – especially the remix, which featured verses from Notorious BIG, LL Cool J and Busta Rhymes.
The single was certified platinum and nominated for a Grammy the following year, while the follow-up single, Get Down, went gold.
However, Mack soon parted ways with Bad Boy Records – allegedly because of tense relations with Combs’ fellow protege Notorious BIG – and his subsequent releases failed break the top 40.
After his second album, he largely retreated from the public eye and in 2012 was filmed at a church service denouncing the “wickedness” of his former life.
He returned to music last year, releasing the 18-track Mack World Sessions album.
EPMD’s Erick Sermon said Mack had been working on new material at the time of his death.
“I’m devastated over the news of Craig Mack,” he wrote on Twitter. “We just finishing up his new album… Rest in Power Craig.”
Rapper Biz Markie also paid tribute, saying: “He had two perfect singles and the platonic rap remix. That’s more than most.”
Referencing the lyrics of Flava In Ya Ear, he added: “May he kick that ol’ robotic, futuristic, George Jetson crazy [expletive] in the infinite.”
Alvin Toney, an executive producer on Project: Funk Da World, said: “God bless my friend.”
Toney told the New York Daily News he had seen Mack in South Carolina last week.
“He was prepared for whatever comes, to go home to the Lord,” he said. “He was prepared to do that. He wasn’t scared. He was ready.”