Don Newkirk Of De La Soul & 3rd Bass Fame Has Passed Away
Don Newkirk’s music and voice touched vital Hip-Hop records by Stetsasonic, 3rd Bass, De La Soul, and solo releases of his longtime friend and close collaborator Prince Paul. He and Paul co-founded groups, including BROOKZILL! and Baby Elephant. The Bronx-born, Long Island, New York-raised artist has passed away. Paul was among those who confirmed the news. Questlove, Chuck D, Dante Ross, R.A. The Rugged Man, Open Mike Eagle, and BROOKZILL! band-mate Rodrigo Brandão are among those who have publicly mourned the man. No additional details of Don Newkirk’s death have been made public.
These posts have remembered a man who added impact to Stet’s “All That Jazz” and 3rd Bass’ “The Gas Face” by way of his bass, trumpet, and stunning keyboard work. Don released solo music through Def Jam Records and Columbia Records as an R&B solo artist who released Funk City in 1989. That same year, he contributed to De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising and a decade later, Paul’s audio movie A Prince Among Thieves. In 2016, Newkirk, Paul, Digable Planets’ Ladybug Mecca, and MC Rodrigo Brandão united to release BROOKZILL!’s Throwback To The Future. The Tommy Boy LP was a concept album blending the musical styles of Brazil with Hip-Hop. Some of the album was made at Don’s Georgia home.
In the spring of 2020, weeks after Ambrosia For Heads launched its What’s The Headline podcast, Don Newkirk and Prince Paul were among the first guests on the show. The two men discussed their latest collaboration, By Every Means Necessary, Volume 1—released as The Lord Brothers. The album is the score to Netflix’s miniseries Who Killed Malcolm X?
In that interview, Newkirk spoke about involving his older brother on the soundtrack and its significance to him and Paul. The appearance from Don’s sibling Saleem called back to The Soul Brothers, a quartet that Don, Paul, Saleem, and a friend named Mike T had formed during the 1980s. The conversation also featured Don speaking about the gravity of scoring, and making music to align with characters on screen. He had scored Pootie Tang and a documentary film (including work with Missy Elliott), Pressure Cooker before the Malcolm X piece.
In that interview, the men spoke about their 40-year bond. “In 9th grade I’m looking at this dude in class and he had a shirt on that said ‘DJ Paul’ and I’m fresh out the Bronx [now living] in Amityville, and I went to who I could identify with most, which was the thuggiest cat in the class, and I’m like, ‘Yo, who’s that dude, man? Who’s this guy DJ Paul?’ He said, ‘Oh man; he’s the illest DJ in Amityville, man.’ I’m like, ‘Word!? With a name like DJ Paul?’ I couldn’t get it, ’cause I’m ‘Kid Wonder;’ I’m comin’ from the Bronx [the land of] Grandmaster Flash, all these flowery, big names. He was like, ‘Yo. Trust me, son, that dude right there is ill!’ So the initial relationship started over music. I went and introduced myself to understand who this dude was.” Paul joked that during their 1980s intro, Don leaned into his BX background as a badge of honor. “Here, I’m the cornball, and he’s the cool, hard dude from the Bronx, and we meet together at least,” Paul recalled with a laugh.
The two men hung out at Don’s house. According to Newkirk, it was with the intent of a DJ battle. However, as the men compared tricks, they bonded in a round-robin of two DJs behind the decks. The budding friendship would let Newkirk to play on Stetsasonic’s In Full Gear, on single “Talkin’ All That Jazz.” With a year or two later, Newkirk appeared on 3rd Bass’ hit “Gas Face” and in the video. The Paul and Don chemistry would expand to other projects in the years that followed, including Funk City, Baby Elephant (with late Parliament/Talking Heads keyboardist Bernie Worrell), and BROOKZILL! “Every opportunity, I called Newkirk at the end of the album. He’s the guy [who could help with the music] and the skits,” Paul said in 2020’s chat, regarding his partner’s contributions.
Ambrosia For Heads extends condolences to Prince Paul, and the family, friends, and fans of Don Newkirk.
#BonusBeat: Don Newkirk’s “Sweat You” music video: