RIP Keith LeBlanc (1954-2024)

9th April 2024 · 2020s, 2024, Hip-Hop, Music, R.I.P.

Sad to hear of the death of one of hip-hop’s unsung pioneers, Keith LeBlanc, creator of this landmark collaboration with black rights leader Malcolm X. 

I can’t pretend I was an early adopter of hip-hop and I can’t remember whether I heard this landmark song when it came out in 1983.

As an avid reader of the music papers I probably noticed it was Single of the Week in all of them (NME, Melody Maker and Sounds, where I first wrote) and checked it out.

It’s one of the first songs to be made up mostly of spoken word samples, in this case cut-up sections of speeches by Malcolm X, and an outlier for politically conscious hip-hop – soon to become a ubiquitous genre with groups like Public Enemy and NWA.

The clips of Malcolm X are drawn mostly from a speech he gave after his home was firebombed, with permission from his widow Betty Shabazz (yep, great name!), and a portion of the profits went to his family.

LeBlanc, a percussionist, produced the record and provides the digital electro beats on devices with names like Oberheim DMX, E-mu Drumulator and Voyetra-8, which I’m guessing translate as “drum machines,” with assistance from Reggie Griffin on guitar and bass.

Keith LeBlanc had started out as a session drummer at Sugar Hill Records, including landmark recordings at the birth of hip-hop by Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel (The Message, White Lines).

Together with fellow Sugar Hill session men Doug Wimbish and Skip McDonald, and producer Adrian Sherwood, LeBlanc was part of the groups Tackhead and Little Axe, working with Sherwood’s On-U Sound outfit – a perfect fit for the mixologist from Bristol and the percussionist from Bristol, Connecticut.

He also recorded with Afrika Bambaata and a host of non-hip-hop bands including R.E.M., Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode as well as Seal, Annie Lennox and Tina Turner.

RIP Keith LeBlanc