Sunday evening, word spread on social media about the untimely passing of innovative producer James Laurence, best known as 1/2 of Oakland duo Friendzone. He was only 27. The saddening news arrived with an outpouring of memories from Laurence's friends and fellow artists. Familiar names like Clams Casino, Key Nyata, How to Dress Well, Kitty, suicideyear, Nedarb Nagrom, Chippy Nonstop, and more all paid their respects. The production duo Friendzone, made up of Laurence and Dylan Reznick, left behind an eclectic and prolific legacy of sound. From 2010 onward, their style and signature sound is one that stands strong at the forefront of the cloud rap, Bay Area hip-hop movement.
In mid 2010, Friendzone started a simple Tumblr, one that led to an instrumental split single in February of that year, and one that evolved into a daily updated page full of free Mediafire and Hulkshare links. Following their debut tracks, Friendzone crafted plenty of solo content over the years. From guest mixes to their instrumental compilation Collection 1, their debut album DX, and their EP While You Wait. On top of that, their production credits can be found alongside vocalists like Deniro Farrar, Shady Blaze, Nature Boys, Pepperboy, and so many others. The archives are still intact and their legacy lives on beyond the passing of a founding member.
In honor of James Laurence and all that he did for the hip-hop/electronic world, I have gathered up five personally important Friendzone tracks that I believe helped shift and mold a culture, a genre, a movement. From a Sigur Ros sample to a major label music video to plenty of touching instrumentals, here are some of my favorite James L. assisted releases. R.I.P.
Main Attrakionz - Chuch / Perfect Skies
The two songs that really put Friendzone on the map were initially released as a split single with Main Attrakionz on their Tumblr. In the summer of 2011, these two songs, crafted alongside the self-proclaimed Greatest Duo Ever, projects all four artists into a new level of internet interest. The sounds contained within were unfamiliar in the hip-hop realm at the time. Blending atmospheric, ambient sounds over hazy, based vocals made for an experience that MondreMAN properly coined “cloud up!” These two tracks would become staples on Main Attrakionz's standout release, 808s and Dark Grapes II, which dropped that same summer. A year later and Friendzone featured these two tracks as instrumentals on their debut project, Collection 1. The four artists/friends (Friendzone and Main Attrakionz) continued working together, year after year, sculpting and evolving their sounds, until eventually releasing the proper album, 808s and Dark Grapes III, which Friendzone fully produced. It all started with these two songs.
Friendzone – Moments Pt. 1 / Moments Pt. 2
From 2011 to 2013, Friendzone released three compilation albums known as Kuchibiru Network. Acting as curators and facilitators, Friendzone molded a series of free mixtapes that included tracks from friends such as Ryan Hemsworth, L.W.H, Shady Blaze, Julian Wass, Skywlkr, Keyboard Kid, and more. While these projects feature some truly incredible songs from outside acts (like GuMMyBeAR's “Sakura”), the track “Moments Pt. 2” is a particularly exceptional Friendzone release. The synth-driven number opens Kuchibiru Network 3 and enters the listener into the world of Friendzone, an enchanting realm with heartfelt sincerity. “Moments Pt. 2” is the sequel to “Moments Pt. 1”, which was released as a loose piano number back in 2011. Playing the two tracks back to back might make you feel like you're inside a video game full of teardrops.
A$AP Rocky – Fashion Killa
Rocky's platinum selling 2013 album Long.Live.A$AP featured Friendzone on production for the LP's fourth single. It would be the production duo's biggest placement. The track, “Fashion Killa”, had Rocky singing an uplifting number. It's a particular stand-out track on the album because when the rest of Rocky's content remains bar-heavy, here, on “Fashion Killa”, he's relaxed and harmonious. Delivering a long lasting effect on the vocalists that they directly worked with, Friendzone managed to take artists out of their standard sound and experiment more. Vibe more. Smile more. The song later saw a music video with a Rihanna feature that has since gathered almost 40 million views.
Antwon – Automatic
Yet another important Bay Area release in 2013 was Antwon's single “Automatic”. With the necessary Friendzone shout-out at the beginning of the track, the song features a familiar sample by Icelandic band Sigur Ros. Cloud rap sampling “Samskeyti" for a truly emotional experience. Antwon did his thing over this piano-driven production, acting as the second time that the two paired together, the first of which was on the 2012 track “Mansions” by Nature Boys, a trio made up of Antwon, Himself the Majestic, and DcxDCxDC.
Yung Lean – Solarflare
Handling production on the last track of Yung Lean's breakout mixtape, Unknown Death 2002, Friendzone acted as mediators between the early days of cloud rap and its predecessors. Upon entering the scene, Yung Lean took considerable influence from Main Attrakionz (in particular, Squadda B), and crafted his own wave of inspiration, one that would eventually land him on a Frank Ocean track. But here, back in 2013, with Friendzone on the boards, Yung Lean was still doing his best to escape Sweden and let his voice be heard elsewhere. Plenty of sold out tours and a few project later, and Lean is a much larger name, but it all began years ago, with a twelve song project that ends on a Friendzone note.