David Axelrod, a composer, arranger and producer who had a profound impact on modern music — especially hip-hop — has reportedly passed away at the age of 83. Questlove, Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, DJ Shadow and Hudson Mohawke were among those in the music community to mourn the news of his death, which circulated Sunday evening (Feb. 5).
Born in Los Angeles in 1933, Axelrod produced his first album in 1959 and went on to become a pioneer in combining jazz, rock and R&B in recorded music. He spent several years working for Capitol Records in production and A&R in the 1960s and went on to release more than a dozen of his own albums.
While a contemporary of, and somewhat analogous to, idiosyncratic composer/arrangers like Van Dyke Parks, Axelrod was much more influenced by jazz, as reflected in his orchestrations and his own compositions. He produced David McCallum’s Music: A Bit More of Me, the 1967 release featuring “The Edge,” a song that famously turned into the predominant sample in Dr. Dre’s 2000 hit “The Next Episode.” He also collaborated with the Electric Prunes on their bizarre 1968 album Mass in F# Minor, and when the group splintered in the middle of recording, he finished it with session musicians.
His work resurfaced from the ’90s forward, when artists including DJ Shadow, Wu-Tang Clan and Lil Wayne (via Swizz Beatz’ production) sampled his tracks. Axelrod released an eponymous album in 2001 on the British dance label Mo’Wax, a combination of old and new material. In 2005 the jazz label Blue Note released a collection of his late ’60s work for Capitol Records called The Edge; his work from that era comprises much of his most-sampled material.
“So sad to hear about the passing of musician/composer #DavidAxelrod,” Questlove wrote on in a tribute posted to Instagram. “He was so immersed in creativity and so pure with his arrangements he WAS hip hop. And understood and appreciated hip hop culture (most cats would get guarded about time moving on & easily take the ‘NO!!!!!!!!’ disposition if they aren’t informed. David embraced and often reached out to producers and beatmakers for cool collabos).”
“[His] appreciation for music and his ability to recognize musicianship is what I’ll take from him. Rest in Melody,” Quest said.
Cypress Hill remembered Axelrod on Facebook, writing, “Legendary composer David Axelrod has died. Hip-Hop producers including Dr. Dre, DJ Premier, and Madlib helped make his music immortal.”
“I’ll never forget meeting him for the first time in 1998. We asked him to do a remix for ‘Rabbit In Your Headlights’ off the Unkle album,” DJ Shadow recalled. He continued: “David could be incredibly intimidating, & he did not suffer fools…but if he liked & respected you, he was the most loyal friend on earth.”
“So honored to have known you David, you are a bonafide hero to an entire generation of hip-hop kids and musical dreamers,” he tweeted.
At press time, details of Axelrod’s death have not yet been confirmed.
This story is developing…