(17) Classic Sounds…

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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

4812 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.

My Kwanzaa Story x The Black Candle Documentary Trailer

God!

I’m trying to figure out the best way to make this post short but I have so much to say about this.

I resolved last year to try to make a collective effort to get all of my friends and family to embrace the celebration of Kwanzaa this time around. I was introduced to it in the 3rd grade, and then my family tried to initiate it into practice before the turn of the century courtesy of my brother Khalid’s ex-wife who thought it was a happy medium for my family that is part Islamic, part Christian, and part whatever.

Safe to say it didn’t stick, although my sister Veen and her children and husband picked it up a few years back and have been going strong now for a minute.

So I was determined to re-teach myself the values and rituals, but this time with a fuller understanding of why and how. As a child and the way it was presented to me in school, I thought it was the coolest thing since sliced bread that this even existed.

But as I grew older, I got severely turned off by Afrocentricity and the personalities of people who were engulfed in it. In my experience, the folk who are super in touch with their “Roots” have a tendency to be dramatic, overbearing and a little outdated. I never quite got the whole Pan -African thing. Africa is the Biggest continent in the world, with the most countries and nations, and what afrocentricity does is blend it all into a hodgepodge of oneness, mostly leaning towards the West African influences, as if each region shouldn’t be acknowledged for it’s individual identity and cultural distinction. Somalia is nothing like Togo. And Swaziland is nothing like Morrocco. I even had to ask if Swahili is a national language of any African country, and Iam still researching. Yet and still, it is the universal dialect of Africa-obsessed Americans.

So my experience has been a jaded one. I have spent a great amount of my lifetime around this lifestyle, and have rarely come across someone who is truly down to Earth and in touch with their African ancestry. It always just seems so sad to me that we as Black Americans will always be that people who will never really know our clear history, and only be able to tap into it by engaging in these neo – cultural, amalgamations of traditions scattered across The Continent. What’s even more saddening to me is that in my experience, Africans who I’ve met from the continent never seem to have such a sense of urgency as we do, and quickly differentiate themsleves from the African-American. Although, by technicality, they themselves are classified as such.

But what an amazing people we are for trying!, and always creating something from nothing.

I want to be as in touch with my ancestry as possible, but I don’t want to have to grow dreadlocks or wear a dashiki to exhibit this. I don’t need to have a bunch of statues of oblong breasted figures or giraffes around the house or do dances. What I need to do is just talk to my Grandmother who is a well of history herself and can tell me firsthand so many things about her life growing up as a Liberian woman. Lord knows my Mom sucks at it. She can only remember her life in Africa up to the age of 9. Which was quite an Americanized one, since most people contest that Liberia is a made up Country.

Nevertheless, I wanted to get into Kwanzaa for what it represents, and coincidentally, my homegirl Indigo put me on to this film that was done by a talented Young Man named M. K. Asante Jr. titled The Black Candle. It’s an award winning documentary on the black experience and the creation and foundation of the Kwanzaa celebration that features in depth commentary by the creator of the holiday(Maulana Karenga), as well as many famous Black leaders, and is narrated by the one of a kind Maya Angelou. You should really read the description on the youtube page, because it does it better than I can.

Now this film blew me away and I took my little nephew Winnie to see it with me. We watched it in a screening room of the Teachers’ College among a group of teenagers. Prior to this viewing, Winnie asked me what Kwanzaa was, and I was shocked to see that his school hadn’t yet made mention of this celebration that by now is so widely practiced that it should be given it’s own televised parade (but that would be too black). But even more than that, I was taken aback at how many of the teenagers themselves were in the dark about it, as their questions and comments after the viewing displayed a total lack of awareness.

This was an issue that was visited in the documentary itself. The quick clips from street interviews with local youth pointed at the fact that there is a lack of positive self awareness and crucial historical education.

I kept thinking, damn, how could something I learned back in the day in 3rd grade have regressed to a point of obscurity in the local education system instead of progressed??  I thought curriculum was supposed to advance! It’s not like I went to a special school where the aim was teaching Blackness.

This let me down a bit, but the film gave me such a reinforced and stronger motivation to take on the Kwanzaa festivities, with renewed determination to instill some of the principles into my nephew while he’s still young. I also want to see the togetherness of my friends and family all moving in unison for something that we may actually understand all of, as opposed to Christmas, where we just do without really thinking about why.

I’m also Hellbent on making this holiday Fly! It’s not meant to be commercialized, but still, it’s not all about hand woven baskets and books. We can have a 7 day extravaganza of dope gift-gving (homemade and store-bought) AND enlightenment.

So let the Celebration begin!

It all goes down on the 26th of December. I’ll be posting up each principle daily. I  just hope I can get my stuff in time…