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The Hip-Hop Influence Of Jab'o Starks, James Brown's Timekeeper

From Public Enemy to Kendrick Lamar, the drumming of John "Jab'o" Starks has been sampled all throughout rap.
Ethan Miller
Getty Images
From Public Enemy to Kendrick Lamar, the drumming of John "Jab'o" Starks has been sampled all throughout rap.

Drummer James "Jab'o" Starks may have thought he was playing for James Brown, but his drums ended up fueling the birth of a genre that made his recordings popular among hip-hop producers throughout the genre's history.

Coming from Alabama in the mid-1950s, he played with blues musicians like John Lee Hooker and Big Mama Thornton. But his gig with blues vocalist and composer Bobby "Blue" Bland in the late '50s was his introduction into the big time. He played on a number of Bland's hits (completing the now classic "Stormy Monday" in just one take), but it was his gig playing behind James Brown that made him part of music history. Stark also went on to also play with B.B. King after his time with Soul Brother No. 1.

During Brown's prolific '60s and early '70s period, Stark played on a series of recordings that not only defined funkbut eventually influenced a burgeoning hip-hop musical language. The most auspicious James Brown sample Public Enemy used was "Say It Loud I'm Black and I'm Proud" in the anthem "Fight The Power" in 1989.

"Super Bad" (1970) was the foundation of MC Hammer's "Here Comes The Hammer" in 1990, complete with Hammer doing some of Brown's dance moves in the video.

One of the most recent examples of a Starks' drum sample is of 1973's "The Payback" which Kendrick Lamar sampled on 2015's "King Kunta."

It's important to note that, while performing and recording for James Brown, Starks' drumming became part of one giant rhythm machine in which each of the individual instruments seamlessly meshed, creating that unmistakable James Brown sound. In fact, on many of these recordings, Starks shares credit with Brown's second drummer, Clyde Stubblefield. Taken as a whole, John "Jab'o" Starks made a big noise through a light, innovative touch — the proof is in the legacy of getting people onto the dance floor in this century and the last. Listen to this playlist of Jab'o-featured tracks that have been heavily sampled since their initial release.

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Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.