The Triumphs and Tragedies of Larry Smith by Robbie Ettelson

1 9LkD58KeolhSIFhdVCYr1wIn 1983 a bass player from Queens revolutionized the sound of hip-hop. How did he end up forgotten and confined to a hospital bed?

Remember when Run declared to the world that “Larry put me inside his Cadillac” on Run-DMC’s breakthrough single “Sucker MCs”? That very same Caddy was featured at the start of the iconic “Rock Box” video, which showed the song’s producer, Larry Smith—along with Run-DMC and their extended entourage—tumbling out of the ride, while guitarist Eddie Martinez worked his axe on the roof.

But Larry Smith was much more than the owner of a sweet ride. He’s one of the most important hip-hop producers to ever step into a recording studio, shaping the sound of two of the biggest rap acts on the planet, Run-DMC and Whodini, creating a sonic template that scores of artists would follow. Smith played a major role during the genre’s formative days, crafting hits for Kurtis Blow, the Fat Boys and his own influential group, Orange Krush. While only the most dedicated disciples of the art, such as DJ Premier, actively recognize his legacy (Preem put Larry at the top of his “Top 5 Producers” list in 2009), it was Smith’s unique musical proficiency, combined with his insight into the emerging sounds of the streets, that made him so essential to the development of rap music.

While miles of prose has been dedicated to the partnership of Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin, not nearly enough has been written about Mr. Smith, who was Russell’s original business partner before leaving the music industry in the early 90s. Sadly, Larry has been isolated from the public since suffering a serious stroke in 2007, leaving him partially paralyzed and unable to speak. But thanks to the generosity of his old friend Spyder-D, I was granted access to Larry’s final recorded interview so that we might learn a little more about the man behind the music.

“He was a perfectionist, he was very creative,” enthuses Smith’s old friend and engineer, Akili Walker. “He could hear all kinds of melodies and was way ahead of his time. He was driven and very generous. There was one time when I was on the road and blowing a little money, and he had went to my house and gave my wife $200 and said, ‘I’m sorry Akili’s blowing his money on the road, take this.’”

As a producer, Larry ignored the trends of the day—replaying simple TV jingles—and crafted his compositions around strong basslines, dominant drum tracks and sprinklings of melody, drawing on his years as a musician to create a “future shock” sound that took hip-hop from an underground subculture to a worldwide sensation. 1983’s “Sucker MC’s” marked the end of “old school” rap, introducing a trio from Hollis, Queens who would dominate the hip-hop world for the next four years, becoming the genre’s first international superstars. Following quick on the heels of Run-DMC’s success, the hits Larry created for Whodini—including “Friends,” “Freaks Come Out At Night” and “Five Minutes of Funk”—became certified classics of the genre, and have been sampled by everyone from Nas and Tupac to Dr. Dre and DJ Premier.

Complete Story Here.

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