A Video Explains Why Larry Smith Remains 1 Of Hip-Hop’s Most Important Producers
For every household name producer, such as Rick Rubin or Dr. Dre, there are multiple innovators who languish in obscurity. Larry Smith is one of those musicians, and he does not deserve this place in history, especially for Hip-Hop. While Smith played instruments on as well as produced huge hits for the 1980s biggest Hip-Hop artists, he is not a household name, or even someone mentioned often enough. Sadly, the Queens, New York native (from the same St. Albans as Phife Dawg) passed away in poverty as a ward of the state in 2014.
This week Hip-Hop historian JayQuan released his latest episode (#29) of Foundation Lesson, which put the spotlight on Larry Smith and his significant contributions to music. This bass player was part of funk groups The Firebolts and Brighter Shade Of Darkness in the mid-1970s, as well as providing basslines for records by Blues artist Jerry Washington. However, it was when he hooked up with Kurtis Blow and manager, Russell Simmons that he created some of the most influential music of this generation.
Smith’s first forays into Hip-Hop were playing bass on Kurtis Blow classics like “The Breaks” and “Christmas Rappin’.” He and Blow then had the idea to put together a touring band known as Orange Krush to back Hip-Hop’s first real star. Although, when Smith launched a production company with Russell Simmons called Rush-Groove is the moment he diversified and began considering himself a true producer.
Smith programmed the drumbeat to Orange Krush’s lone single, “Action,” into an Oberheim DMX drum machine (reportedly right out of the box) and named it “Krush Groove.” Later, this beat became the basis for four Run-D.M.C.’s classics: “Sucka MC’s (Krush-Groove 1),” “Hollis Crew (Krush-Groove 2),” “Darryl & Joe (Krush-Groove 3),” and “Together Forever (Krush-Groove 4).” He produced several important tracks for the trio from Hollis, Queens including “It’s Like That,” “Rock Box,” and “Jam Master Jay.” Smith is credited with being one of the first producers to bring elements of Rock into Hip-Hop production.
While his work with MC Run, D.M.C., and Jam Master Jay changed the sound of Hip-Hop, the importance of his production for Whodini cannot be understated. He is responsible for the group’s most sampled and interpolated songs: “Five Minutes of Funk,” “Friends,” and “One Love.” Beyond the title, the last track is where Nas and Pete Rock got part of their 1994 song’s chorus. Notably, Smith was working with Run-D.M.C. and Whodini at overlapping periods, and creating massively different sounds tailor-made for each New York City trio. This underrated producer was also behind crucial cuts by The Fat Boys, Jimmy Spicer, Grandmaster Flash, Dynamite Two, Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, and more.
JayQuan explains that Smith is from an older school of producers like Quincy Jones. Meaning, he’s more of a conductor or arranger, rather than a beat-maker who spent the bulk of his time in front of machines. He also makes a point of highlighting how Smith tailored tracks for collaborators. The documentary profile provides interesting facts about Smith’s life and working relationships. For instance, it describes how Whodini’s Jive/Zomba label was paying him considerably more than Run-D.M.C.’s Profile Records.
Coming in at just under an hour and a half, this installment of Foundation Lesson is truly a college-level lecture on a music creator that deserves strong mention in telling Rap music’s story.