Adam Goldstein, better known as DJ AM, was found dead in his home on Friday afternoon. The news first circulated through TMZ and Perez Hilton and–to the dread of his friends, his peers, and thousands of fans–the NYPD confirmed the rumor later that evening, announcing the DJ’s death and its probable cause: a drug overdose.
The story behind DJ AM is one that’s been unabashedly pumped through the media–tabloid sensationalism, the trials of a troubled youth, star-studded relationships, and Hollywood fame. In the DJ/music community, AM was idol-worthy: a Philly-born hip-hop DJ turned international tastemaker with an unbelievable wealth of musical knowledge and talent. Goldstein introduced new underground artists to the mainstream and was frequently credited for bringing his peers up alongside him (partially, through his DJ-agency, Deckstar Management). Without being defensive, AM was open with the media about his life story–his sit-down with Glamour Magazine in particular, of all places, remains both chilling and inspiring. His decade-long sobriety(/survival) became a tool to help others -he had just finished filming the 8th episode of MTV series Gone Too Far this past week, a reality show on which he served as a mentor to addicted-youth, helping them quit and recover from substance abuse.
Hours after the news of his death, the music community came together in a nationwide remembrance of the legendary musician. Here in NY, Mark Ronson dedicated his East Village Radio show to the DJ while he (along with Stretch Armstrong, Jus Ske, and Mike B) exchanged fond memories of their friend on-air. Thoughts of AM’s passing pervaded every club in the city – Rich Medina shouted him out at Santos on Friday, and DJ Spinna and Spike Lee gave their respects at the Michael Jackson Block Party in BK the next day. In other parts of the country, street photos of the PALMS hotel in Las Vegas (AM was a resident DJ) were posted on Twitter, the “P,L,S” blacked out, a bright orange “AM” left in tribute. A day later in Hartford, CT, Blink-182 called for a moment of silence for their friend and drummer Travis Barker’s collaborator. The band eventually broke into tears on stage. Thoughts and statements ripe with sadness and disbelief flooded twitter and the websites of celebrities over the weekend – all speaking on AM’s kindness and willingness to help others.
We reached out to some in the NY DJ community for their thoughts on Adam’s passing, and compiled some of the remembrances others posted on their blogs and websites. Their memories of AM are below.
A-Trak told the Village Voice:
No matter how famous he got, AM was always the same friendly approachable guy. He always had time for people, not just his peers but up-and-coming DJs and fans just as well. If you had a problem with your Serato software or even your blackberry, AM would sit there and walk you through every technical bit, and probably call you the next day to make sure everything was OK.
He had a rare knack for being able to play whatever he wanted to an audience that should normally be musically narrow minded. I think he realized that and used it to push new sounds that he believed in. That really helped popularize these progressive styles of club music to the masses, and it helped a lot of the artists on my label and other friends of ours to reach a whole new set of ears — and to be able to get booked at places that used to be inaccessible too! If you look at the sound of pop music in 2009, it’s very influenced by a hybrid of electro and rap that used to be pretty marginal. The reality is a lot of pop artists went to AM’s parties and fell in love with these sounds and infused them into their mainstream records. It’s like AM became a new type of tastemaker. Traditionally tastemakers appeal to an elite audience that’s at the cusp of what’s new and it takes a while for it to get to the masses, but AM was a tastemaker for the commercial crowd, he cut the middle man and brought these sounds to the masses directly!
DJ Ayres, The Rub:
I met Adam in LA a little over 3 years ago when I was touring with A-Trak and Cosmo, and we stayed in contact after that, linking up in NY and LA, and occasionally DJing parties together. He was always really down to earth and humble, and never carried himself like a superstar. I always felt like he was a Philly dude first and foremost, in part because of his skills and style but more just because he never seemed “Hollywood” in the pejorative sense of the word. He was extremely generous. You have to understand that the DJing community can feel like crabs in a barrel, and I think Adam did a lot to remedy that and brought people together. He and Mike [B] and Steve [Aoki] put on a ton of young DJs at their Banana Split Sundays, so you would have kids who had never set foot in LA before playing right next to the superstars. And with their agency, they advanced the careers of a bunch of extremely talented and deserving DJs. When you’re gone, people tend to wax poetic about you, glossing over your faults and exaggerating your goodness. That’s impossible in Adam’s case, because he was truly the nicest dude you would ever meet. I miss him terribly. We all do.
Nick Catchdubs, Fool’s Gold:
The first time I ever DJed Banana Split in LA, I played a party break I made with the Justice “We Are Your Friends” accapella slowed down to rap tempo, and Adam flipped out. “Dude this is insane, you have to send it to me!” Then a few days later he emailed me “Great to have you out, dont forget to send that joint!”, and from that moment on he’d always find a way to bring up “Man, that edit always kills it for me. Thanks!” all the way till a week or two ago when we played together at Banana Split once more (his last ever set there), and he asked me – in real seriousness, mind you – if it was ok for him to play it. Ha, of course! It’s not a “crazy story” but a little moment (just like seeing his fanatically curated selection of old concert tees – and sneakers to match! – that I never saw him repeat at a show twice – which will always underscore to me just how rare it is to find someone with such incredible talent and success who’s still completely enthusiastic and humble towards music. A diehard fan and a huge collector nerd just like all of us, who just happened to turn himself into the biggest DJ in the world.
?uestlove, The Roots [via Okay Player]:
[He made me] change my entire approach to djing and my approach to how I listened to music. Yes you’ve heard me use that quip before when describing the late great j dilla as well. But that is using all music to create music. Now I have to use all my knowledge of music to SHARE music. ….
….You have Adam to thank all those times you’ve heard me go from:
A breakbeat sample, the song that used that sample, a jazz song from the 40s, some commercial ish I would never imagine in a bajillion years playing 10 years ago, some crazy underground ish you aint up on, some rock ish that my 80s patrons remember their big sibling listening to back in the day, some funk jam their aunt and uncle played at the bar b que, some real hip hop, some disco song…. I mean I can go on and on and on….. I started treating records like they were 10,000 piece puzzles that I had to assemble the right way in order for you to have a good time….
….That dude was one of my favorite teachers. With the exception of DJ Jazzy Jeff, you will rarely to NEVER catch me in the club unless I have to DJ myself. But EVERY TIME he was in town I came to learn.
This is a sad sad sad painfully sad loss.”
Diplo [via Mad Decent]:
“He was a straight up Djs dj, he picked his tracks to play out and had THE STYLE that defines our whole generation like it or not …and even if you didn’t like his style (which ranged from deep top 40 to deepest old school hip hop to deepest hipster indie rock).. he would come to your party and do what you do better than you (he did it to me coupla times)
Djs have a ceiling, and Am lived on the roof. He sometimes would tell me a bit about his reservations in passing about his lifestyle and I feel like its a loveless place we all live in (DJs). But I dont think we will ever see another person built for it like AM… he was THE Michael Jackson of this shit. So it really worries me a bit that he’s gone , cause he’s the only that I thought understood it all… he was a sweetheart and tried his damnest to be the best at it and still be the best at being himself.”
Stretch Armstrong [via MTV News]:
“I was trying to think of an analogy in music to AM and the only group I could really think of is the Beatles. Everything the Beatles did, they knocked down a door. Every year there was something new, whether it was what they were recording or the technology and techniques they were employing. And it’s kind of like that with AM. He knocked down and opened so many doors that had never even been knocked on by DJs. These doors might be open but there’s no one that can walk in them right now, and who knows if there will be? He was a singular talent in that way.”
Eli Escobar [via OutsideBroadcast]:
A.M. once told me how he felt it was important for working class dj’s to get the same kind of respect (and money) in the industry that dance music producers were getting, and I think it is a certain fact that he achieved this. He kicked down doors and let a whole new generation of dj’s follow him in. Gladly let them in I might add. He was ambitious as they come and made himself a star, but he also did it because he wanted to see other dj’s get what they deserved.
DJ Premier [via his radio show]:
I met him when he was 14 years old at a Cypress Hill, House of Pain, Hooligans show. He was with Alchemist and Scott Caan, James Caan’s son … and we took pictures. The other day, he sent me the pictures, and I’m gonna make a T-shirt of that.
I already heard people are trying to hate like he wasn’t important, like he wasn’t a dope DJ. Let me tell you something: He is the fuckin’ shit. This dude’s a fuckin’ maniac on turntables, for real. You have to experience this dude’s tactics on turntables — he’s sick with it. And if I cosign it, fuck any DJ who disagrees. You either haven’t seen him spin … and this dude’s history, his knowledge of music, was intense.
Matt Colon, Deckstar Management [via BPM]:
A couple of years ago I threw an X Games party at Avalon in Hollywood and booked AM and Travis to perform along with a slew of indie hip hop names like Babu, Rhettmatic and the Visionaries. As I sat with him backstage before his set he started to confess, “Bro I am SO nervous right now I might get sick. None of these people are here to hear any of this mainstream stuff we’re gonna play. They’re going boo us. Why did you book me for this? Look at my hands. They’re shaking”. He held out his hand out for me and it shook like a leaf.
Half an hour later, true to style, he and Travis stepped onto the stage, took to the drums and turntables and proceeded to tear the roof off of the club in front of 1500 awe stricken party goers. It was honestly one of the greatest performances I’d ever seen. Half way though his set Babu and Rhett, legends as they were, stood backstage watching, shaking their heads and debating with each other whether they should even go on afterwards. Who could follow that performance?
But that was the person Adam was. Humble to his core and skilled beyond belief. He never rested on his laurels, never stopped trying to be a better person and spent every waking moment trying to help others do the same.
I never had a brother but today I feel like I’ve lost one.
DJ Roctakon [via Turntable Lab]:
For better and for worse my life has been completely altered by being in the slip stream behind this man let alone in the inner circle, I have learned so much about myself and music and life in the aftermath of his success. Beyond the US Weekly shit and the Nicole Richie shit, and the TV shows and Million Dollar Deals, beyond all that shit, this one guy loved djing so fucking much that he changed the face of music forever, in the same way that Curt did in the 90s. His influence is that profound.
Pase Rock [via Paserock.com]:
What he meant to us as a person, nevermind even being DJ’s. But professionally, he was IT. He was our proof that what we do could be legitimate to the public. He silenced all the critics, dismissals and naysayers with music. A true student and teacher. Of all his accomplishments I know he was most proud of being able to help others. He was really excited about this project he had coming up with MTV helping kids get off drugs. I remember conversations we had about doing a TV show about DJing and he said he turned a lot of things down because he didn’t want it to end up being about him. I’m paraphrasing but he said something like “I don’t want to do anything that doesn’t help people. I want to help other DJ’s and DJing itself. build a bigger platform for us. Or help kids that need it to get sober. Not some vanity project like hey look at me and how cool I am, a Celebrity DJ, f*#k that sh*t!”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 31, 2009