Legendary Hip-Hop Producer 45 King Has Passed Away
As Hip-Hop celebrates its 50th anniversary, of the most music’s legendary producers has reportedly died. 45 King, aka Mark James, is known for founding the original Flavor Unit—a launchpad for the careers of Queen Latifah, Lakim Shabazz, Apache, Chill Rob G, and Latee. The Bronx native (who relocated to New Jersey during his professional career) also went by Mark The 45 King. He famously produced singles for Gang Starr, Diamond D, X-Clan, and more. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, 45 King earned co-production credits on hit records for JAY-Z (“Hard Knock Life”) and Eminem (“Stan”). The latter song was part of the “Album Of The Year”-nominated Marshall Mathers LP.
James had just turned 62 years old earlier this week, on October 16, 2023. No cause of death has been provided. 45 King took is name from collecting, spinning, and sampling 7″ 45 RPM records. He was known for beats that used drums and horns, in particular.
DJ Premier, Bumpy Knuckles, and DJ Green Lantern are among those who publicly mourned 45 King. Over the last decade, the DJ/producer had survived a heart attack. He had publicly stated that he quit smoking cigarettes and documented a significant weight loss. In recent years, he worked with the Redefinition Records, and produced songs for Blu and others, while actively DJ’ing.
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In addition to production, 45 King is among pioneers in making break-beat compilations. Since the 1980s, Mark James made beats and pressed them on vinyl through his own imprint, as well as labels such as Tuff City and Bronx Science. He would also created remix compilations, including a famed mix of Take 6’s “Spread Love.” One of his break beats, “The 900 Number,” became a Hip-Hop classic and the theme to Ed Lover’s dance on Yo! MTV Raps, with a sample chop later used by DJ Kool on the late ’90s club hit “Let Me Clear My Throat.”
In 2007, 45 King spoke to Unkut. In an interview by Robbie Ettelson, the New Jersey legend recalled originally producing a mix of “Microphone Fiend” for Fab 5 Freddie, before it landed with Eric B. & Rakim. He also claimed that The Flavor Unit originally launched with several MCs before Queen Latifah—who later adopted the name in her own media ventures. “First it’s Latee, and then Lakim Shabazz, and then Chill Rob G, then Double J, Latifah…I think that’s basically it – and Apache.” 45 King partnered with Tuff City to release The Original Flavor Unit demo compilation. As a producer, 45 King was instrumental on early Flavor Unit members’ albums, including Latifah’s All Hail The Queen, Chill Rob G’s Ride The Rhythm, and Lakim Shabazz’s Pure Righteousness. He frequently worked with labels including Tuff City, Tommy Boy, and Wild Pitch. At the last, 45 King would produce early material for Gang Starr, ahead of DJ Premier’s joining the group.
45 King’s New Jersey basement studio was famed for its turnstile entrance, phone booth recording area, and more. Throughout four decades of Hip-Hop, between the 1980s and 2010s, many legends passed through the turnstile to record with Mark.
Ambrosia For Heads extends condolences to 45 King, his family, friends, and fans. We were proud to know and cover him in life.