This morning the unfortunate news broke that beloved YouTuber and gaming community favorite Etika‘s body was found after an apparent suicide. Known for his high energy reaction videos, positivity, and openness about his mental struggles, Etika had been missing since last week and today a tweet from the NYPD confirmed his passing.
Death sucks. It really, really sucks. Reading the outpouring of sympathy and empathy for Etika’s friends and family shows just how many lives he touched, and how much sunshine he brought into the world.
Personally, I knew him long before “YouTuber” was even a word, during the infancy of the platform shortly after the rise of Tay Zonday when it was still largely a wild west of content, our paths crossed in the world of battle rap. In those days, when people were still figuring out the best ways to make content, rap battles started to become a popular wave. All one needed was a camera, a place the cops won’t disrupt a shoot, and at least two people willing to spit rhyming insults at each other and – presto – you have a league. Some were born out of college dorms, some were side projects from hip-hop fans with cameras, and word of mouth really allowed the even playing field of YouTube distribution to bring any street corner all over the world.
Etika – then “Iceman Etika” – voraciously was watching every rap battle that he could. Only 18 at the time, something about the medium and the culture really resonated with him. He knew every battler’s name, watched every search result that “rap battle” brought him, and put his all into wanting to take part and get props from his peers.
As you may have guessed, for whatever reason, the rap battle world of 2008 was largely curmudgeonly. The bulk of the participants kept to themselves and the people they arrived with, but something about Etika was just so likable, he was always invited to every event and promoters were happy to book a match for him on every card. Even though he had perhaps the worst win-loss record in New York, he was just such a joy to be around and always showed an ever-increasing potential that people knew his moment would come.
That happened on October 18 at New York’s Battery Park. The second Grind Time New York event ever, which earlier that day had already featured the one-two punch of Soul Khan‘s debut and a great Philly Swain performance, Etika’s battle against Chuck Black was the last of the day. Usually the MCs who’d already performed would be decompressing nearby or headed home, but everyone just really liked Etika and stuck around to watch his battle.
While watching it now a lot of the content is dated, at the time we were all noticing that Etika was having his best performance yet. By the end of his blistering third round, I remember exchanging glances with the other rappers there thinking “Did Etika just win this?” Once the judges came back with the results and Etika was announced the winner, all the tough guy posturing just dissolved and we celebrated his long-awaited first victory. It was one of my happiest moments as a battle rapper, and one that I’ll never forget.
I’d still run into Etika from time to time during my following seven years in New York and the occasional social media message after that. He always had the same genuine enthusiasm and ability to light up a room, and every time seeing him was like no time had passed at all. He’ll be very, very missed.
Etika was 29.