Neil Kulkarni, legendary music critic and former DJ Mag hip-hop editor, dies aged 51

Neil Kulkarni, the longstanding music journalist, critic and former DJ Mag hip-hop reviews editor, has died. 

The news was confirmed by sources close to the writer today (23rd January). No cause of death has been disclosed. He was 51.

A prolific journalist known for his sharp, distinctive and fearlessly incisive criticism and feature writing, which gave 'everything a chance, but let nothing off the hook', Kulkarni served as DJ Mag’s hip-hop editor for 20 years from 2000 to 2020. He also wrote regularly for publications including The Quietus, The Wire and Melody Maker. 

The Coventry-based writer also published several books, including Hip Hop: Bring The Noise and The Periodic Table Of Hip Hop, as well as Eastern Spring: A 2nd Gen Memoir, which explored his experience growing up a second generation immigrant in Coventry via music, confronting “race and the ghosts of the past in a fearless attempt to map our past, present and future as western music listeners”.

Speaking in tribute to Kulkarni, DJ Mag’s editor Carl Loben said: “To my mind he was the best hip-hop writer on the planet. Indeed, I think he was one of the finest music writers on the planet — full stop.

“Neil’s writing would zing. He would enthuse about raw new talent while eviscerating bloated, complacent dinosaurs. The man didn’t give a fuck — such a refreshing relief in a world full of increasingly bland, corporate churnalism. His descriptions brought the music alive, and I’ve lost count of how many artists he first turned me on to. One example: he started writing about Little Simz in DJ Mag in 2013, penning this feature for us a few years later.”

Just last year, for DJ Mag, Kulkarni interviewed the Mercury nominated Young Fathers, a band whose uncompromising vision for music and writing is mirrored in his own. In his guide to being a record reviewer for Drowned In Sound, Kulkarni advised aspiring writers to: “Accept that everything you say will be forgotten and ignored but write as if you and your words are immortal. Don’t just describe but justify — make sure the reader knows WHY the record exists whether the reasons are righteous or rascally. And always remember you’re not here to give consumer advice or help with people’s filing. You’re here to set people’s heads on fire.”

Kulkarni’s writing branched outside of hip-hop too, covering everything from heavy metal and electronica to the 2-Tone movement in his beloved Coventry. He also lectured in music journalism at BIMM Music Institute Birmingham.

A GoFundMe has been launched by Kulkarni’s friend David Stubbs, raising money for his family, including his partner Lenie, sister Meera — and his daughters, Georgia and Sofia. You can donate here.

“Neil was a friend from my Melody Maker days in the ’90s, who I had adventures and history with,” said Loben. “I hope that the GoFundMe raises some money to help his daughters through the coming months while they grieve for their wonderful dad. Rest in power, Neil.”

Tributes have been paid across the music press and beyond following news of Kulkarni’s sudden passing. Read a selection of those below. 

DJ Mag sends its sincere condolences to Kulkarni’s friends, family and loved ones.