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R.I.P. Keith LeBlanc: Pioneering Industrial Hip-Hop Drummer and Nine Inch Nails Producer Dead at 70

LeBlanc got his start drumming for Grandmaster Flash and the Sugarhill Gang and later formed the proto-industrial group Tackbox.

keith leblanc
Source: On-U Sound

Keith LeBlanc also drummed and produced for artists like Annie Lennox, Tina Turner, and the Cure.

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Keith LeBlanc, the influential hip-hop/industrial/dub drummer, producer, and solo artist known for his work with Grandmaster Flash, Nine Inch Nails, Tackhead, and more, has died. No cause of death has been announced. He was 70.

LeBlanc's record label, On-U Sound, confirmed the news. "All of us at On-U Sound are heartbroken to share the news that the great Keith LeBlanc has passed away," they wrote. "An incredible drummer, producer, and musical maverick, he will be hugely missed. Rest in power Keith."

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LeBlanc got his start as a session drummer in the early 1980s, joining the Sugar Hill Records house band and performing with artists including the Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash, and Melle Mel on early hip-hop classics like "The Message."

He also worked with Tommy Boy Records, through which he released "No Sell Out," a track based around Malcolm X speeches that became one of the earliest sample-based compositions in popular music.

LeBlanc formed the proto-industrial hip-hop group Tackbox with fellow Sugar Hill musicians Doug Wimbish and Skip "Little Axe" McDonald and pioneering dub producer/On-U Sound founder Adrian Sherwood, and they went on to play music together in various projects for decades.

The Tackbox braintrust also released dancier material under the name Fats Comet and, as the Maffia, served as the backing band for the Pop Group's Mark Stewart.

"Keith was a major, major talent ... incredible drummer, producer and musician ... Along with Doug, Skip and also dearly missed Mark Stewart we enjoyed some of the most creative times together that shaped my musical life. Thank you Brother Keith," Sherwood said in a statement. "Love Forever. Heart and Soul."

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As a producer, LeBlanc worked on Nine Inch Nails' 1989 debut album Pretty Hate Machine, co-producing tracks like "Head Like a Hole" and "Down in It," and contributed to releases from Living Colour, Peter Gabriel, the Cure, and Ministry.

He also continued to work as a session drummer/programmer for artists including James Brown, Trevor Horn, Seal, R.E.M., the Rolling Stones, the Stone Roses, Robert Palmer, Annie Lennox, Tina Turner, Bryan Ferry, Depeche Mode, and Sinead O’Connor.

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"Annie Lennox, she was really cool, too. She's a real singer," LeBlanc said in a 2023 interview with Burning Ambulance. "A lot of singers have to punch in things and get Auto-Tuned in, but she would go in the studio, just nail it right there, with the musicians. So there was a lot of collaboration there. She left room for that, she was really open and nice, really honest, you know? When it comes right down to it, for something to be really good, it's got to be really honest. It can't be fake good. It's got to be actual good. And Annie left room for that."

"Tina Turner I never even got to meet," he continued. "I just did the drum tracks, because I don't think she was too well at the time. ... I didn't get a chance to meet her, which I would have liked to, but I got a chance to meet a lot of my heroes, and they never disappointed me, you know, usually."


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