Gravediggaz member Anthony “Poetic” Berkeley died Sunday afternoon after a two-year battle with colon cancer.
The 35-year-old rapper succumbed at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles two years after doctors told him he had less than six months to live.
Poetic, who had been recording a new Gravediggaz album this year, was diagnosed with the disease after being rushed to the hospital in 1999 during a studio session. The MC, who also went by the moniker the Grym Reaper, is survived by his wife, Dee Dee.
Accumulating medical bills that his spokesperson says ballooned to tens of thousands of dollars, Poetic, who did not have insurance, used the media coverage of his condition to stir awareness and called for rappers to form a union. Several members of the hip-hop community rallied behind him with donations, and his spokesperson said there were plans for a benefit concert that would help pay some of his debt to the hospital. Fellow Gravediggaz founder RZA and the Poor Righteous Teachers, among others, performed at an event in 1999 that raised $5,000 for the MC.
Poetic started out in the late ’80s as Too Poetic with the duo the Brothers Grym. Things started to come together for him in 1993 when he formed the Gravediggaz with RZA, Prince Paul and former Stetsasonic member Frukwan. The group’s 1995 debut, Six Feet Deep, gained acclaim with morbid club bangers and horror-movie-esque conceptual tracks such as “Diary of a Madman” and “Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide.” They released the follow-up, The Pick, the Sickle, and the Shovel, in 1997.
The third Gravediggaz album, Nightmare in A-Minor, will be released on August 23. According to their label, Poetic rhymes about his sickness on a track called “Burn Baby Burn.”
In a press statement, Frukwan, who along with Poetic are the only two members who rock the mic on the new LP (Prince Paul does produce some tracks, however), said, “Poetic was the brother I never had. I love him dearly and I always will. We always had each other’s back. He did this album despite this illness and showed a true love for hip-hop against all odds.”
“I was honored to have worked with him,” Prince Paul said in a separate statement. “Whatever he has done musically is going to live on, and I am proud to have been a part of that.”
Meridian Entertainment has set up a nonprofit organization called the Life Goes on Foundation to help raise money for Poetic’s medical bills. The foundation is also taking donations to help with the cost of a New York memorial service Poetic’s wife hopes to have in the next week. He will be cremated in Los Angeles this week.