Rahiem of the Furious Five confirmed the news on Saturday in a post on Facebook, although a cause of death has not yet been revealed.
“It is with a heavy heart I announce the transitioning of my brother Don Newkirk,” Rahiem wrote, adding, “Fifty-six years young. Don Newkirk was among the first R&B artists signed to Def Jam records. My condolences go out to his family. S.I.P bro.”
Shortly after the news was announced, De La Soul took to Instagram to pay tribute to Newkirk.
“Ever since high school, we all knew Don Newkirk was undoubtedly a special kind. Fearless in expression and just a positive, talented vessel destined for success. His voice was the final cherry on top that closed our album 3ft High and Rising. Thank you Don, may you rest peacefully fam.”
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After delivering voiceovers on De La Soul’s 1989 debut Three Feet High and Rising, Newkirk dropped his first album, Funk City, via Def Jam R&B subsidiary OBR.
“Funk City was like in a mode of me experimenting, learning instrumentation and learning how to use my voice in a different way other than just rapping,” Newkirk told AllHipHop last year. “Because I was never a singer. I was always an MC. But I just felt like I could express what I was trying to save better with melody back then. So it came out more so as Funk City, which I think is dope because it gave people a whole different element of me.
‘Maybe I would have had more success if I had stuck to emceeing, being the 3 Feet High and Rising came out and ‘Gas Face’ [by 3rd Bass] was about to come out,” he continued. “And then I was pretty much in the Native Tongues camp but not really a Native Tongue, more so because I was singing than spitting. But I’m glad that it it did go down the way it went down because it created this legacy that I’m only now realizing, has made an effect that I didn’t even know from back then because we didn’t have internet.”