Speaking of Homophobia, and I say that because of this clip right here, here’s a group that went against the popular Hip-Hop grain, made a song about a penis and rapped over house music. Say What??!
The groundbreaking founders of the legendary Native Tongues collective were apart of the wave of afrocentric rap outfits that almost dominated the late 80’s scene. What separated the Jungle Brothers from the pack, however, was their expressiveness and desire to party that matched their desire to drop jewels. Unlike the Public Enemy‘s and X-Klan‘s of the time, Jungle Brothers saw the lighthearted side of things, and used Hip-Hop as a mechanism to make people think and dance in the same swoop. The similarities between those groups, were the clever uses of funk/soul samples into drum-centered, vocal snippet heavy jams.
The production on this particular album is from that clever class that helped the Native Tongues click become popular. The infusion of different samples from jazz and funk songs were placed in such ways that didn’t dilute the distinct Hip-Hop song like some rap, but were more creative than just a straightforward loop or replayed interpolation. While the verses are usually just consisting of break beats, there’s a horn break here, a guitar loop there, and then a cavalcade of vocal samples that range from African chants to spoken word phrases. Yet, the sum of all of it’s parts is simplicity. It doesn’t come off as scratching and mixing caucophony like alot of songs from that era. The putting together is the production, but it’s the cohesion that makes it come off as seamless as if it were in fact one loop.
A great example of this is on tracks like “On The Run” and the album’s title track and lead off cut, “Straight Out The Jungle”. This may be the album where the group showed the most balance of their career, vacillating effortlessly between smooth and concise delivery and more upbeat and faster paced ones. On the former, the group gets funky and mirrors the pace the title suggests. It’s an uptempo groove that finds the group’s two rappers, Afrika Baby Bam and Mike G trading lines that make them seem like they’re moving through something with purpose. It’s not so much that they speed up their individual flows, but they keep up with the beat, which seems busy due to the scratches and elements that dj Sammie B continuously throws in there. On the latter, it’s the opposite. Probably some of the coolest blending of conscious and bravado ever seen in rap, the two rappers go back and forth in calm cadences, using a rhythmic default melody that has you rapping along with it before the song is over. They also make eloquent use of the jungle theme as they pass the mic in a flawless relay. This is all done over a stripped down guitar loop for the verses and great vocal parts brought in for the hook and breakdown that bring the song alive. It was their debut song and one of the best introductory cuts ever for a rap group.
The balance continues not only in tone, but in topic as the group spends a considerable amount of time between dropping pro-Black gems and describing their lifestyle and what makes them fly on addressing the ladies. There’s subtle tracks like “Behind The Bush”, which is just as laid back as the title track and cleverly suggestive(and begins with the horn sample that is used everytime they rap on the remix of De La Soul‘s Uber classic “Buddy”), then you have not so subtle tracks like the infamous “Jimbrowski”. Coining a term that quickly became Native Tongue slang and fell right in line with the “Jimmy” parade going on in rap at the time, this song was bold. Basically, it’s an ode to the rappers’ genitalia that finds them characterizing and personalizing it and providing sexual braggadocio in an overly playful way that avoids graphic description. Featuring all kinds of zany background adlibs from legendary dj Red Alert, the song was a big enough deal to garner it’s own instrumental remix on the album called “Jimmy’s Bonus Beat”. Despite it’s lack of raunch, it is still a very blatant sex song that is kind of reckless for a bunch of dudes running around wearing African medallions. But the Jungle Brothers never claimed to be saints, nor prophets. They never took the mantle of being the CNN of the streets, or being the voice of the unheard.
It’s this absolving of responsibility that allowed them to walk the line between fun and consciousness. So when they crossed boundaries that were only crossed by local clubs outside of New York in areas that hadn’t broke into the mainstream yet, and made a rap song over a beat by a house music producer, it kind of made sense that it was them. “I’ll House You” was a breakout hit that despite journalists review of this album as a commercial failure, cemented the group in rap history. And to my knowledge as a kid in the 80’s I distinctly remember my cousins in Brooklyn bugging out to this song and hearing it everywhere. I didn’t understand why this house song about house was being considered rap music. It’s the equivalent of someone trying to explain Kid Cudi to me now. Yet, as a grown man now with some music knowledge and Hip-Hop appreciation, I’ve come to value this song as pioneering to the subsequent movement that followed in the late 80’s and early 90’s where rappers began mixing house in to often shameful results. They took a risk and made it okay for rappers to step out of their box. It’s catchy as hell and in my opinion, it’s the only rap/house song that really worked. I only hope that they feel as though they’ve gotten their appropriate recognition for that.
One thing that they should get recognized for, is the fact that they brought another game changing element with them. To add to their laid back ethos, the Jungle Brothers represented another shift that was taking place in rap; the intonation. A departure from the super animated and commanding voices that dominated the previous decade of rap, the JB’s were lighter-voiced and full of melodic-based confidence that was sort of a throwback to the days of the Cold Crush Brothers, yet so indicative of the new school that they were representing. Having that said, it’s only poetic justice that this album introduces us to the king of the light voiced rappers, Q-Tip. Appearing on the very necessary and very popular track “Black Is Black”, Q-Tip makes his impression felt, and this was before there the debut album of A Tribe Called Quest. This is where the group’s impact is most felt. Whereas the title track briefly and lightly touched on their conscious angle with lines like “Men killing men just because of one’s color/ in this lifetime, I’ve seen nothing dumber”, they address the color issue exactly on this song with lines like “My light complexion has no meaning/ If you think so, you’re still dreaming” and “I tried and tried to tell my people/we all are one, created equal/before we master, we must plan/is that so hard to understand??” And tho this is probably the cheesiest song on the album, it is by no means wack. And it was a topic dying to be spoken about that not enough rappers have tackled to this day.
The group also gets heavy on the track “What’s Going On”, which features one the best, but sloppiest samples of a Marvin Gaye song ever. Using vignettes of everyday drama, the group paint a picture of a world suffering from way too much negativity.
As a pioneering group for the afro-centric age of Hip-Hop, the Jungle Brothers brought us untouched topics, pride for African roots among Blacks, House rap and Q-Tip. They are definitely employers of the one lightskinned, one darkskinned formula for rap groups with 2 main rappers, yet they taught us to look past that because “Black Is Black”. What’s interesting is that their voices don’t have any huge distinguishing qualities from one another on this album…It’s more a matter of their inflections that help you tell them apart if not watching a video or listening intently. And while for some reason their follow-up album has received more critical acclaim, this album has gone on to heralded as a classic as it rightfully should.
My favorite tracks here are “Braggin’ & Boastin”, “I’m Gonna Do You”, The super boombastic “Because I Got It Like That” (which I ride around with on my iPod and has a massive amount of remixes) and on the later releases, their original promotional single, aptly titled, “The Promo” was added to the album. Also featuring Q-Tip, this is one of my favorite Hip-Hop beats.
All Together, this album gets 16 Candles out of a possible
4, 8, 12 or 16.
4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)
8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)
12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)
16(Classic all around)
More like a 14 but once I give a 16, it’s a 16. And as far as Afrika’s questionable persona….Look up his new musical endeavors and judge for yourselves…For now, enjoy the music.
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