Patrick Adams, the disco engineer and super producer who helmed countless hits, has died, his daughter Joi Sanchez wrote on Facebook and frequent collaborators Denise Wilkinson (of Ladies of SKYY) and Austin Wilkinson confirmed to Pitchfork. “He who dubbed me joy at birth, taught me how to live in love, made himself unforgettable in every way to me and to so many others in the world. Patrick Adams has moved on but some of us, like me, will forever be stuck [happily] in what he created for us and by us,” wrote Sanchez. No cause of death was given. Patrick Adams was 72.
Born in 1950, Adams played in a Harlem band called the Sparks and began orbiting the production world as a teenager. He rehearsed bands, observed engineering sessions, and eventually began to write, arrange, and produce for Perception Records, where, by the mid-1970s, he was executive vice president. A soul aficionado who became known as the “prince of R&B,” Adams was a master arranger for acts such as Sister Sledge and Candi Staton. But, when disco took off later in the ’70s, he truly flourished as a studio mastermind, synthesizer virtuoso, and an inspiration to bands like Chic, whose Nile Rodgers called him “one of [his] greatest influences.”
Adams’ reputation as an engineer and producer extraordinaire crested in his partnership with Leroy Burgess, which supplied hits for legendary New York DJs like Larry Levan. After signing up to manage Burgess’ early band Black Ivory, Adams collaborated with Burgess for a string of ingenious inventions including the iconic Phreek project—whose only song, “Weekend,” was a Levan staple—and studio outfit Inner Life, whose hits included “I’m Caught Up (In a One Night Love Affair).”
While Adams’ prolific work for labels like Salsoul and Prelude helped establish a trademark disco sound, he also pushed beyond the genre. His electronic Cloud One project operated outside the fringes of disco, and, in the ’80s, he helped shepherd the genre’s evolution into and hip-hop. Adams took part-time work at Power Play Studio in Queens, where he went on to engineer Salt-N-Pepa and the first three Eric B. & Rakim albums in the late ’80s. Songs from throughout his career were later sampled by hip-hop greats including J Dilla, Kanye West, Nas, and Wu-Tang Clan.
Adams’ enormous musical footprint was largely unheralded until, in 2017, Red Bull Music Academy staged a celebration of his work in New York. In an interview at the time, he was pragmatic about the lack of recognition for his contributions to music. “You can tell a Nile Rodgers record a million miles away because it has an imprint that emanates from his guitar,” he told Red Bull Music Academy. “In my case I tried to avoid that. I didn’t want my records to sound the same. Whether that was a positive thing or a negative thing, I don’t know. But at the same time there is a signature in my music—sometimes it’s harmonic, and sometimes it’s just in the quirkiness of things. And sometimes you just don’t hear it until somebody points it out to you and asks, ‘Oh, he did that record too?’”
Several artists have taken to social media to pay tribute to the late Adams, including DâM-FunK, the Blessed Madonna, and Morgan Geist, among others. “RIP Patrick Adams. One of my favorite composers, producers, musicians, and people,” tweeted Nile Rodgers. “The world of music owes you so much.”