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Beatnik talks to drummer Daru Jones
words Sven Carlsson / images Press
Hailing from Michigan, drummer Daru Jones came up in a musical family. His mother was the choir director in the Pentecostal Church and his father an organ player. Fusing his background in gospel music with the hip-hop culture he was immersed in as a teenager, Daru has been making Rusic and soul-hop for over a decade, creating his own fusion of soul, gospel and hip-hop where the momentum of live music translates onto the record.
Now based in Brooklyn, New York, Daru Jones is occupied, to say the least. When he is not recording one of the monthly releases for his Bandcamp page, he is gigging with anyone from Black Milk to Yarah Bravo or the Boot Camp Clik. Beatnik caught up with the drummer while he was preparing his release for the month of May, Rusic Mono Beats, the concept of which sounds alluring to anyone with a soft spot for hip-hop from the 1990’s.
”For this month I decided to compile a bunch of beats that I have on cassette tapes, a collage of beats that were all produced between 1997 and 1999,” says Daru, and the finished product sounds like nothing but analogue goodness.
”I call these Rusic Mono Beats,” he says. ”All of them were recorded onto cassette tapes and made on the Akai S900 sampler back in those days.”
Not all of Daru’s releases are lifted from dusty TDK’s and Maxell’s, but they do all have a unique concept to them. Since December 2009, his monthly releases have included an homage to J Dilla and his deceased grandfather in February, Spirit Dilla Rusic, and the So Good Ep with Swedish soul singer Kissey Asplund in April, among others.
The high pace of the releases was set by Daru (to “challenge” himself) and his trademark sound is present throughout. His production style has echoes of boom-bap, but the chopped samples are used sparingly; the interaction between musicians and instruments in a given moment is the central component to Daru’s beats.
’From Then 2 Now’ from Daru’s Spirit Dilla Rusic gives us a taste of his production process. The track contains the unscripted drumming that Daru likes to juxtapose with samples from left and right. In many ways marked by a neo-soul kind of groove, the energy of a live performance is also captured.
Daru is not the only hip-hop producer to have come up during the 1990’s wishing to fuse live musicianship with programmed hip-hop beats . The Roots, the Philadelphia band that helped bring live instrumentation to hip-hop rather than the other way around, is the most prominent example.
What was your reaction when The Roots came out?
”When I heard The Roots’ music I thought it was cool that they were using live instrumentation,” Daru recalls, but he didn’t necessarily feel that his own niche had been filled by Questlove and his crew. ”I wanted to see if we could take a little bit further, because what they were doing was dope, but it still sounded like loops,” he says. Daru’s recordings focus more exclusively on capturing the rhythm and atmosphere of a live performance.
”When you bring a band, there are so many possibilities that open up for you. Lots of hip-hop acts are adding live drums, and I feel I can relate to the music a lot more then; it’s a lot more musical.”
Daru’s appreciation for in-the-flesh, improvised drumming drawing on jazz music has successfully married his music to a late great in hip-hop music, J Dilla. When asked whose productions he enjoys playing the most, it comes as little surprise that the Detroit producer comes up.
”Man, it’s one of those drummer things about playing Dilla’s music. His beats have a certain swing; a reggae type of swing,” Daru explains, excited just by the thought of taking on one of Dilla’s spontaneous but deliberate drum tracks. ”It’s weird because it’s not quantized, it’s off-beat. It feels so good!”
Full-time musicians tend to have their hand in a lot of cookie jars, and Daru Jones’ case is no different. Radio host Peter Rosenberg’s Noisemakers Live interview series summons iconic hip-hop artists for lengthy interviews, during which a live band directed by Daru interprets the artist’s back catalogue.
It’s a job he is perfectly suited for: whenever there is an event, Daru has thus far knocked off clinical takes on music by DJ Premier, Raekwon, Talib Kweli, Q-Tip and more. The latest event had Pete Rock come through.
Daru’s maticulous attention to detail was appreciated not only by the audience, but also by Pete Rock himself, who said it was the best live interpretation of his music he had heard.
”I’m a perfectionist, you know? If I’m playing somebody’s music, I want to play it right,” Daru says of his many live interpretations. ”If I’m the producer, and somebody’s playing my music, I’d be looking to hear those little parts to it, because those parts make the song. If you’re looking to hear this Pete Rock horn line, and if you don’t, you won’t be too happy about it [laughs].
Beatnik: How did it feel to get praised by Pete Rock?
”I feel really blessed. It lets me know that the hard work is not in vain. I will never do a half-job, I want everything to be the best that it can be.”
Daru Jones’ Bandcamp page
Daru Jones on Twitter