Crate Digging is a recurring feature in which we take a deep dive into a genre and turn up several albums all music fans should know about. In this edition, Jack White’s drummer and soul-hop master Daru Jones shares his picks.
From standout drummer in his local church, to becoming a go-to beat maker in the hip-hop scene, to playing in Jack White’s’ band for the last decade, Daru Jones has seen it all. Jones, who is also Modern Drummer’s March 2023 Cover Star, is not just a groove aficionado — he’s observed four decades of evolution in the drum world, including hip-hop’s rhythmic transformation in the ’90s and the influx of rap-influenced beats in rock and roll today.
This made him a major asset to Jack White when he began his solo project over 10 years ago. Jones has named his unique playing style as “Soul-hop,” a combination of classic Motown drummers like Earl Palmer and James Browns’ drummers Clyde Stubblefield and Jabo Starks, combined with neo-soul pioneers like J Dilla, DJ Premier, and Questlove.
But for Jones, every influence is game when composing his singular drum parts. Over a Zoom call, he names essential records from multiple eras of drum greats. Prolific drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (Frank Zappa, Herbie Hancock) is represented more than once, producers J Dilla and DJ Premier are frequently referenced, and Jones even selects The Police’s Zenyatta Mondatta (with drumming by the great Stewart Copeland) as one of his biggest influences.
Perhaps the largest theme in Jones’ selections is an appreciation for drummers with a laid-back, “drunken” quality that has made its way into Jones’ own compositions. He’s also carved out a lane as a beat maker, producing original compositions and remixes under his independent record label Rusic Records. With an original, effortless style, a new solo album in the works, and numerous projects to his name, Daru Jones is making a lasting impression every time he sits in front of a drum kit.
Read on for Daru Jones’ list of 10 albums every drummer (or drum-fan) should own, and read some highlights of Jones’ recent Modern Drummer cover story here.
Vinnie Colaiuta – Vinnie Colaiuta
It’s one of the only solo albums that Vinnie Colaiuta put out in his career, and it’s a classic. He’s one of my biggest influences on the drums. He’s played with everyone; Frank Zappa, Herbie Hancock, Sting, Chaka Khan… the list goes on. Listening to his solo album had a huge impact on me, and he’s played on so many classics as a drummer.
Essential Track: “Bruce Lee”
Bob James – One
For this record, the essential track is “Nautilus,” which has been sampled by the boom bap greats like RZA from Wu-Tang Clan, DJ Premier, Run DMC… It’s just been assembled by a lot of legendary hip hop producers. I remember hearing it on a hip-hop platform first and didn’t realize that it was an actual jazz song. So it was just cool hearing the sample, and then finally hearing the original version, and then realizing exactly how it was sampled, and which parts I recognized elsewhere. A lot of producers are still sampling “Nautilus” today.
Essential Track: “Nautilus”
The Police – Zenyatta Mondatta
When I was a young teenager, one of my drumming mentors put me on to Stewart Copeland and The Police. Hearing “Voices Inside My Head” was so illuminating, because Stewart Copeland sounds like he’s two drummers on this track. On the recording, he used delays and such, but my mentor and I would try and play all those sections where it sounds like two drummers together, as one drummer. The way Stewart Copeland plays, especially on that track, it had a hip-hop aesthetic… that Clyde Stubblefield, Jabo Starks beat, where the grooves are almost glitchy, like Dilla style — except it’s on a rock and roll track. Hearing that as a young team… it cracked my head.
Essential Track: “Voices Inside My Head”
Frank Zappa – Joe’s Garage
Another album that Vinnie Colaiuta played on. I remember seeing this record in a Modern Drummer magazine that Vinnie Colaiuta was interviewed on. In the Modern Drummer magazines back in the day, the artists would give some listings; they would often list albums that they played on. And I just remember hearing about that Joe’s Garage record just being so over the top. And I remember Dennis Chambers, who’s another legendary drummer, talking about Joe’s Garage, and I remember hearing it for the first time, and it blew my mind. I actually got in a lot of trouble because I was playing in church and trying to play that odd meter and all those fast chops within a church setting… I remember I got a lot of trouble for that [laughs].
Essential Track: “Keep It Greasey”
The Roots – Do You Want More?!!!??!
That was my first time being introduced to The Roots and Questlove, and how he makes live instrumentation that sounds like a machine. Normally, you would hear hip-hop producers sampling and of course, because of the samples, they had to use a computer to keep everything tightened up. But to see a live hip-hop drummer play those loops in that format… that just really grabbed my head and it was inspiring. And it was my dream to be able to play that in a live setting… and my dreams came true. I originally worked as a major hip-hop drummer, along with Questlove and a few others — upper echelon, playing hip-hop in a live band setting.
Essential Track: “Proceed”
Gang Starr – Hard to Earn
This is one of my favorite Gang Starr records. Actually, it is my favorite Gang Starr record. Produced by DJ Premier (and R.I.P. to Guru), the way that DJ Premier produced that record… he was just different. He was going for a lot of break[beats], and not really chopping them up. He just let them have that organic feel, where it sounds like a live drummer playing on those songs. I just liked the rawness of that album. The way DJ Premier sequences drums… there were obviously others that were doing that, but the way he was flipping those drum breaks, nobody was doing it the way he was doing it. I loved the drums on that record and I love the lyrics, great lyrics — I can probably recite every song. That’s probably one of the few records that I can recite the verses, but yeah, I liked the aesthetic and how much they were sampling jazz. Definitely my favorite Gang Starr record.
Essential Track: “Mass Appeal”
D’Angelo – Voodoo
This was the best of all worlds. D’Angelo had an all star cast of producers. J Dilla, I think he was in the mix. DJ Premier produced a track of course, same with Questlove… he just had an all star cast to have that whole drunken and soulful, hip-hop mixed with soul music. That was the pinnacle for me. The mixing on that record was so killing — again, hearing Questlove playing like a machine, like an MPC, you know, it was just killing.
Essential Track: “The Root”
J Dilla – Welcome 2 Detroit
This is one of my favorite Dilla projects. That project came up on a label called BBE, which was huge at the time — they put out Pete Rock’s first instrumental project called PeteStrumentals, so they had a lot of legendary people on the catalog. It just felt like everybody that came out on that label at that time was going to be official. And Dilla’s programming… that’s probably his rawest, and it showcases that drunken, un-quantized drum pattern. The way that he produced his drums, it had the essence of Dilla because he rapped on it. And to me, it’s one of his best musical productions.
Essential Track: “Shake It Down”
James Brown – In the Jungle Groove
There are a few different drummers on this record, but it’s all the classics. “Funky Drummer” is the most sampled break in hip-hop history, played by Clyde Stubblefield. I had a chance to be friends with him before he passed away years later, we actually did a double drum hang/interview in New York. There’s a lot of joints that people sample that Jabo and Clyde Stubblefield play on, and “Funky Drummer” is one of the most essential ones.
Essential Track: “Funky Drummer”
Kev Brown x Daru Jones – A Daru State Of Mind (Ft. Eddie Sancho)
This one showcases my aesthetic. And my sound as a drummer, the “soul-hop,” and also combined with all the drummers that inspired me — not all of them, but the hip-hop influences like Questlove and DJ Premier, as well as Bernard Purdie and Zigaboo from The Meters, all those influences on top of my style, it’s showcased on that project. And it’s showing me with a producer like Kev Brown from the DMV area… it’s a classic project. We had Eddie Sancho, who was DJ Premier’s engineer for years and was also a part of the D&D [Studios] legacy — all those records that came out in the ’90s, tons of them were recorded in that studio, and Eddie Sancho was the guy engineering and mixing those records. So he lifts his album. He also did an interview with us, which we use for interludes in between these tracks. So it’s a project that showcase my style in tribute to those influences, and also my style — and I finally did a project with a respectable producer, just drums and an amazing producer.
Essential Track: “A Daru State Of Mind”