Derrick “D*Loc” Walker: Robin Thicke’s Sidekick

Derrick "D*Loc" Walker: Robin Thicke's Sidekick

"My whole thing is being different," Derrick "D*Loc" Walker says from his Chicago hotel room. "I don't like getting stuck in the same groove, the same rhythm, the same genre day after day. Playing music takes you on a long, incredible journey and there are many creative ways to approach every situation. That's why I decided to put aside the drum kit for a while and get deeper into percussion."

D*Loc (pronounced DEE Loke) is currently the percussionist in Robin Thicke's touring band. They're riding high on the success of the "Blurred Lines" single. The track has been #1 on the pop, R&B, and hip-hop charts; the video for the song on YouTube has close to 300 million views and counting.

D*Loc was introduced to Thicke by Larry Cox, the keyboard player, rapper and producer who also serves as Thicke's musical director. He told D*Loc that Thicke wanted to add more percussion to the shows he was doing to promote "Blurred Lines." "I was working on putting my own production company together," D*Loc recalls, "but I'd been a fan of Robin's music for a long time. I dropped everything and joined his band." He didn't have time to rehearse before the first "Blurred Lines" date, but Thicke liked D*Loc's approach so much he asked him if he'd like to become a full-time employee. "Robin loves being around the crew and hangs out with us after shows and in the studio," D*Loc says. "He's in tune with every aspect of the show — music, wardrobe, lighting, everything. He gives his organization a real family vibe."

Although it's his energetic approach to the drum kit that has made D*Loc a force in the drumming world, he's been playing percussion almost as long as he's been a drummer. When he was growing up in the Long Beach area of Los Angeles, D*Loc switched easily between percussion and the drum kit. He attended Mt. Olive, a family oriented church, with his mother. The preacher's sons filled almost every musical role in the church, playing drums, keyboard, bass, and guitar. "When they decided to add percussion, they asked me to join the beatboxing [imitating the sounds of drum beats and record scratching with his mouth], I took a liking to it," D*Loc recalls. "I started beatboxing behind Snoop at school." Snoop's reputation as a formidable rapper spread fast on the high school grapevine. Rappers from Compton and Lynwood would show up in Long Beach and challenge Snoop to a verbal battle of wits. "Those other guys would be rapping so fast, spitting out paragraphs. He'd just sit there with that famous smile and say one line that destroyed everybody." Snoop said he was going to make it big and take D*Loc with him, and he was as good as his word. A substantial part of D*Loc's career has been spent touring and recording with Snoop and his spin-off projects like Tha Dogg Pound.

During the same time he was backing up Snoop Dogg at amateur rap contests, D*Loc turned pro. His brother-in-law, Harry Phillips, was a bass player, writer, and producer for jazz and R&B singer Miki Howard. He got D*Loc a job as Howard's drummer. "I was a teenager on my first major gig; it was the only job I ever got fired from," D*Loc says, laughing. "I went from church to being around all these adults playing arenas. I'd be energetic on the first couple of numbers then, by the time we hit the middle of the show, and she'd drop down into the slower blues tunes, I was already tired. I was a teenager and didn't know how to pace myself. She was nice when she let me go, but I was happy to have had a real gig."

D*Loc was still playing in churches on Sundays. He eventually met bass player Andrew Gouche (Andraé Crouch, James Cleveland, Prince) and began a long, fruitful collaboration with him. Gouche got him gigs recording and touring with Crouch and introduced him to other gospel music stars. Together they formed a formidable rhythm section. "We were busy," D*Loc recalls. "At one point, we were rehearsing and recording three albums at once — The L.A. Mass Choir, The Gospel Messengers, and Daryl Coley's In My Dreams record. We were doing so many tours and albums at once, we'd get confused. My first passport got filled in about a year, touring with Andraé Crouch and Tramaine Hawkins."

When Snoop Dogg's career took off, he remembered his old high school friend and introduced him to the crew at Death Row Records. D*Loc spent the early '90s touring with Snoop and playing on albums by Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, Tha Dogg Pound, and many others. He also started writing and producing tracks like Derrick "D*Loc" Walker Snoop Dogg's "Who Got Some...?" and The Dogg Pound's "Sooo Much Style," and became a noted session musician. He appeared on rap, gospel, jazz, and mainstream R&B albums by artists like Jody Watley, Eric Benet, Nancy Wilson, R. Kelly, En Vogue, and Maroon 5, but it was production work that intrigued him. "I met Keith Crouch, Andraé's nephew, while I was working with Andraé. He played drums and wrote songs for Brandy's first record and helped me develop my production style. Kimber Jones, who wrote for Vanessa Williams, taught me how to orchestrate songs and write things that fit the artists I want to pitch to."

During a break from his touring with Snoop, D*Loc and the band's guitar player, Dave Foreman, put together a band called The Bottom Dwellerz. The other principals were Dante "Young Luck" Orpilla, a politically minded rapper and producer, and metal guitarist Bruce Bouillet from Racer X and The Scream. The quartet wrote, played, produced, and mixed an album called Cracks Of The Concrete, a blend of hip-hop and hard rock, but unlike a lot of rap'n'roll hybrids, the drums were played live. The project was so successful that it gave birth to D*Loc's own production company, ThFunkyDrmr Music. When he's not touring with Robin Thicke, he's working with Orpilla and Foreman producing the artists they're collaborating with. They have several releases planned for the coming year — a new singer named Rrick-Dé, a concept album called The Dissertation Of Darius McCrary, by Darius McCrary, best known for his role as Eddie Winslow on Family Matters, and a mixtape project by JD And The Affiliates featuring guitarist Jarius Mozee (Prince, Anthony Hamilton, Lil Wayne). "The Affiliates is the project I'm most excited about," D*Loc says. "We're writing hip-hop, classical, alternative funk, instrumentals, spoken word, everything. That's that different thing again. We don't want to get stuck in one genre. We'll sell it on the website we're launching and we'll be giving away some incredible music."

Unlike many producers, D*Loc wants to concentrate on albums, not individual tracks or hit songs. He wants to use the experience he's gained playing percussion and drumming to help the artists he works with project a unique musical identity. "I'm also working on a solo album that's going to be just as diverse as the mixtape. I don't want to box myself in. I want to keep surprising people, and myself, by moving in different directions."