“You see the body is vessel for the art to express / The problem is the music smokes too many cigarettes / So as the author sparks this, both hands callused / Awaiting darkness, I literally get this off my chest … Content when I leave my essence through vinyl black etchings.” – Paten Locke, The Smile Rays, “Dead Rockers”
Back when I interviewed Paten Locke back in 2017, one of the things that struck me the most was how important friendship was to him. And how many people he described as his best friends. It struck me so much that I opened the article with it.
The music industry is often a cold and cynical place. The 60-plus years of the industry as we know it is littered with tales of friendships destroyed by business. Groups become “marriages of convenience,” in which former pals come together to record and tour, solely in the service of making money. And here was Paten Locke, a brilliant producer/rapper/DJ, collaborating and doing business with people he considered his “best friends.”
Locke called many people his best friends in that interview, from his business partner Dillon Maurer, to group members and peers like Willie Evans, Jr., Basic, Ja-One-Da, Edan, Batsauce, Lady Daisey, Supa Dave West, Akrobatik, and Mr. Lif. And I could tell that he meant it each time that he said it.
Locke was born in Boston before moving to Chicago. He eventually relocated to Jacksonville where his music took off. In the mid-’00s, he joined Asamov a.k.a. The ABs (The Alias Brothers) with the aforementioned Willie Evans, Jr., Ja-One-Da, and Basic, and was instrumental in developing that city’s nascent hip-hop scene. The crew released their sole album And Now in 2005, earning them considerable global critical acclaim.
He later joined the husband-and-wife team of Lady Daisey and Batsauce to form The Smile Rays, recording about 25 tracks. A little under half of them were compiled to create Smilin’ On You (2007), one of fifty albums that became a part of the Rawkus 50 project. The rest were transformed into Party… Place and released in Japan via Subcontact. As the ’00s drew to a close, he dropped his first solo album, Super Ramen Spaceship (2009), and his first collaborative album with Maurer, Studies in Hunger (2009).
Locke teamed with Maurer to create Full Plate records, using it to showcase the talents of many of his best friends. The label released instrumental albums by Locke, Batsauce, Willie Evans, and others, as well as numerous projects by Maurer, including Food Chain, one of the best albums of 2016. He also dropped a “hip-hop soul” project with Jay Myztroh under the name Stono Echo, and was in the midst of recording another long-gestating project with Willie Evans, Jr., under the group name Dumbtron. He worked extensively with Dres of Black Sheep for his solo efforts. He toured the world as the on-stage partner of Edan. Last year he remixed nearly the entirety of the Resolution album by The Perceptionists (Akrobatik and Mr. Lif), giving it a dusty makeover as Low Resolution.
Artists as talented or as passionate as Locke don’t come around too often. Though his great love was producing, he had massive skills on the mic, and was a very accomplished DJ. He was also an avid collector of many things, notably records, but also comic books. His friends and collaborators marveled at his limitless sense of humor as well as his bluntness. But both came from places of love.
Last week, Locke succumbed to cancer, which had spread throughout his body. He’s survived by his fiancé Shannon, his daughter Asha, and his many friends. It was these family and friends that he was surrounded by when he passed.
A few weeks ago, when he publicly announced his battle with cancer, he wrote these eloquent words, “…My overall emotion is love. And maybe a lil regret at not being able to complete all the acts of love I still wished to give. But it doesn’t compare to the feeling of true joy at all the love my life has been filled with. … Be kind to every soul you meet my human friends. Love is our best tool in life.”
EXPLORE Paten Locke’s discography here