March 13, 2018 at 09:14 AM EDT

Craig Mack, a hip-hop pioneer from Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Bad Boy Entertainment label, died at the age of 46.

Alvin Toney, Mack’s producer on his Project: Funk Da World and Get Down Remix albums, confirmed the news in a statement to The New York Daily News, which reports Mack died on Monday from heart failure while in a South Carolina hospital.

“Nobody got to understand his story,” Toney said. “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.”

He noted that Mack, having struggled with illness for some time, was “prepared for whatever comes, to go home to the Lord. He was prepared to do that. He wasn’t scared. He was ready.”

Diddy offered his thoughts on his former protege on Twitter: “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. I will never forget what you did for hip-hop,” he wrote. “You inspired me and will continue to inspire us. We will always love you. #RIPCraigMack #BadBoy4Life.”

“I just got a disturbing phone call,” DJ Scratch wrote 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 rodie on tour. He would set up & break down my turntables every night on tour. Rest In Peace Lil Bro.”

Mack’s biggest hit was the Grammy-nominated “Flava in Ya Ear,” off his debut album Project Funk Da World. A native of Long Island, New York, he started writing his own lyrics at age 12 with aspirations of being “like LL Cool J and Run-D.M.C.,” he told The New York Times for a 1995 profile.

Diddy, going by Puff Daddy at the time, took Mack under his wing after the aspiring rapper proved his prowess by freestyling outside club Mecca in Manhattan. “Craig is hip-hop’s George Clinton, because his stuff is really off the wall,” Diddy had told the Times. “He does what’s from his heart, which is where it starts for him. But his energy comes from somewhere else.”

The hip-hop mogul considered Mack and Notorious B.I.G. to be the foundation that started Bad Boy Entertainment. Speaking of the two on MTV Raps (via the Daily News), he said, “This is my life here. We all need each other to live and breath. That’s the way we treat each other.”

“Rest in power Craig,” LL Cool J responded to the news of Mack’s death over Twiter. “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.”

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