Colleton County Coroner Richard Harvey confirmed the news to the Associated Press, revealing that Mack appeared to have died from natural causes at his home. A friend tells TMZ that Mack suffered from congestive heart failure. The coroner’s office did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
The Brentwood, Long Island, native — who found fame on Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Bad Boy label with 1994’s “Flava in Ya Ear” — traded in the music industry for a life of faith — working at his local place of worship, the Overcomer Ministry Church, according to the Daily News. He is survived by his wife and two adult children, the outlet reported.
Alvin Toney, Mack’s producer on his debut album, Project: Funk Da World, had a chance to see the late rapper last week as he worked on a documentary about the star.
“Nobody got to understand his story,” Toney told The Daily News. “I wanted the world to know the talent he had. It was something I wanted people to enjoy, but it was cut short because he was very religious and wanted to go to church.”
“God bless my friend. He was a good friend of mine,” Toney added, explaining that Mack had been ill for some time. “He was prepared for whatever comes, to go home to the Lord. He was prepared to do that. He wasn’t scared. He was ready.”
Mack got his start at a young age, dropping his first single under the name MC EZ when he was just a teenager, according to the Daily News. He made his major label recording debut on a remix of Mary J. Blige‘s “You Don’t Have To Worry” in 1992, his first time working with P. Diddy. A recording contract would follow.
“Flava in Ya Ear” was a certified platinum hit, peaking at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. The track earned Mack a Grammy nomination for best rap solo performance. Its remix featured a handful of iconic rap stars in their early days, including the Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool JandBusta Rhymes.
Mack would eventually part ways with Bad Boy Records when releasing his sophomore album (1997’s Operation: Get Down).
“Craig Mack, you were the first artist to release music on Bad Boy and gave us our first hit. You always followed your heart and you had an energy that was out of this world. You believed in me and you believed in Bad Boy,” Diddy wrote in a heartfelt Instagram post. “I will never forget what you did for hip-hop. You inspired me and will continue to inspire us. We will always love you. #badboy4life #ripcraigmack”
According to EPMD’s Erick Sermon, Mack had been working on a return to music. “I’m devastated over the news of Craig Mack,” Sermon wrote on Twitter. “We just finishing up his new album… Rest in Power Craig.”
Other tributes poured in from artists like LL Cool J, DJ Scratch, Funkmaster Flex and Biz Markie.
“Rest in power Craig,” wrote LL Cool J. “May the almighty embrace your soul & lift up your family and friends.”
Rest in power Craig. May the almighty embrace your soul & lift up your family and friends. it was a pleasure to know you & rock with you. You $tepped away from the game & did it your way.. I always respected that.#RIPCraigMack— LLCOOLJ. (@llcoolj) March 13, 2018
“I just got a disturbing phone call,” wrote DJ Scratch (né George Spivey) on Instagram. “I cannot believe this dude is gone. He just reached out a couple of weeks ago for me to speak on his documentary about his life. Because Craig was my roadie on tour. He would set up & break down my turntables every night on tour. Rest In Peace Lil Bro.”
“R.I.P TO MY MAIN MAN CRAIG MACK ANOTHER GREAT ONE GONE,” fellow Long Island rapper Biz Markie captioned an Instagram shot of the star.
“Rest In Peace!” added Flex on Instagram. “Good brother…”