Robert “Rocky” Ford Jr. has died. The hip-hop journalist and producer, who served as a mentor to a young Russell Simmons at the beginning of the music mogul’s career, passed away on May 19, according to an Instagram post from Simmons and The New York Times. “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,” Simmons wrote of Ford. He was 70 years old.
Ford got his start in the music industry as a writer for Billboard in the late 1970s, giving the nascent genre its first look in a major music trade magazine with the publishing of “B-Beats Bombarding Bronx” in 1978. He pivoted from writing concert reviews and scene pieces to songwriting after meeting Russell Simmons. Alongside J.B. Moore, another Billboard colleague, he wrote a song called “Christmas Rappin’,” enlisting Kurtis Blow to be the performer. It was a surprise hit, leading to Blow’s record deal with Mercury and his historic single “The Breaks,” also co-written by Ford. “The Breaks” would go on to become the first rap record to ever be certified gold by the RIAA.
Ford and Moore would continue to work together throughout the ’80s, continuing to produce for Blow as well as groups like Full Force and the movie tie-in song “City of Crime,” rapped by Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd in the movie Dragnet.