Widely Sampled Producer and Composer David Axelrod Dies at 83
David Axelrod, the influential producer, musician, and composer whose work seeped into generations of the pop culture musical lexicon through countless samples, passed away Feb. 5 at the age of 83.
Born in 1933 in Los Angeles, Axelrod briefly pursued a career as a boxer before moving into music, earning his stripes as a session player and compiling a list of production credits that included hits for Lou Rawls and Cannonball Adderley. A staff producer and A&R exec for Capitol in the ’60s, Axelrod eventually earned enough clout to release solo recordings of his own, starting with 1968’s Song of Innocence and the following year’s Songs of Experience — a two-album tribute to the poetry and visual art of William Blake.
Axelrod’s beat-heavy sound and esoteric influences weren’t meant for the mainstream of their day, but his work acquired a new cachet in the ’90s, when his records proved a popular source of samples for a growing circle of hip-hop artists that included DJ Shadow and Dr. Dre. That overdue spotlight prompted an unlikely second act for Axelrod’s recording career, which resumed with 1993’s Requiem: The Holocaust and continued through a live CD/DVD package released in 2004.
Although no cause of death has yet been given, the Guardian notes that Axelrod’s death has been confirmed by DJ Shadow; the duo developed a friendship over the years, and worked together more than once. “David could be incredibly intimidating, & he did not suffer fools…but if he liked & respected you, he was the most loyal friend on earth,” Shadow told Twitter followers. “So honored to have known you David, you are a bonafide hero to an entire generation of hip-hop kids and musical dreamers. Miss you Axe!!!”
Roots drummer Questlove added his own social media tribute, explaining that while Axelrod may not have been a household name in his own right, his pioneering creative spirit — and his foresight when presented with the new wave of artists using his work to help create their own — made him a fundamental ingredient in hip-hop’s creative and commercial maturation.
“He was so immersed in creativity and so pure with his arrangements,” wrote Questlove. “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) he appreciation for music and his ability to recognize musicianship is what I’ll take from him. Rest in Melody.”
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