Robert ‘Rocky’ Ford Jr., the former Billboard journalist and rapper Kurtis Blow collaborator, has died at 70, according to his son, Robert Ford, and Def Jam Recordings founder Russell Simmons. Ford’s cause of death has not been made public. Simmons said in his Instagram post that Ford had suffered from diabetes during his life.
Ford Wrote the First Major Article About Hip-Hop for Billboard Magazine in July 1978
Ford began working with Billboard magazine in the 1970s and is credited with writing the first major article about hip-hop culture. Ford wrote the piece, “B-Beats Bombarding The Bronx: Mobile DJ Starts Something With Oldie R&B Disks” in July 1978. The article followed the adventures of Cool Herc and the parties he hosted. The article concluded with the lines:
Herc hopes that someday he will be able to prodcue an entire B-beat album featuring, “Bongo Rock,” and other obscure numbers. Till then he plans to keep packing them in at the clubs and dances he works in The Bronx.
Ford left Billboard magazine in 1979 to work with Blow on the early hip-hop breakthrough hit “Christmas Rappin’.” Ford worked on the song with another former Billboard magazine employee, J.B. Moore. As a result of the success of the song, Ford helped Blow secure a deal with Mercury Records. This made Blow the first rapper to have a major recording contract.
Ford then worked with Blow again, this time alongside Simmons, J.B. Moore and Larry Smith on the hit song “The Breaks.”
Ford ‘Knew Everything’ About Basketball
In the December 2013 oral history of Blow’s music video, “Basketball,” titled, “They’re Playing Basketball,” Moore said he and Ford covered the R&B charts for Billboard. Smith was quoted in the piece as saying, “I believe Robert wrote the first ever article about hip-hop for an aboveground publication. We both knew it was going to be big, we could smell it.”
Moore was later quoted as saying that Ford “knew everything” about basketball. Moore recounted a time being at a VFW hall in Indiana where locals were shocked that Ford knew more about Indiana teams then they did. Moore added, “Ford knew oceans about hoops.”
Moore said that Blow and Ford “split” before the video was finished. Moore said that without Ford’s connections in the NBA, the producers were unable to secure official footage for the music video. Moore said had the video had that footage it “would have made for an all-time classic video.”
Simmons Referred to Ford as His ‘Guru’
View this post on Instagram
My mentor Robert ford (far right) passed yesterday. When I met him he worked at billboard magazine. He lived in queens and one day in spring of 1978 he was given a Rush Production flyer for DJ Hollywood and Kurtis Blow show by a 13 year old Joseph Simmons. He contacted me and wrote the first music trade story on rappers and how they was a hood phenomenon. He even put me in the story as The promoter (that was the first time I ever saw my name anywhere in the media). He believed in hip hop and me. Within a short time he was my guru. I was thrilled to sit by his feet and do whatever he recommended. He gave me a book (This Business of Music) and he enabled me to give a party for Kool and the Gang and their manager Bumby, who inspired me. I knew right then i wanted to be a manager. Next thing Robert and JB Moore (another billboard exec) produced my main artist and great friend @kurtisblow Christmas Rapping. I began “managing” Kurtis blow He told me that i should be careful and honest (not charge too much 10% ) and learn everything in site he said by being honest i would have my relationships forever He was right. In a world where ripping off artists or overreaching on deals was commonplace he stressed the importance of making your partner or artist successful and having deals that when they look back they know you were fair. Around that time 12 inch records were the thing ..disco was hot ..Christmas rapping became the 2nd biggest 12 inch in the history of major labels , only the second 12 inch to be certified gold Behind Donna summer and Barbara Streisand’s “no more tears” Robert taught me to brand.. he put Kurtis’s blows image on the sleeve of the record “the breaks “ and he named him “ the king of rap “ He then taught me to produce and he built a label “street level records” where he put out the records i produced Action by Orange Krush the vocals by the great Allyson williams And Bubble Bunch by the late jimmy spicer .:these experiences shaped me and i will always cherish them Farewell my lifelong friend and mentor Robert Ford junior See u again when we are young and vibrant again Love Always
In his Instagram tribute, Simmons referred to Ford as his “guru.” Simmons said that Ford encouraged him to be honest throughout his career and to only take 10 percent from his artists. Shortly after working on “The Breaks,” Simmons became Kurtis Blow’s manager.
Simmons said in part:
When I met him, he worked at Billboard Magazine. He lived in Queens and one day, he found my promo flyer for a Hip Hop party and contacted me to write the first story on rap and how it was a hood phenomenon. He put me in the story as ‘the promoter.’ That was first time I ever saw my name anywhere in the media. He believed in Hip Hop and me.
Simmons finished his tribute saying, “Farewell my lifelong friend and mentor Robert Ford junior. See u again when we are young and vibrant again.”
According to the book The Men Behind Def Jam: The Radical Rise of Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin by Alex Ogg, Ford first encountered Simmons through Simmons’ brother Joseph. Ford had seen Simmons’ posters and stickers on the subways in New York City. Ford saw Joseph Simmons putting up one of these posters and made the connection.
The book says that it was Ford who convinced Blow to allow Simmons to be his manager. Blow’s inclination was for Ford to be his manager as it was Ford who already had the connections within the music industry.