Jay-Z as a co-founder of Roc-a-Fella Records, along with Dame Dash was always on the lookout for the best hip hop producers. So, aside from Kanye West, who was signed in 2002, Roc-a-Fella’s second in-house producer was Just Blaze.
Real name Justin Smith, Just Blaze was just as hot as Kanye on the hip hop scene in the early noughties and was just as good with a sampler. Just Blaze is responsible for some of the biggest hits of the early noughties, including tracks such as ‘Oh Boy’ by Cam’Ron and Juelz Santana, ‘React’ by Erick Sermon and ‘What We Do’ by Roc-a-Fella group Freeway featuring Jay-Z. However, it was in 2006 that Just Blaze found his biggest hit.
In hip hop specific samples gain popularity because of the flavour they add to tracks. Song ‘The Champ’ by The Mohawks is a prime example of this. It has been used more times than a person can count, from Slick Rick to Snoop Dogg and Cardi B, it has been a staple of hip hop since the 1980s.
However, this can also be said for another track which gained traction even earlier than ‘The Champ’ during the 1970s, and the instrumental song is called ‘Darkest Light’ by the Lafayette Afro-Rock Band. Formed in Long Island, New York, The Lafayette Afro-Rock Band were a fusion act that very much blurred the lines when it came to music. They were the best kind of act because you could not pigeonhole them and that’s why they were so popular.
Their instrumental tracks, such as ‘Darkest Light’, contained a bit of jazz, a bit of funk, a bit of rock and a bit of African instrumentation to make it almost world music. The band, although formed in the US, relocated to France and, while doing performances in Paris on the underground funk scene, worked with a range of French-speaking Africans from countries such as Senegal, Côte D’Ivoire and Algeria to create their sound. Little was known about them in the US until they were sampled in the 1980s. They went on to break up but influenced future hip-hop and R&B.
‘Darkest Light has been sampled countless times in songs such as: Public Enemy’s ‘Show ‘Em Whatcha Got‘, Ice Cube’s ‘Friday’, Wreckx-N-Effect’s ‘Rump Shaker‘ and many more, including Jay Z’s ‘Show Me What You Got’.
In an interview with nprmusic, Just Blaze revealed ‘Show Me What You Got’ “pulls from a few different inspirations, a few different sources, the first of which would be a classic B-boy anthem by Johnny Pate called ‘Shaft In Africa’.” He continued to reveal that he called Kenneth ‘Bam’ Alexander Jr to play live drums underneath the electronic drums to add life to the track with his epic drum solos, which he did.
With the help of The Lafayette Afro-Rock Band, Jay-Z’s 2006 comeback album Kingdom Come done very well. The single peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and is considered a classic. You can listen to ‘Darkest Light’ below and watch the video for ‘Show Me What You Got’ as well.