David Axelrod, Visionary Composer and Hip-Hop Production Muse, Dead at 83
David Axelrod–visionary, genre-bending composer and icon of sample-based rap producers–passed away at his Los Angeles home this weekend, according to Billboard. The cause of death is unknown. He was 83.
Axelrod began his musical career in 1967 as an A&R and producer at Capitol Records, where he produced jazz and rock music, including the defining version of “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” the legendary crossover jazz hit by hard-bop saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. His continuing success as a producer at Capitol gave Axelrod the opportunity to integrate his own compositions into his work, and even to make his own albums. He composed the entirety of the musically intricate, studio-musician-reliant The Electric Prunes albums Mass in F Minor and Release of an Oath in 1968, and recorded his own William-Blake-inspired album Song of Innocence that year, and its sequel, Songs of Experience, in 1969.
These integrated rock rhythm, jazz improvisation, and gestures from Romantic classical music in an unprecedented way. The combination would prove irresistible to a long line of rap producers working in very different idioms beginning in the 1990s, from The Beatnuts (who sampled many Axelrod/Electric Prunes/Lou Rawls tunes written and/or produced by Axelrod) to Madlib (Quasimoto’s “The Signs Pt. II”) to Dr. Dre (“The Next Episode”) to Swizz Beats (Lil Wayne’s “Dr. Carter”)
Axelrod released music only sporadically throughout the 70s, ’80s and ’90s. Following a resurgence in interest in his music, he returned with a self-titled album in 2001–notably featuring an appearance from Ras Kass–on UK trip-hop-heavy label Mo Wax Records.
Listen to some essential Axelrod tracks below.