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Jungle Brothers - Welcome To The Jungle

Author: Rezo
Friday, 23 November 2007
Remember that image of the guy with the ghetto blasters on the shoulder- It was a time of thick-rimmed glasses, phat kicks and gold chains. It was the innocent precursor to the hip hop scene today – one hampered by infighting and commercial mediocrity. The Jungle Brothers have withstood all of hip hop’s negative energy and remained relevant, even almost 20 years into the game. 3D’s Rezo talked to Afrika Baby Bam.

Forget that. I talk of the time when in 1988, Straight Out The Jungle encapsulated everything the JBz stood for. The beats were innovative and the lyrics, rhymes and wordplay had developed into something new and exciting. Along with De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and perhaps Arrested Development, the Jungle Brothers were the standout performers during that time.

Indeed, it was something fresh that the youth was moving to. The entire cultural expression was represented. In the ‘70s and ‘80s you had the graffiti, the b-boys and b-girls, the DJ and the rappers. Grand Master Melle Mel’s The Message and Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock was the beginning of what was called consciousness in hip hop. It was a concerted move away from the original party vibe of ‘braggadocious’ lyrics. And with that rebirth came an important period of awareness. Likewise, the Brothers were never a group who focused on one element of hip hop culture – they weren’t rappers who tainted themselves with a celebrity lifestyle. Their consciousness addressed social concerns, albeit in song. They purported to represent their values without succumbing to becoming a commercial brand name. 

The Brothers’ values, as Afrika Baby Bam says, haven’t changed: “Man, when you grow up in the shadows of the civil rights era when blacks were being beaten over the head with racism and then fast forward to the ’80s and you see drug dealers with beepers, cars, guns and gold chains, you feel responsible in some way to tell your peers ‘what’s going on-’ That’s where we stem from.” Ambassadors for urban music, today their material is sampled, edited, beeped and bleeped anywhere and everywhere; and that means a lot to the boys. “Having new listeners and users means that the vibe on those records is essential. Trends come and go but genuine music with soul is timeless. I’m humbled by the musicians that came before me that showed me how to make music that meant something to people’s everyday life. I’m honoured by the listener that can feel that vibe in our music and continue the flow. We still say to the fans we got soul, but we still super bad!”

Now, they continue to release bits and pieces here and there. They still tour constantly and are a force to be reckoned with on stage. They also released their Greatest Hits a while back – a double CD featuring all of their, well, greatest hits. It’s music from a time when the scene wasn’t constrained by the mindless nonsense of today. “The purpose of the Greatest Hits was to bring together all the classics and different stages we’ve been through and let you enjoy it as one vibe. Many of our songs come from a time where a set of social conditions created these moments. The Jungle Brothers created an approach to hip hop that was more cultural and in touch with its heritage musically and socially.  Just as you have artists in other genres of music come up in the tradition of other great artists. Now new artists in hip hop can come out and not just to mimic or be the flavour of the month.”

Sure, they have had their commercial failures – they have had albums ignored by the critics. But, in my view, that doesn’t matter. Unlike so many of the artists that have risen to painfully offensive fame, the JBz have earned respect not from wearing platinum and diamonds, but from longevity and prowess. They are the personification of that tried and tested adage which now seems cliché in the hip hop world of the new millennium: keeping it real.

When, IN 1988, Source Magazine awarded the JBz one of only a handful of five MIC ratings in the history of the now defunct magazine (Nas’s Illmatic was a notable other), they had a vision and foresight that was only matched by the underground success of one of the great teams in rap history. Their love of making a political statement as much as producing club hits for the dance floor prove that in 2007, it is hard to envisage many in the hip hop world establishing themselves for the same legacy. Being true to yourself and your seed is the overriding motivation in everything the brothers touched. And with that, they prove again, why excellence in any endeavor, is untouchable. For the Jungle Brothers, there was no magnum opus – they are the magnum opus.

WHO: Jungle Brothers
WHAT: Play Elements at the Metro   
WHEN: Saturday 1 December