Immensely sad news spread through Music City’s hip-hop scene this week. Much-loved MC, music-vid director and concert promoter Ross Norton, aka kidDEAD, has died. Norton was 36 years old. The cause of his death hasn’t been announced.
Nashville hip-hop is getting a lot of well-deserved national attention at the moment. That’s not something you could really say around a decade ago, though the critical mass of talent and energy were building to similar levels at that time. There was a fascinating underground rap scene-within-a-scene at Cafe Coco; as that ebbed, Norton helped the next phase evolve and grow with a showcase at The End called Makin’ Moves, launched in 2012. He helped forge connections that remain strong; as tributes poured in over Facebook, many local MCs gave thanks for Norton helping them book their first show in Nashville.
He also nurtured the scene with his skills as a filmmaker. Among his outstanding productions is a video for “Spaghetti,” a 2018 track by his close friend and fellow rapper Nathan Conrad, aka Spoken Nerd. “We toured together, shared many laughs and wrote songs for people to listen to with urgency,” Conrad wrote on Facebook. “Ross’ music will always be a part of me.”
Norton released plenty of his own music under the name kidDEAD that reflects the immense passion and compassion friends remarked on in the wake of his death. He had a knack for connecting with producers who helped him create a foundation for intense narratives like “Patrick Swayze.” The song, from 2014’s Rap and Destroy, reframes the glamorous image of drugs that informed a lot of mainstream rap at the time from his perspective as someone who’d struggled with addiction. The incisive, insightful and grooving singles “Angel Dust” and “The Poison Tree,” released via Bandcamp in May 2020, show Norton’s bright light hadn’t dimmed one iota.
Close friends have organized a celebration of life for Friday evening, but they’re keeping it semiprivate in light of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus. A public celebration hasn’t yet been announced. But in addition to buying and spinning kidDEAD’s work, you can also check out his conversation with MC, show promoter and radio host AL-D, who talked with Norton on his local-hip-hop-focused Fringe Radio Show in 2014.