The music of hip-hop artist Alias, who died unexpectedly Friday, blew the mind of Yarmouth chef and musician Christian Hayes – twice.

The first time was nearly 20 years ago, when a teen-aged Hayes became transfixed by the intelligent, layered raps of Alias and his fellow artists at the influential California record label they started, Anticon. The second time was when Hayes found out that Alias, whose real name was Brendon Whitney, was a Mainer just like him and that their mothers had once worked together.

“For me, that music they made just broke down all the barriers of hip-hop. It was deep, introspective and just great storytelling. It wasn’t flashy, it was all about poetry,” said Hayes, 38. “Then to find out he was from Maine was just incredible.”

Whitney, of South Portland, was 41. His death devastated friends in Maine who recalled his constantly upbeat demeanor, and his musical legacy was celebrated in Rolling Stone, Spin and other music industry publications. Other hip-hop performers, including Sage Francis and Sole, lauded his talent and mourned his passing online.

Maine friends set up a $50,000 GoFundMe campaign to help Whitney’s wife and two daughters. Hours after of its creation Monday, more than $11,200 had been donated.

Spin reported that Whitney died of a heart attack, but did not cite a source for the information. A cause of death was not listed in his obituary or on the GoFundMe page, which called Whitney “a man who loved deeply, who was kind and ferociously compassionate, who was funny in both the darkness and the light.”

Whitney grew up in Hollis and was performing hip-hop and writing raps as a teenager at Bonny Eagle High School. He left Maine for Oakland, California, and helped found Anticon, a collective of hip-hop artists, around 1998, when he was in his early 20s. The collective immediately gained attention for the songs’ intelligent approach to hip-hop and rap. The small independent label became successful, even though the songs didn’t get played on mainstream radio.

One of Whitney’s songs under the name Alias, “Divine Disappointment,” is about God stepping back and looking at what his world and its people have become.

“My quote-unquote followers still constantly fill the stands on the so-called seventh day/For years it’s been this way/But these people can’t figure out whether it’s the first or last day to pray/They seem to think that I’m forgiving of all/Which means they have a scapegoat, if they happen to drop the ball.”

Anticon’s output helped prove to young musicians that they could make music on their own, the way they wanted, without being beholden to a major record label.

“They taught young people you don’t have to have a major record deal, you can do this on your own,” said Lauren Wayne, a longtime friend of Whitney and general manager of the State Theatre in Portland. “He showed people you didn’t have to be a slave to the record labels, you could make music and be happy. That was probably the biggest thing about him, he encouraged everyone to make music.”

Anticon is based in Los Angeles, but Whitney had moved back to Maine about a decade ago and was making music from his home studio in South Portland, friends said. He created beats for other musicians and put out an Alias album on Anticon in 2014 called “Pitch Black Prism.”

A representative for Anticon would not comment on Whitney’s death Monday, saying in an email, “We are organizing ourselves at the moment.”

Mo Nunez, a Maine-based electronic musician who performs under the name Mosart212, was working with Whitney on a recording at Whitney’s home last week.

Nunez was just getting started as a performer in Maine a decade ago when he learned that Whitney had moved back to Greater Portland. He said that when he met Whitney, he could hardly believe he was Alias, the artist and producer he had listened to for so long.

“I was really nervous to meet him. I didn’t want to sound like a fan boy,” said Nunez. “But from the way he was, how approachable he was, you’d have no idea that he was as successful as he was.”

Wayne said Whitney’s Greater Portland friends will likely organize a benefit concert in the near future in his memory.

To hear music made by Whitney over the years go to: Anticon.com/artist/alias.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 210-1183 or at:

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Twitter: RayRouthier

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