James Laurence, a Bay Area producer known as one half of the duo Friendzone, has passed away at the age of 27.
Laurence and his production partner, Dylan Reznick, are credited with pioneering a dreamy, hazy hip-hop sound that came to be called "cloud rap." In recent years the duo produced records for Main Attrakionz, A$AP Rocky, and Yung Lean, among others.
According to Laurence's Facebook page, he grew up in Danville, attending Monte Vista High School; he was living in Concord at the time of his death.
"We're all just in shock," said Squadda B of Main Attrakionz, the Oakland hip-hop duo whose 2015 album 808s & Dark Grapes III was produced by Friendzone. "He was such a loving person, a kind person. Free-spirited, always laughing. If you were down you could hit up James and he would bring you right back up. He cared about the people around him. And more than anything he was dedicated to music."
The artists first met, said the rapper, after Laurence and Reznick reached out over Twitter to say they were Main Attrakionz fans; the chemistry, upon meeting to discuss working together, was instant.
"They loved music like we love music. We would just sit and watch YouTube videos, stuff we admired, or just to talk sh-t ... he was a superfan, and he cared about the past of music, the future of music. It was never about the money. He was an artist."
Matt Saincome, a Bay Area music journalist who knew Laurence since the two were teenagers, described the producer as "kind, caring, and immensely creative."
"It was amazing to see him grow as an artist, from someone who used his noise project and oversized PA system to bulldoze suburban garages to a well-known and respected beatmaker, bouncing around on stage with Main Attrakionz and dreaming up the audio backdrop for A$AP Rocky songs," Saincome wrote in an email. "I had spoken with him recently about our mutual admiration for each other's creative projects, and how this year we were going to put everything we had into them."
Other friends, including several big names in the music industry, expressed condolences and shared memories of Laurence on Twitter, beginning late in the evening on Sunday, Jan. 29.
The cause of Laurence's death is unknown, though some have noted he tweeted about coming down with a stomach bug on Jan. 27. We'll update this post when we know more.