Larry Smith, producer of some of the most cherished hip-hop records of the Eighties, including Run-D.M.C.‘s first two albums, died Thursday at the age of 63. Radio host Combat Jack broke the news on Twitter, writing: “Just spoke to his family. RIP Larry Smith, the original King of Beats who passed away last night.”
A Queens native, Smith began his career as a session musician and quickly struck up a partnership with Kurtis Blow after playing bass on “Christmas Rappin’.” Smith would continue to play on a number of Blow’s tracks, co-writing a few as well, including the MC’s breakthrough record, “The Breaks,” which became the first rap record to be certified gold.
Smith then began working with Blow’s manager at the time, Russell Simmons. The two co-produced a handful of tracks for Jimmy Spicer – including the oft-sampled “Money (Dollar Bill Y’All)” – before helping make hip-hop history with Run-D.M.C.’s first single, “It’s Like That” b/w “Sucker MCs.” Smith and Simmons decided to forgo the lush style of studio musicians, settling instead on the punishing crack of drum machines.
Smith and Simmons would go on to co-produce Run-D.M.C.’s 1984 self-titled debut, and the ’85 follow-up, King of Rock. While Run-D.M.C.’s Rick Rubin–produced cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” is often seen as the bridge between rock and rap, Smith helped lay the foundation, inviting guitarist Eddie Martinez (David Lee Roth, Robert Palmer, Meat Loaf) to lay down the riffs on the hip-hop duo’s first two albums.
Thanks to his success with Run-D.M.C., Smith was tapped to produce the Brooklyn trio Whodini. Working in a style that intertwined hip-hop with R&B, Smith would produce the outfit’s first two LPs, 1984’s Escape, and 1986’s Back in Black. But in the coming years, Smith’s career slowed, his penchant for original instrumentation (even digital) going out of style as sample-heavy hip-hop became the norm.
Smith reportedly suffered a stroke in 2007, which left him unable to speak. A number of hip-hop luminaries have expressed their condolences on Twitter, including both Rev. Run and Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C. “Rip to the greatest hip hop producer of all times…. Larry Smith,” wrote the former. “Produced my biggest and most significant hits..”
McDaniels added: “Rest In Beats, Larry Smith Music In Your Heart hip Hop Was Your Gift to The World! No one does it better!”