Dustin Robbins, a once prolific Denver hip-hop producer and rapper who went by the moniker Playalitical, died on September 15, according to his mother, Debra Duffy.
Robbins was 38.
Duffy says Robbins's cause of death isn't currently known, but he died at a group home in Arvada after telling staff he wasn't feeling well and taking dinner in his room. He had been living at the home recently because of mental health issues and drug use exacerbated by the sudden death of his father in an automobile crash a few years ago. While his father lay in a coma, Robbins had to sign the paperwork to have his life support shut down. The experience caused him a lot of pain.
"He had nightmares about it," Duffy says. "He even asked me if he signed the papers to take his father off of life support, would it be murdering him. That's how much it bothered him. … It traumatized him."
Duffy says that Robbins rang a bell for the Salvation Army during the holidays and made sandwiches that he took to homeless shelters in the Denver area. Her son never totally gave up on music, but had backed away from it recently because he had lost his taste for it in the midst of his struggles.
"Last year was the hardest," Duffy says. "People kept slashing his tires, and they stole his dad's scooter that his father got killed on. People were just ripping him off left and right. He just lost it one day. I think he had a mental breakdown."
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Robbins was born in Colorado and spent some of his formative years in Illinois. He is survived by a son, Rowan; a sister, Jennifer Danford; his mother and numerous other relatives. His funeral arrangements are pending.
Playalitical worked with rappers like Chino XL, Rie Rie and the duo A Lighter Shade of Brown, among others, during his career. He also founded the Illuminated Entertainment Group, released numerous solo records and produced other artists' songs.
Duffy says her son first got into hip-hop music in junior high and was a big fan of Cleveland hip-hop group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony at the time. He was overjoyed by the opportunity to produce Bone Thugs member Bizzy Bone's 2006 solo record, The Midwest Cowboy, in its entirety. Robbins also rapped on two of the album's tracks.
"When Bizzy Bone was performing in Colorado, because Dustin was getting VIP treatment everywhere, Bizzy Bone met him," Duffy says. "He came and stayed with my son at his house, and they produced [The Midwest Cowboy].
Robbins saw success locally and reveled in it for several years, sometimes becoming overwhelmed by the attention, his mother says. He enthusiastically wrote his own lyrics, produced beats, mixed his songs and made his artwork. Duffy says that his solo album, Code Green, sold out several times, and he had multiple pressings produced to keep up with demand. She says his more recent solo effort, Wedding Band, also sold well.
"He showed me the numbers of people who were buying it from out of the country," she says. "They were just flabbergasted at how many people were buying it."
Duffy says New Jersey-born rapper Chino Xl, whom Robbins collaborated with on the album Something Sacred, wanted Robbins to come out to California to work with other hip-hop artists. He had been on the cusp of that move when he had to return to Denver because of a family emergency, and the opportunity fizzled. Jay-Z had also expressed interest in working with Robbins, Duffy says.
"He was so talented," she says. "He would have made it if he hadn't had to leave California."
Colorado Springs hip-hop artist Black Pegasus says that he often interacted with Robbins around 2005, when the two were promoting their respective music in Denver. He recalls being impressed when he learned that Robbins had done an entire collaboration with Chino XL, a national act.
"I was really stunned and astonished by it," Black Pegasus says. "It was a big deal at the time to be doing a whole album with a national artist, and a national artist that I personally looked up to."
Black Pegasus says that Robbins was a double threat, because he could rap and make his own beats to lay his deep registered raspy vocals over.
"I just write rhymes," he says. "I'm always looking for production. But when you can do both, I always have to tip my hat to that."
Denver rapper Shock Trostic says Robbins didn't get the recognition he deserved for his work, particularly his production skills, which were ahead of their time and possessed a certain timeless quality. He was always surprised that Robbins didn't make it to a higher level of professional accomplishment.
"His production is very original," Shock Trostic says. "It kind of had that Southern swag to it, but it had a little bit of West Coast, East Coast, everything going on in it. He was definitely one of the better producers I've heard in the Denver metro area."
Local rapper Spoke In Wordz knew Robbins for years. They sold hip-hop CDs on the streets of the Front Range together and collaborated on music. He appears on Robbins's collaboration with Bizzy Bone, and the two were roommates for about five years. Robbins released Spoke In Wordz's album Wordplay in 2007 on the Illuminated Entertainment Group label.
Spoke In Wordz describes Robbins as someone who strove for perfection, particularly in his production work, and would often stay up late to work on his music.
"He's ahead of his time," the rapper says. "If we were dropping his music today, it would still sound amazing compared to a lot of stuff."
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He says that Robbins didn't want to be known just as a producer, and wanted to be a double-threat producer and rapper. His friends, enamored of his production skills, urged him to stay behind the boards, but he wouldn't have it.
Spoke In Wordz says that Robbins, whom he considered a brother, made a significant impact on Colorado hip-hop, and the scene will miss him.
"He is the Dr. Dre of Colorado," the rapper says. "He was, at least for me, my Dr. Dre. He was my RZA. He was my DJ. Premier."
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help pay for Robbins's funeral expenses.